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Hello I recently asked a question about having no sense of timing in regards to music and I understand a lot of the blame falls on myself but I do practice everyday and have been years. My question is what I do now how do I break my bad habits, how do I avoid being intimidated by a metronome and most importantly how do I play along with songs and not get overwhelmed. Again thank you for the responses any help is greatly appreciated and would also like to add that I am not looking to be a rockstar or any pipe dream like such I just love music and want to study and play thank you.

  • Can you maybe explain what you mean about being "intimidated" by the metronome? Do you mean you are worried that if you try to play with one, you will discover that you aren't able to do it and then start judging yourself harshly? – Todd Wilcox Feb 4 '18 at 19:31
  • That’s sort of what I mean, it’s the fact that I feel like i’m Gonna miss a beat or am I playing perfect 8th or 16th notes and it interferes with my playing causing my technique to diminish instantly. – Tom Feb 4 '18 at 20:05
  • Are you worried that the metronome will force you to, for example, not swing? Because it doesn't do that. You don't have to pick/strum right on the metronome's tick. In engineering terms, you need to be phase locked, but you don't have to be in the same phase. – Wayne Conrad Feb 5 '18 at 20:20
  • Could you explain a bit more on not playing to the click, I thought that was the reason for a metronome so you know when to play. – Tom Feb 5 '18 at 20:44
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I would recommend isolating rhythm and guitar playing for a while to strengthen your rhythm skills with as few confounding factors as possible. Turn on your metronome, and just clap, stomp, or even make noises with your mouth along with the beat. Do it at quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth, starting slow, and then speeding up once it becomes comfortable. After a few times trying to just clap to the beat, start counting out loud while you clap. As always, start slow, with easy divisions like quarter notes, then add sub divisions like eighth and sixteenth notes, and increase the tempo to challenge yourself. This will help develop your internal rhythm, and start to break down some of the anxiety around it, because you will not be worrying about playing wrong notes. Just give your rhythm skills time and space to develop.

Once that becomes more comfortable, bring the guitar back in, and practice playing simple note riffs, or strumming comfortable chords along with the metronome. This will start to bring your picking skills, fretboard skills, and rhythm together into a coherent whole. Again, start slow, and move up in tempo as it becomes easier.

Long term, I would highly recommend learning drum rudiments, and practicing them regularly along with your chords and scales. Drum rudiment practice with a metronome will strengthen all your musical skills, even if you never play a drum in your life, and you can practice them just by drumming your hands on a table.

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    Not bad advice. I teach my guitar students that one way to isolate rhythm work is to mute the guitar strings with the fretting hand and play the rhythms with their picking hand.. Also, this answer leaves out the importance of counting out loud, which in my experience cannot be overstated. – Todd Wilcox Feb 5 '18 at 19:03
  • Totally agreed, especially when you want to learn sight reading and transcription. If you can't count it, you won't be able to write it down. – Alex Y Feb 5 '18 at 19:33
  • Thank you this seems like really good advice but how long should I do it for before I bring the guitar in? – Tom Feb 5 '18 at 20:48
  • That's a difficult question to answer, because it will be very personal. If you are feeling a lot of anxiety, you may need to more time. I would say, work until you feel comfortable, but not too comfortable, with counting out loud and clapping to the metronome. Then play some guitar. Switching back and forth, and progressively increasing the difficulty will allow you to continue to grow in this skill. Start with 15 minutes per practice session of dedicated rhythm practice, then fine tune it to work for you. – Alex Y Feb 5 '18 at 21:17
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How do I break my bad habits

That depends on what the bad habits are. But, generally, you invent some kind of exercise to counter it. Some examples:

  • Stuck in rut of playing the pattern-based riffs? Play in a different position that you aren't familiar with or play melodies on only string or change something up so that you can't rely on those patterns.
  • Avoiding a specific chord or position or whatever because it's hard? Practice only that thing for a while.
  • Looking at your hands too much? Close your eyes or stand in front of a mirror and look straight ahead.

I'm not saying that you should do those specific things. But the point is that first you have to diagnose the problem and then come up with a way to counter it.

