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I have been playing guitar for over 30 years and do not understand how to use a metronome. I have two different types that I have purchased over the years, one is electronic with audible beeps and the other is the more traditional model. I play by ear and use some tab. I play in the style of Gary Moore, Eric Johnson, Buck Dharma etc. I want to increase my speed. Do I play on each tic or is that just for the down beat? How about the numerical settings? I have tried to match the speed of the metronome with many different recordings, however, I can never match it up.

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    Have you ever played in a band with a drummer? A metronome is like the world's most boring drummer. – Todd Wilcox Sep 14 '15 at 18:44
  • Whenever the nome makes a noise you make a noise? Should it be that simple? – Neil Meyer Sep 14 '15 at 19:07
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Getting a metronome to line up with a recording may be easy or it may be impossible, depending on the metronome and the recording. The recording has to have been recorded with a click track (a track that acts as a metronome for the musicians as they record) or the musicians have to have had essentially perfect timing (which I don't think I've encountered). Since the metronome never deviates from its timing, the musicians on the recording would also have to never deviate, or you metronome can't stay matched up.

If the recording in question was done with a click track, then it can be fairly easy to line up a metronome if the metronome has a tap tempo feature. That means you listen to the recording and tap the appropriate button on the metronome along with the recording and the metronome will start playing at the tempo you have tapped out. Usually when I use tap tempo to synchronize a metronome, I have to use the manual tempo controls to bump it up or down a few BPM to get it just right.

Assuming you have a tempo set and a metronome clicking away, it's probably easiest to learn how to play along with one with a scale exercise, rather than jumping right in to playing a full song with a metronome. Start off by playing a scale up and down and try to play each note of the scale at the same time as a click of the metronome. You should be able to easily hear when you are playing at exactly the same time as the metronome click or not. If it seems hard to keep up, slow down the metronome, but if it seems really slow, don't speed up the metronome yet. Practice this until you can go up and down the scale and almost perfectly hit each beat. Here's how you might play a C major scale this way:

Clicks: | | | | | | | |

Notes: C D E F G A B C

Next, keep the metronome clicking at the same rate, and play the scale again, but this time play two notes for every click. The first note should be right on the click, as above, the second should be exactly between two clicks, the third on the second click, etc. Like this:

Clicks: | | | | | | | |

Notes: C D E F G A B C B A G F E D C

Again, if it's too fast, slow down the metronome and keep working on it until you can play in time with the metronome.

Now you can choose to either move up to doing three or four notes per click. Three notes would be like playing triplets, and is probably more difficult than jumping to four notes (which is more like 16th notes or semiquavers, depending on your pond parity).

So now you are at a point where you are playing some notes exactly on the click and other notes in between the clicks. Let's look at how you might play the main riff from Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnson with the metronome. We can start by playing it like this:

Clicks: | : | : | : | : | : | : | : | : |

Notes: g d G G g e G G g f G G g e G G

The colons (:) on the click line above are meant to show exactly halfway between two clicks. This is the easiest way to divide up the metronome clicks to play the notes of the main riff of Cliffs of Dover, but you if you play it just like that, you'll notice it doesn't sound right. I only put it that way to give you an easy first pass at it. Let's change how we play it slightly to make it both sound right and match the click of the metronome.

Cliffs... has swing, which means the notes in between the clicks are delayed slightly closer to the next click. It's about 2/3 of the way between the clicks that we wait before playing the in between notes, so it will look more like this:

Clicks: | : | : | : | : | : | : | : | : |

Notes: g d G G g e G G g f G G g e G G

That's not quite right, but it's hard to make it exact in this medium. When you play different songs (or even different parts from Cliffs..., the pattern compared to the clicks of the metronome will vary. Some notes you want to play right on the clicks, others will be at various times in between the clicks.

No matter what you're playing, if you're struggling to match up with the click, you should slow it down until you can play along, and then gradually speed it up and play and speed it up and play until you have the metronome going as fast as you want it to be going for what you're trying to play. That's how the metronome helps you: it gives you an audible target for playing at the right time and at the right speed, and it helps you slowly build up your speed gradually so you can play faster and still be playing with the right timing.

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My absolute favorite exercise for getting people started with the metronome is Bury The Click.

