How to Practice Guitar with a Metronome
Knowing a bunch of hip chords and inversions is all well and good, but they don’t mean anything unless they are played with a solid groove, time, and rhythm. There’s no doubt about it, every guitarist needs to practice guitar with a metronome.
There are different ways to practice keeping time and groove. Playing with other musicians who already have good time will certainly help and this is the way that many of the greats will have learnt.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting US jazz guitarist Howard Alden a few times. Howard is often renowned for outstanding time and accompaniment and has played in duo’s with countless singers, guitarist’s and horn players.
When I asked him if he practices with a metronome he grinned and replied “every year I keep telling myself I need to start practicing with a metronome”.
Obviously Howard’s main source for developing time has being on the bandstand, however not many of us will have those opportunities.
The second more common way now days to get better time is by using a metronome. Metronome practice has become very popular in jazz education within recant years and for good reason.
Practicing with the metronome is an excellent and practical solution for students of jazz guitar, especially beginners who haven’t played with other musicians much.
You can practice with a metronome in the comfort of your own home with a constant reliable sense of time.
Ideally you want a balanced level of playing with other musicians and using the metronome.
Comping is about listening to the soloist and practicing all day with a metronome isn’t going to give you that experience, but it will ensure your time is strong when the situation presents itself, especially in a duo situation.
If you don’t have a physical metronome, don’t worry you can still do these exercises in this lesson, just Google “metronome” where there’s dozen’s of fantastic metronomes available online for free online.
There are also some great free apps available for smart phones and tablets so you can practice away from the computer.
There are many different exercises and ways to practice with the metronome to gain stronger time that I can’t possibly cover in one article so in this lesson I will be teaching you how to utilize the most common techniques.
What Chords Do I Practice?
Ideally pick a tune or progression that you’re working so you’re practicing in content straight away. I’d recommend a medium tempo tune at first to work on. Ballads are much tougher, so work on a faster tune first.
You can even practice your medium tempo tunes at ballad tempos when they are strong enough.
Even if you don’t play certain tunes at ballad tempos at gigs, if you can play Donna Lee at 70bpm, 200bpm will be easier.
When you have picked a tune work on the chords in the following order:
- The Four to a Comping Style — start with this as it’s the easiest comping style and isn’t as technically involved as the others. It will allow you to really concentrate on connecting solidly with the click.
- The Melody — it’s a great idea to do this next because you have the sound of the chords in your head. Start by playing the melody in single notes firsts, then in heads if applicable.
- Comping Rhythms — when the melody and chords are secure and in your head firmly with the click, start to comping like you would in an ensemble setting by using rhythms such as the Charleston.
- Chord Soloing — After everything else feels secure and firm start to experiment with chord soloing with the metronome.
In this lesson we are just going to be looking at practicing chords in common time to keep things simple.
Set the Click on All Beats
This first exercise might seem quite dull if you’ve used a metronome to practice already but this is an essential step for those who haven’t already used a metronome and it’s vital that you feel comfortable playing with on all beats of the bar before moving on.
We first need to set the metronome click on all four beats of the bar to get used to playing along to it. To do this just set the click of the metronome to the tempo of the song you’re working on.
So if you are practicing comping Autumn Leaves at 140 beats per minute on band in a box, set the metronome to 140.
Once the click it set, say each beat out loud along with the metronome to get you in sync.
When you feel that you are locked in, count yourself in and begin practicing.
Set the Click on Beats 2 + 4
Now that you feel comfortable and know how to practice guitar with a metronome on all four beats we can set the metronome on just beats two and four.
Practicing with the metronome on 2 and 4 is the most common way to practice time and get a good swing feel when playing jazz.
Instead of having a click on each beat of the bar this time you will only have clicks on beats 2 and 4, so you will have to feel where beats 1 and 3 are within the pulse.
To practice with a metronome on beats 2 and 4, set the metronome to half the number of the tempo of the song you are playing.
For example if you are practicing a medium tempo tune such as Wave at a tempo of 140 beats per minute on band in a box, set the metronome to 70.
Those that haven’t practiced with the click on 2 and 4 before will most likely find it tricky at first.
Don’t be discouraged if getting used to this takes you a while. When I teach it to my private students, some get it in one lesson, but for other’s it takes a few weeks.
Set the Click on Beat 4
Before we carry on to the next stage you must feel completely comfortable with applying the different comping techniques with the first two exercises.
To practice with the metronome on just beat 4, set the click to a quarter of the tempo of the tune. So if you tempo is 140bpm and you wanted the click on just 4 you would set it to 35.
Set the Click on 4+
This final exercise is by far the trickiest out of all the exercises we’ve looked at so far. The tempo of the metronome will be around the same as just on four, so you just need to count differently. When counting in, instead of counting, 1, 2, 3, 4 count 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and, so you are completely clear where the metronome accent is.
Hopefully these metronome exercises will ensure that your comping is completely solid and help you practice guitar with a metronome. If you can get these down well you will have stronger time and will get more calls for gigs, especially duo’s.
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Did you find these exercises helpful? Do you have any practice tips for using a metronome? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.