Top 3 Ways to Practice Guitar With a Metronome


  • January 11, 2021
  • 4 

Updated: January 11, 2021

One of the first concepts I teach my students is how to practice guitar with a metronome. Most tend to be resistant to the idea at first. I know I certainly was when I first started playing guitar. Metronomes are tricky and complicated, right?

However, the difference in the progression between the students who ultimately embraced metronome practice and those who continued to neglect it was abundantly clear:

This stuff works. 

In this lesson you will learn the top 3 ways to practice guitar with a metronome.

Why You Should Be Using a Metronome

Practice Guitar With a Metronome

If you practice guitar with a metronome you are going to quickly see some dramatic improvements in your playing ability and musicianship. The first and most important benefit of practicing guitar with a metronome is developing your timing.

Being able to consistently keep time is critical in music and especially critical in rhythm guitar. At its core, all a metronome is is a time keeping device for your music. As you practice keeping time with a metronome more and more, you will begin to see additional benefits in your playing, such as:

  • You will be able to maintain a steady tempo with ease and adjust tempos on the fly
  • How much time each note should play and how much space should separate the notes won’t even be a thought for you, you will feel it come naturally.
  • Your rhythms and chord progressions will improve and gain consistency
  • You will be able to progress all facets of your guitar playing in much less time than it used to take you
  • Your ability to read music and “sight sing” will improve without you knowing it

I could write on and on about why you should practice guitar with a metronome, but I think Andy Lemaire summed it up nicely in his article: Why You Should practice With a Metronome.

Effects of Ignoring Metronome Practice

Neglecting to practice guitar with a metronome won’t ruin your playing abilities. In fact, many guitarists get on just fine without ever learning how to use one.

However, not knowing how to incorporate a metronome into your guitar practice routine, will seriously hinder your progression and hurt you musically.

First, neglecting the metronome will lead to slower progression in your guitar playing abilities. The metronome is an incredible asset for all guitar players to assess their comfortable tempos and measure progress. If you can’t accurately measure those things, you are doing yourself a disservice.

Second, your rhythm playing abilities will suffer. A metronome’s sole purpose is to keep time, much like [one of] a rhythm’s purpose is to reinforce the tempo of the song. If you aren’t using a metronome you won’t be able to keep time well and you’ll find yourself trying to rely on the time-keeping abilities of other musicians around you - and that is a recipe for disaster.

Finally, you won’t be as consistent of a guitar player. With metronome work you are constantly focusing on accuracy and tempo and over time those 2 things will mesh beautifully. However, if you don’t take the time to develop that bond, you will be much more prone to missing notes, fatigue and just generally inconsistent guitar playing.

How a Metronome Works

You’ve probably seen old metronomes before: the little wooden pyramid with a big stick in the middle that sways from left to right. These metronomes worked great, but were not very user-friendly and had some unfortunate drawbacks. Before I can get too much further into how a metronome works, you should understand the basics of Time Signatures.

Time Signatures

A time signature is a musical notation symbol that states the overall rhythm of a piece of music. You will see the time signature located right next to the Clef in a music staff:

Image Courtesy of MusicNotes.com's Lesson on Complete Guide to Time Signatures

The top number of a Time Signature represents the number of beats that a measure will need to have to be complete. The bottom number on a time signature represents the type of note that gets the beat.

One of the most common time signatures you’ll see is 4/4. In a 4/4 time signature, there are 4 notes per measure, and those notes are 4 (quarter) notes. You may sometimes also hear the bottom part referred to as “getting the beat”. For example, in 4/4 you’d say “4 notes per measure, quarter note gets the beat”.

Popular Types of Metronomes

Now, in the end it matters far less what metronome you use, and far more that you actually intend on using it. Therefore, don’t get too caught up in various features of different metronomes. They are all relatively the same.

As mentioned before, the old school style metronomes were (and in some places still are) very popular. These metronomes worked by setting a weight on a pendulum that would influence the speed (or tempo) at which the pendulum would move.

The biggest downfall of these types of metronomes, aside from their lack of user-friendliness, is that all notes “tick” the same sound. As the pendulum swings back and forth each beat’s “tick” will sound identical to the last. This makes it easy to jump in and out of a piece with a metronome at any point, but makes it really difficult to know if you’ve missed a beat anywhere in your music.

With modern, electric metronomes you typically will hear a different tone for the “1” beat, making it much easier to know if you’re properly keeping time or if you’ve missed any notes. You can buy standalone metronomes from amazon or music stores, or you can install a metronome app on your phone and use it there. Personally, I like the app option because it means I always have my metronome on me.

Tip: When working with a metronome, if your music has notation above the tablature, try to pay close attention to what it looks like as you play. This will get you more comfortable reading music without needing to actually read music. Just take note of the different notes, how they look and how it all translates to what you are playing.

The Most Important Guitar Lesson You'll Ever Watch

3 Ways to Practice Guitar With a Metronome

#1: Practice Guitar Scales with a Metronome

Metronomes can be awesome tools for learning guitar scales. By practicing your scales with a metronome you will speed up the muscle memory development process.

Additionally, metronomes offer an excellent way to build your speed and measure your progress.

Lastly, adding a metronome to your scale practice will develop your picking speed, accuracy and alternate picking consistency.

Exercise:

1. Start with an easy scale pattern, such as the C Major scale:

c major scale

2. Set metronome to a comfortable speed, such as 60 BPM

3. Try to synchronize your notes with the click of the metronome, playing 1 note per beat

Tip: Tapping your foot to the beat can help with this. However, some folks aren’t comfortable with foot tapping until later on in their playing and that’s okay.