How do I avoid being intimidated by a metronome

Forget the idea that you always have play exactly on the beat. The metronome is there as a guide to the tempo. Sometimes you do want to play exactly on the beat, but sometimes you want to play ahead or behind the beat for feel. Turn the metronome on and try playing a single note—so that you're focused only on the feel and not left hand fingerings—against it and vary the feel. Try playing exactly on the beat then ahead then behind, etc. Try playing around the metronome as if it's a real drummer that you're playing with.

Check out this interview with Charlie Hunter—who has the best time and feel of just about any guitarist/bassist that I can think of—where he talks about playing with a metronome:

Play with the metronome you know and I don't mean like turn the metronome on there and have it there as like this really mean like you know schoolmarm that's gonna slap you on the back your knuckles I mean it's your friend you know and turn it on and it's gonna tell you very nicely away from everybody else in the world how much you suck you know and but it's gonna do it very nicely and lovingly and you just have to accept that and get with the metronome and learn how to feel things right on the beat to where you're playing something very simple and you can bury the metronome you know and learn how to play things behind the beat learn how to play in front

If that doesn't work so well try loops and backing tracks for a while. The fact that they are played with a feel already and aren't just uniform clicks makes it easier for you to replicate that feel. But eventually try to work your way to back to using just a metronome as well so that you have create that feel yourself without the crutch.

As for how to do that, that might come back to playing along with other people. Dig deep into whatever music you like. Find the best players and listen closely to their feel. Pick one small part and try playing along with it. You might never get it exactly right but you'll learn a lot trying. Then try to replicate it yourself without the recording. Then try replicating it over a metronome and you'll hear just how much push and pull is going on.

This all probably sounds hard, and it is, but keep working on it and you'll make progress. Eventually it will start to become second nature so that you can focus more on the song itself.

how do I play along with songs and not get overwhelmed

Just relax? It's just music so have fun with it.

Or maybe pick easier songs? I think somebody recommended a teacher in your other question and a big benefit of that is that a teacher could more quickly evaluate what level you're at and what would be good for you to learn next.

  • That Charlie Hunter quote is solid gold. +1 That said, my experience with backing tracks is they don't help much, and I feel like they have hurt my playing the few times I've used them. I would add that learning to count out loud is super important to train timing and rhythm. – Todd Wilcox Feb 5 '18 at 19:00
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It seems like the metronome is both the cause and the solution to your bad habits. There is no reason to be intimidated by the metronome; see it as a guide to help you keep the rhythm and develop your timing.

If you have no timing and the metronome is throwing you off, then you are probably trying to play too fast.

What I recommend is to first get familiar with the piece you are trying to play; do it without the metronome and without stressing with the rhythm; aim for decent accuracy first.

Depending on what you're trying to play, you'll probably be at about 50-60 bpm or higher at that point (just an approximation, no need to measure). Then you can start with the metronome, which will greatly reduce your speed at first. Try to play with the metronome at 30 bpm at first, and see how that goes. Once you can play it at this speed, then slowly increase the speed (try 5 bpm) to raise your control level. The aim is accuracy first, speed second.

There are many free metronomes websites and apps available that will let you slow the bpm below 40 (which is as low as most standard metronomes go), and which also allow you to change the sound. I personally prefer clicks as I find the beeps very distracting.

Soon enough you'll be able to keep your own rhythm by tapping your foot and your timing will be getting better all the time. I would also recommend that you start with easier pieces at first so that you get familiar with the metronome and counting the beats along to it. Once you are familiar with it, you could even try drum beats to help keep time... but start with the basics.

And as for playing perfect 8th or 16th notes, the metronome can help you with that too. Many digital ones can click the 8th or 16th notes with different sounds, or you can simply double the bpm for 8th notes or quadruple it for 16th notes. For example, let's say your want to play at 60 bpm, set it to 120 so that every 8th note gets a click. Try not to rely on this for too long, but very soon you'll find that you can count the 8th notes yourself with 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and, where 1=foot down, and=foot up, 2=foot down, and=foot up and so on. Also, I would suggest that you leave the 16th notes aside until you are familiar with the metronome and 8th notes.

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