Using A Metronome

"Metronome - A device that measures beats per minute in music..."

This mechanical or electronic device helps a musician to keep proper time when practicing their music. The first of these devices was apparently invented in the late 1600's by a man named Etienne Loulie but is quite impractical by today's standards as it stood almost seven feet tall! Imagine carrying that around in your guitar case!. In the next century,  Johann Maelzel was credited with inventing its modern form. Although there remains some controversy, you often see Maelzel's name on your music as M.M. That stands for "Maelzel's Metronome" and NOT "Metronome Marking" as many people often think. Is it still a useful instrument for the musician today?

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Well, I must say that I wholeheartedly agree that it is most useful, especially for us classical guitarists. I'm often surprised by the number of guitar players I meet that don't use, or even see the benefit of one. I often think we need to embrace new ideas in relation to making our lives easier when practicing. Even in mundane and routine jobs like replacing a guitar string a string winder device can make things easier. You just need to be open to it. I digress!

Guitar String Winder

Many of my students haven't even purchased one, even though I've strongly advised them to buy one and use it! For instance, it helps you to understand and indeed "feel" some of the basic building blocks or foundations of music - beat and rhythm. It is often said that beat and rhythm are the "underlying heartbeat of all music."

Why Use a Metronome?

If you've ever watched small children at about primary (elementary) school level clap to a beat or song you'll notice something the world over, regardless of culture or country and almost without fail. They ALWAYS speed up over time until the clap or beats gets ridiculously out of hand. They actually enjoy doing this, but they do not notice at first that they are indeed doing it, it is a subconscious phenomenon.

It points out dramatically that people need to be trained to keep a beat and more complex rhythms. Using this device is a precise way of doing just that. In particular, when you're practicing a piece slowly you really need to use this device to keep time properly.

With a beginning student especially it will help them develop an internal sense of beat and rhythm. Not to mention the practicing of different "exotic" time signatures that have come into vogue in the 20th and 21st century that need more precision and understanding. Here is a little video that talks about how to use a metronome when playing scales...

Remember, this is only in practice! Although it can help you with these different subdivisions of time and is a great help when practicing and improving your scales, it is only a means to an end. After some time,  playing with this aid should be replaced by your developed inner sense of timing. If you're playing any instrument you should have an innate sense of beat, rhythm and general timing.

The metronome should help you fine tune your abilities and help with music, or sections in the music, where the composer is stricter in their requirement of the player. This would be more-so for a classical guitarist than a rock or possibly even a jazz player but is not always the case. These devices come in all shapes and sizes and are obviously very portable. They are also very inexpensive, so there is no real excuse for any guitar player or musician for not possessing a metronome. But if you haven't gotten one yet you can use this handy little website that has an online metronome...

Using a Metronome to Improve Your Playing Speed

Almost every guitarist, classical or otherwise, wants to improve their playing speed. On many occasions,  speed is gained at the cost of accuracy. There are many ways to improve speed without sacrificing accuracy so that your playing retains its fluency and "purity" of sound rather than becoming scratchy and inaccurate. The main ingredient in retaining your accuracy whilst improving your speed is developing the independence of each finger on both hands.

The practice of arpeggios is probably the best method for right hand finger independence. Scale playing is also an excellent method to improve your speed in both hands. In his excellent book Classical Guitar Pedagogy Anthony Glise gives a wonderful example of how this can be accomplished effectively...


"With a metronome, have the student play through a scale or exercise, and after each comfortable playing, move the setting up one notch. Start slowly, and at some point, the student will hit a tempo that suddenly feels very insecure.

This is much the same as a break in the voice of an untrained singer. The break will vary from guitar player to another guitar player, but it is always there and until it is overcome, it is painfully obvious...

The solution to this "break speed" is to move the setting down (one notch below the break) and work with that speed. When it feels comfortable move one notch above the break. The trick is to work around the break..."


He goes on to give some excellent advice about "accuracy in fast passages" and it's no wonder he is a leading authority throughout the world of classical guitar teaching and playing. Common sense would dictate that when there are difficulties with certain passages you need to practice them separate from the piece until mastery is obtained.

When teaching my students I often liken the practice of difficult passages to fixing an automobile. The mechanic takes out the defective part and replaces it with the new one. Similarly, the classical guitarist "takes out the old broken part" and replaces with the new by the slow methodical practice of the difficult passage then "puts in back in" when it has been "cleaned and polished" as it were.

I hope this page on using a metronome has been of help.

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