4. Stay at this tempo until every note rings clearly and you hit each one with ease. The idea here is to focus on accuracy and timing, not speed. Speed is a byproduct of accuracy and timing.

5. After at least 3 perfect repetitions, begin to increase tempo by 5-10 BPM increments

6. Once you get to 120BPM, 1 note per beat, try dropping the tempo down to 60 BPM and playing 2 notes per beat. What this sounds like is 1 note on the click and one note in between the clicks. This is 8th note practice.

This process can then be scaled for smaller and smaller notes. For example, once you can cleanly and accurately play the eighth note practice at 120 BPM, cut the speed back down to 60 and play 4 notes per beat. This is 16th note practice.

For more information on learning scales, I recommend completing my lesson: How to Learn Guitar Scales

#2: Master Chords and Chord Transitions with Metronome Work

For the below examples we will be using the G Major and D Major chords

Exercise 1:

1. Set your metronome to 60 BPM

2. Without playing anything, count with the metronome, 1...2...3...4, for a few cycles

3. Once you feel comfortable with the timing, play your first chord on the 1st beat in the measure

4. Keep counting in your head: 2...3...4…

5. On the next “1” play your next chord

In the beginning, focus on thinking about where your fingers need to go. Plan out where you are about to move each finger as you count “2...3...4..” so that on the next “1” count, you know exactly where your fingers need to be and you get them there with ease.

Exercise 2:

1. Start at 60 BPM on the metronome

2. For this exercise we are going to practice alternating chords on each beat.

3. In this practice, focus on getting your fingers in the right place before the beat hits. Visualize where you are about to move each finger and then execute.

If needed, practice this without strumming and simply alternate chord shapes with your fretting hand along with the beat.

4. Once you can easily get your hand correctly positioned in time, focus on only strumming the correct strings, making sure you aren’t strumming the low E or A strings on your D chord, for example.

For more ways to improve your chord transitions, check out my lesson on: Guitar Chord Transition Exercises.

#3: Make Song Learning Easy with a Metronome

Metronomes can be really helpful tools for learning song parts. If you’ve ever learned a song with GuitarPro, you know what this is all about. GuitarPro is a software that allows you to play TABs at a given speed and allows you to adjust that tempo to whatever you want. However, this requires someone to transcribe the whole song to a GuitarPro file, which often isn’t available.

Enter the metronome...

1. First, find final recorded tempo of the song

This can usually be found by a simple Google search. If you have the sheet music or TAB on hand, the tempo should be listed there as well. Not sure where? Find out: How to Read Guitar TABs

2. Next set a metronome to that tempo and, without your guitar, practice counting at that tempo. If you know the time signature, count at the correct time signature as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to slow the tempo down for this next series of steps. In fact, I recommend it.

4. Practice counting 1...2...3...4 up to the desired tempo

Tip: Keep count by clapping on the beats while you do this

5. Practice counting 8th notes: “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”

6. Then practice counting only the “ands” of the 8th notes: “... and ...and ...and ...and”

This will help improve your ability to stay in time at that tempo and get you more comfortable with that tempo

7. Now take the first section of the song and learn it at half tempo (feel free to go slower than half for those really fast songs) with a metronome.

Tip: ALWAYS break learning your songs into small sections. It will save you a ton of time and frustration in the long run.

8. Play that section over and over until you’ve got 3 perfect attempts in a row. No cheating here. No muted or muffled notes, no dead notes or missed picks. 100% accuracy is the goal.

9. Once you get that, increase tempo in 10 BPM increments until you can play the song at tempo

Challenge: Learn the part at 50% above tempo to make full, 100% tempo much easier.

Wrapping It Up

At this point you should be comfortable practicing guitar with a metronome. You know how to use a metronome to improve your chord transitions, scales and song learning abilities. Now it’s up to you to apply this knowledge in your daily practice sessions.

Remember, incorporating a metronome will only lead to you being a much better musician.

Have you ever used a metronome before? Are you still confused with any of the material covered here today? Leave any questions or comments you have in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you ASAP (usually within 24 hours).

posted January 11, 2021

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  1. Being a music teacher myself, I can appreciate that this is beneficial for a certain period of time. However, when it comes to creating ones own songs and improvising, the metronome becomes quite clinical.  Personally, I learnt to play the flute by ear and there is nothing wrong with the timing when I play in unison with others. In a music group, most people follow the drummer for timing, imagine if we didn’t how out of sync we would be if we were adamant that we have to stick to metronome timing?!  Be that as it may, uniqueness is key here I believe, to create an amazing song!

    1. Hi there!

      I completely agree! I don’t believe we should only practice guitar with a metronome. In fact, I’d recommend playing with a drummer over a metronome most times as it forces you to adapt. I apologize for the confusion – I definitely did not mean to imply bands should stick to metronome time and not their drummer’s time. That would be silly! But we are on the same page, thanks for the comment! I’ll go back and read through the lesson to see if there are some areas where I can clear this up, thanks and take care!

  2. This is a great article about the Top 3 way to Practice Guitar with a Metronome. I wish I found your website earlier in my life. I have done a lot of metronome practice in my attempt to master the classical guitar. The practice was to break up measure by measure and play it far below tempo get it right and as you progress increase the tempo of the metronome. Practicing with a metronome on a difficult measure of music is an absolute necessity to master a piece of music. I am looking forward to many more great tips from your website. 

    All the best 

    Louis Munro 

    1. Hi Louis,

      Thanks for the comment! Ah yes, classical guitarists are well aware of the importance of metronomes to guitar playing. Classical guitar has some of the most intricate licks and melodies that using a metronome to slow down, keep in time and accurate, really does wonders for learning those difficult pieces, as you’ve said. Thanks again for the comment and take care!

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