  1. Turn your metronome on somewhere around 70 bpm.
  2. Mute the strings with your fretting hand, and strum them with your other hand.
  3. Set the volume of the metronome to be ever-so-slightly quieter than the volume of your muted strum. (This could mean turning down the volume of your metronome or turning up the volume of your guitar.)
  4. Now try to land your strum directly on top of the click. When you get it just right, the click will disappear.
  5. Set a timer for say, five minutes and don't let up until it goes off.

The important thing about this exercise is that it not only gets you accustomed to playing with a click, it also makes it impossible to bullshit yourself––you're either burying the click or you're not.

It's really common for non-pro guitarists to play in time but with bad feel––their notes are evenly spaced, but they lean out ahead of the beat, causing the whole band to sound meh. It's normally REALLY hard to dial your ear into that level of subtlety, but Bury The Click makes it fairly easy.

If you're interested, we cover this and whole lot more in my free course on metronome badassery for guitarists: http://fretboardanatomy.com/course/metronome-boot-camp/

  • While the click is the beat and is very important, this exercise lacks the depth of what the metronome is actually for. In actuality you may play or not play on the beat(click) and you need to be able to know what beat you are on and where you are in that beat which is always the more difficult part and this exercise does not address that at all. – Dom Sep 16 '15 at 14:32
  • @Dom - Totally true. It's a first step. But it's still the best starting point to get to the place you're talking about. If you're not truly locked in to the metronome, your practicing might make you really good at sounding bad. It's what I did. It took me so much longer to go back and fix that than it takes my students to develop good feel from the beginning. – Josh Frets Sep 16 '15 at 15:57
  • I also try to bury the snare when playing with a band. Excellent exercise. – Todd Wilcox Sep 18 '15 at 19:06
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Assuming you know about rhythms and note values.

Firstly, you'll have to define each tic. You can define it as a quarter (which is really common), or as a eighth or as a half etc. So, now that you know what every tic is, all you have to do is read/hear the rhythm of the song.

For instance, a drummer in a song might hit the kick drum on 1 and 3. So, you can define the tic to be halves and count the 1 and 3 and play on top of that*. Listen to a song's drumming and define the tic to something you can understand from there.

*I can't answer if you play on each beat or every other; this will be different on each song.

  • You can also keep quarter beats and play two notes per click for quavers.and four notes per click for semi quavers. – Neil Meyer Sep 14 '15 at 19:09
  • I am confused by all the numbers on the metronome settings. I am not playing from a sheet of music that says what the time should be and I am trying to structure 16th note runs and am confused how to set the thing. – gztone Sep 14 '15 at 19:28
  • One thing you can do is set it to some speed (let's say 80 bpm for instance) and see if it has a setting for the note( or note value) ; if it does, set it to this. And then each tic would include 4 16th notes – Shevliaskovic Sep 14 '15 at 19:30
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Used most simply, the metronome represents the beat. If you ever tap your foot while you play, the metronome represents the pulse of the foot tapping. Most music is written in 4/4 so four metronome clicks would represent a single bar of music/chord changes.

Some metronomes actually let you accent every fourth pulse - this would represent the downbeat of each measure, but it is an often-distracting feature that can be very troublesome for beginners, especially if you have a tendency to get out-of-sync. Forcing yourself to stay IN-sync can be counterproductive to learning the phrasing of a piece of music but it can't be beat for strengthening your internal sense of rhythm.

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One purpose for a metronome is to teach you to keep to a beat. I'm going to assume that with your years of experience you can already do this.

Another use is to learn a piece at increased tempo.

Set the tempo to a rate you're able to play at. Don't worry about the numbers. Most digital metronomes have a 'tap' option where you can tap at the tempo you want, and the metronome will keep clicking at that tempo.

It doesn't matter whether you choose clicks on every beat, alternate beats, or the start of each bar: do whatever makes sense to you.

Practice with that tempo, then increase the tempo by one or two BPM, then keep practising. Keep upping the tempo until you are playing as fast as you want to.

The purpose of all this is to help you notice if you're slowing down for the tricky bits.

It can be rewarding to wean yourself off the metronome by halving the click tempo (while playing at the same tempo), eventually getting to the point where it clicks every two or four bars. If you keep good rhythm you will keep sync.

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