Slow Down to Speed Up

acoustic guitar beginning guitar best practice best practices electric guitar free metronome how to how to practice musicians percussive strumming techniques practice with a metronome practicing rhythm guitar Apr 07, 2022

I was experiencing one of those scared-straight moments… It was one of those situations where I came out saying, “never again…never ever again…”  

I mean how was I supposed to know? My music teacher never talked about this. At all. Never. ZERO times. 

His question made my mind go,  “whoza-whatzit?”. “Um, can you repeat the question?”

“What’s the BPM of your song?” asked the engineer. 

The looks on our faces were probably the only indication he needed to understand the day ahead of him and the day we had ahead of us.  Mind you, we were in the studio still wiping away the dollar sign sticker-shock. The session just started and our first mistake was made months ago. 

Oh, so what was the no-good-very-bad-day making mistake? Well I’m sorry to say we never practiced with a metronome. Okay, sure, I’m being a little hard on my past-self. Live and learn. We all make mistakes, but I don’t want you to make the same one I did! There’s plenty of other mistakes to learn from, so trust me on this one.

The sad part is that we had a lot of songs that we wanted to record and were really excited about them. But as every pro knows, when you go to record a song, you record to a click track so that when you mess up, you can punch-in and pick right back up where you left off.

Well anyways, we didn’t have any bpm mapped out because we’d never practiced with a metronome, and surprise, what ended up happening was an all around shitty experience. We got something down, but we were all over the place. It was like swimming in oatmeal. It was messy.

After that, I knew we had to start practicing with one. It was 2005/2006 so this was before apps, and the only person I knew who had one was our drummer. We could plug our headphones in his gear and start messing around like that. 

Now, you can find free apps and online metronomes just by a quick google search.

But it’s funny, the gold I mined from the depths of this musical experience, this gem of knowledge that I’ve been continually excited to share for 15 years, is usually met with indifference. It is actually one of the most difficult things to get students to use a metronome in their practice time, at first. 

I get it, when someone isn’t instantly going to reap the benefits of doing something, it’s not appealing. It’s hard enough just to practice for some, and adding on a metronome, it just sounds messy. I mean it’s actually kind of a rite of passage. It has to be all over the place. But feeling that messiness also helps because you become aware of how precise your inner tempo is. 

Once you realize it, you can only get better. Especially if you stay consistent with it. And those who stick with metronome practice, eventually go “Oh ok, long term, if I’m going to do music, it’s an investment…” 

This is what separates someone as a hobbyist versus someone taking it seriously, because the benefits of using a metronome are not just for recording, but for going out and playing songs live or playing with a band…you want to have a solid sense of tempo even more so while playing live. 

Commandment One of the Metronome Bible: The metronome is thy friend! 

Especially if you’re ready to get into different patterns in your strumming or picking, and want it to be clean.

Okay, Mike, I hear you and I’m ready to let the metronome into my heart…okay maybe just my practice routine… What do I do? 

One of the most helpful things people can do with a metronome is not to jump right into playing. People think when a metronome is on that they automatically have to play, but sometimes the best thing to do is listen and count with it.

Can you count with it: 1234, 12 skip 3, 4 

Or count the ands or just the ands:  1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

Or count the 16th notes: 1 e and a, 2 e and a 3 e and a 4 e and a

If you count out loud with the metronome, it makes you aware of your internal tempo. When most people count out loud, they realize they can be a little late or a little early. Which brings me to an “aha” point… it’s not a playing problem, it might actually be an internal tempo problem that needs to be resolved.  If you spend that little chunk of time on the front end, you’ll lock in way quicker. That’s what we want, we want you in that pocket! 

Finding that pocket is about setting reasonable BPM expectations. Some people are like, “Ok so this song is 150, I’ll move it down to 120!” No, you need to set it more around 70. I get the excitement to learn and that’s amazing, but again, I will always encourage you to find what is the most comfortable bpm instead.  Is 70 the magic number to set your metronome to? No, definitely not, it’s up to you to find the speed things start to gel.

Keep in mind slower is faster. Have you ever heard the phrase? The more you practice at a slow tempo, the faster you’ll be able to speed it up, cleanly. If that’s confusing, I promise once you get used to how it all works, you’re never going to choose a speed that’s beyond your abilities - you’re going to choose a slow speed so you can work through all the little intricacies. 

Use the tools available! If you’re playing a popular song, like Love Me Do, by the Beatles, you can get on YouTube and slow the song down using a custom speed. You can hear what it sounds like at 70.  Yeah, it’s going to be slow and low like “loooaavee mieee dooh” and sound weird, but it gives us a starting point that will build more consistency and we’re building up the skill to slow down songs in our mind.

Okay now you’re feeling like you need to do this…don’t put extreme pressure on yourself and burn out. Just start incorporating it.

Steps and tips for someone just starting to use the metronome 

  1. Download Metrotimer. It’s a free app and by far the absolutely one of the best. Still one of my favorites. If you’re looking to invest $5, Pro Metronome has a feature where you can get rid of beats and do subdivisions. It’s really cool I kinda geek out about that one.
  2. Count out loud with it. Don’t even pick up your instrument yet. Run through quarter notes, eight notes and sixteenth notes outloud to make sure your internal tempo is right on.
  3. Take something as simple as a scale you can run through - don’t be fancy or crazy, but start at 60 BPM and see if you can just play right along with the clicks.
  4. Take chords you already know like G or E minor and strum  on 1, 2, 3, 4 (Tip: Don’t ever practice a new chord with something new like adding a metronome at the same time. It’s asking yourself to juggle gravy. It’s an impossible thing mixed with an impossible thing and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment)
  5. Can you take it to the next level and add an and so you strum 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 
  6. Focus three times a week for 5, 10, 15 minutes with the metronome
  7. If you’re finding trouble with that, set your alarm in your phone to go off at a specific time

Someone who says, “meh, not a big deal” or “sounds boring” to this, won’t end up using it, and will totally miss out on all these growth points. There’s all these little imperfections that get fixed-  and it’s the little things that make you feel great while playing, help you expand as a musician and stand out from the crowd.

Those who don’t realize their tempo challenges, unfortunately remain in the dark to their own inconsistencies. 

That doesn’t have to be you. It’s all about being intentional and setting yourself up for tiny wins that eventually make a huge difference! Good luck and let me know how it goes! 

 

Mike Meiers is an Emmy Award-Winning songwriter, producer, and guitar coach. Mike currently writes for indie artists, has had placements for MTV, VH1 NPR, FOX Sports, History Channel, Showtime, and Target. He’s also the founder and coach at Songwriting For Guitar, helping songwriters enhance their guitar skills so they can write better songs and get them out into the world!

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