Brian offers two exercises that’ll make you a tighter and more swinging player.
The metronome is an essential tool for developing good time when you practice. After I got serious about practicing with the metronome, I noticed that I was more rhythmically centered playing in live situations. The metronome is a good simulation of the strict tempo you’ll encounter working with other musicians.
Unlike backing tracks and loops, the metronome dictates tempo only. This means that the chord changes, forms, etc. are still your responsibility. Good improvisers don’t count on other players to hear what chord they are on or where they are in the form. The metronome keeps us from getting lazy and just skating over those chord changes and form positions.
The morning hours are a great time to practice with the metronome. The brain is fresh and seems to focus a bit better than later in the day.
How to Use the Metronome
Don’t learn new material with the metronome. Instead, polish what you've already learned. I make sure to have whatever it is I’m working on under my fingers before I ever turn the metronome on. After turning it on I’ll frequently turn it off to work out issues then resume practicing with the metronome. Consider purchasing a metronome that knocks instead of beeps, or at the very least, has a volume control. This makes practice a little more pleasing to the ear.
You’ll find a wide selection of good metronome choices at Musician's Friend.
Two Exercises to Improve Your Time and Swing
What follows are two fairly easy metronome exercises complete with example videos. Integrating them into practice sessions will sharpen your time and pay off on the bandstand.
THE BEAT DIVISION EXERCISE
- Set your metronome to around 70 bpm with an accented beat 1
- Play scales in the following divisions of the beat.
- When you can play scales with ease, begin to improvise in the divisions.
(2 notes per beat) count: 1 &
Eighth note triplets
(3 notes per beat) count:1 & a
(4 notes per beat) count: 1 e & a
Sixteenth note triplets
(6 notes per beat) count: triplet, triplet
- Always keep track of beat 1 and start your scales on 1.
- Count with the metronome then use your pick on a muted string to find the division before playing the scale.
- Make sure you are in sync with the metronome. If you get off, stop and start again on 1.
- Try playing the scales legato (hammer ons and pull offs, one pick per string).
- Accuracy is very important; always play for the best possible sound and never settle for less. Turn off the metronome and work it out. Never practice mistakes. Fix them. Be your own policeman!
The beat division exercise gives you a stronger time feel and also makes you aware of multiple subdivisions that can be used when soloing.
Beat division exercise in A Dorian using the metronome.
SWINGING THE METRONOME ON 2 & 4 Exercise
This exercise involves you moving the metronome to every other beat or to beats 2 & 4 in your head. It can be tricky at first but will quickly become natural to you. This is the preferred way to practice jazz tunes with the metronome.
Have you ever heard “We Will Rock You” at a sporting event? Everyone is clapping on 2 & 4. Think of your metronome clapping along with you. 2 and 4 also represent the high hat in a swing groove, the snare drum in rock or hand claps/finger snaps in just about any music genre. Here are some possible ways to get started:
Set the metronome to 50 bpm with no accented beat.
- Say “one” in-between the beeps of the metronome then try to add the rest of the count.
- Say “two” and “four” with the beep then try to add the rest of the count.
- Snapping your fingers to the beep can also help to move the metronome to every other beat.
Once you can feel the metronome on 2 & 4, play some progressions against it like a ii V I or a blues. Then begin to improvise with swung eighth notes. Swinging the eighth note can be achieved by thinking or singing “doo-ba”. “Be-bop” is another vocalization of the swung eighth.
Swinging eighth notes with the metronome on 2 & 4.
Swinging the metronome on 2&4 give you a nice loose and grooving feeling similar to playing in a band. You can also start to explore playing behind and on top of the beat with this exercise. Plus by forcing yourself to play steady streams of notes in these subdivisions you are forced to use good phrasing.
The metronome has been a big part of my development as a musician. Having a solid time feel can go a long way in playing in groups, and in solo and duo settings, it’s especially important. I hope you’ll give these exercises a try, and until next time...Keep Playing!
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Brian Baggett is Video Presenter for Musician’s Friend Private Reserve Guitars. He curates the Private Reserve guitar collection on video, visits guitar factories and works closely with luthiers and signature artists to gain insight into the greatest guitars being built today. He is also a professional guitarist playing several nights a week in the legendary Kansas City jazz scene. A former jazz guitar professor, Brian continues to teach and has a book and DVD titled Keys To Unlocking the Fretboard. Find Brian on Facebook and twitter.