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Praticing scales using a metronome is pretty straightforward, but most solos that I tried so far use an uneven tempo. I mean, the solo is a mixture of quarter notes, 8th notes and 16th notes, as such, it becomes difficult to play along with a metronome. In a scale, you are always aware of which notes to play on the beat and which ones to play in between the beats.

As such, how do I gradually improve my speed?

I looked at guitar pro, and it has a feature where you can set the tempo of the song. So, can I use the notes that are being played as a metronome, and practice accordingly?

Or should I rather use an actual metronome, set a tempo, and just try to figure out which notes come on the beat and which come in between? (this way looks REALLY hard)

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4 Answers 4

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You can use a metronome in different ways to study complex rhythmic figures.

You can set the beat to correspond to a quarter note and work on subdividing the beats evenly. Or you can double the tempo so it corresponds to eighth notes and subdivide the sixteenths. Or you can double that so it corresponds to sixteenth notes, and work on counting beats for the eighth- and quarter-notes.

Make sure you also spend time playing the same parts without the metronome, so you can work on your internal sense of timing. Do that for a while, and then play again with the metronome to check yourself.

It will be really hard at first. But it's good for you. Remember John F. Kennedy's "Go to the Moon" speech. Do it because it is hard.

Here's an example melody with mixed quarter- eighth- and sixteenth- notes. I've simulated the metronome beats with a drone in the bass clef. You should see that with metronome beats corresponding to sixteenth-notes, the placement of each note is much easier to determine.

example

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But the point is, in a solo, the tempo keeps changing after every 4-5 notes. So do I break up the solo into each of these 4-5 notes, and pratice each of these parts separately? (Basically, each of these parts now has an even tempo) –  Karan Mar 19 '13 at 19:40
    
I don't understand. In western music, the tempo really should not change that often. Can you add an example? –  luser droog Mar 19 '13 at 19:43
    
I think I used the wrong word, the tempo is constant. But the type of notes being played varies every few seconds. For example, the guy will play a couple of 8th notes, then some 16th notes, etc. So do I keep changing the tempo of my metronome to keep it in sync with the notes? –  Karan Mar 19 '13 at 19:50
    
No. If the tempo is constant, then keep the metronome setting constant. Remember that rests also have specific time-values. I'll try to make an illustration that should help. –  luser droog Mar 19 '13 at 19:58

It sounds as if you need to learn a little more theory -- a musical phrase can have a mixture of note lengths, and an unchanging tempo.

A metronome provides you with a regular pulse. You are not necessarily expected to play a note on each tick, and often you'll also want to play notes in-between ticks.

As a simple example, if you set the metronome to tick on quarter notes, and the phrase you're practising starts with two eighth notes, then you would play the first eighth note on a tick, and the second eighth note halfway between that and the next tick.

Three ways in which a metronome can help with practice:

Improving your basic rhythm

It's easy for beginners to fall into the trap of just trying to get the notes out in the right order, speeding up for the easy bits, slowing down for the difficult bits. Practising with a metronome helps train yourself to maintain a tempo.

There's nothing wrong with expressive tempo changes, of course. In some styles of music, it's important to slow down and speed up, for expression. But that's not the same as speeding up for the easy bits and slowing down for the hard bits (indeed, a great musician will often slow down to coax more feel out of the "slow" parts of the music, and speed up to get maximum effect from the lively parts).

Building up to playing complex parts at fast tempos

A good way to learn complex parts, is to learn them at a slow tempo, then incrementally increase the tempo. There are two challenges here:

  • The temptation to go too fast, when we're supposed to be practising slow.
  • The tendency to slow down for the fiddly part, without realising it.

Following a metronome helps with both of these.

Improving your "internal metronome"

One great exercise, for testing and improving your innate sense of rhythm and tempo, is to keep halving the tempo of the metronome, while playing your part at the same tempo.

So, if you're practising something at 120bpm, start the metronome at 120bpm. You get a tick every beat. Get comfortable playing a part over that. It should be pretty easy.

Then set the metronome to 60bpm. Now you get a tick for the first and third beat of every bar, but you have to "feel" the second and fourth beats. Keep playing. It should still be quite easy.

Then set the metronome to 30bpm. Now you only get a tick on the first beat of each bar. You have to concentrate harder to keep to the rhythm. Your challenge is to stay in synch, so the metronome tick continues to coincide with your playing. If your metronome has slow enough settings, you can have one tick every two bars, or every four bars - and if you can stay in synch with that, you're good.

This exercise makes good use of a metronome, while getting away from the robotic feel that some people fear from metronomes.

You can also practice with drum machines, for something with more feel than a metronome.

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+1 All bases nicely covered. –  luser droog Mar 20 '13 at 11:31

Here is a fun exercise that our guitarist and I(drummer) put our skillz to the test. It feels a little bad to use one of my all-time favorite items for this exercise but anyway... (the shame, oh the shame)

In the PULSE DVD of Pink Floyd, the Comfortably Numb solo of David Gilmour has a fantastic pattern that goes over a few bar lines. Here is one out of gazillion other Youtube videos.

The tricky part starts around 2:41. Now the exercise is to tap your feet while playing the piece without a metronome. It would give you a fairly good understanding why you would benefit from practicing to a metronome. It would make you aware of your position in the bar and an indication of how much time you have left before you pass over the syncopated underlying chord

Comfortably Numb Solo

I can play the pattern but sounds terrible because I'm terrible at bending that note and our guitar player can't tap his feet though he's kind of on time while playing by himself because he turns on a metronome. Without that catching in the end, this whole pattern would be a terrible venture but of course David Gilmour can pull it off in front of thousands which is mind-boggling (Also he can take it out in the post-production too :P).

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I would advise against it. Even if you are successful to the point where you can count beats against a metronome for a typical lead lick, you are essentially baking in the "feel" of the music, not leaving any room for interpretation.

Metronome is great for scales and variations on scales, and even for rhythmic work, but leave the lead stuff to feel.

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