Are you struggling to follow the beats in music? Can’t play along with songs in time? Having trouble strumming with a metronome?
This is one of the most common problems for guitarists, and we have all been there. In this post, I will highlight why its a problem, my own experiences with it, and what you can do to help yourself in the matter (the fact that you’re already reading this post is a great step in itself 🙂 ).
This problem focuses on rhythm, and playing in a repetitive pattern, at one speed. As humans, we naturally speed up and slow down, as thats really how we live. Its inherent in all of us – a biorhythm, if you will. This means we can never be exactly on time with any metronome, as a metronome is an electronic machine, one that stays perfectly, and therefore inhumanly, in time. Still, we can get very close, which is the aim of playing with one.
When I was stuck with this problem, I had the habit of playing the parts I found easy as fast as I could, and then I would slow right down on the parts I found difficult.
When I started playing with a metronome, my playing rapidly improved, but only when I made an effort to practise with a metronome – sometimes I would forget, and most of the time I simply didn’t want to, because it was hard to stay in time with it, and I wanted easy playing. I would watch other players and feel like there was something wrong with me, as they were playing in time and I wasn’t, even on the simplest of songs. This was very disheartening.
But over time, my sense of timing and playing with the beats improved, and I credit the metronome for half of my improvement (the other part was my continued efforts to practise). I found the songs I had learnt a while back sounded much better, and I could strum up and down with the metronome playing in the background, becoming a guide (rather than a nuisance).
So, what changed? And what can you do to improve your sense of timing and playing with the beats?
Well, first off, learn to count beat 1. The first click of the metronome, the one thats usually accented, sounding higher (or different) to the others. Knowing where beat 1 is will take you a long way, and is the foundation for good timing. Being able to play on beat 1 will take you even further. Focus on this for a while, to really ground yourself. You can count out loud, tap your foot, or clap your hands – anything that you can obviously hear yourself counting that beat.
Once you’ve done this, learn to count the other 3 beats – the 2nd click, the 3rd click, and the 4th click of the metronome (2nd, 3rd, and 4th beats respectively).
Next, learn to play on every click of the metronome (the “on beats”) at a moderate speed – around 80 bpm. Try this, and if its too fast, then slow it down by 10 bpm until you find a speed that suits you (e.g. 10 bpm lower than 80 bpm would be 70 bpm – NOT at a speed of 10 bpm!)
Then, practise playing in the spaces of the clicks of the metronome (the “off beats”), at the same speed. This will be tougher (itdefinitely was for me!), but the practise is worth it, which brings us to the last point…
Practise playing on the click and off the click of the metronome, giving a total of 8 strums per cycle of clicks. To this end, strum down on the clicks, and up in the spaces.
Once you can do these exercises comfortably at a moderate speed, try playing them at higher metronome speeds. Don’t go too high too quickly: practise with what you can do already, but is hard enough that its a challenge. This is a fine balance for practise that all guitarists work with.
Overall, developing good timing is a skill that can take a while to develop, and is something that most every guitarist is constantly developing, as they learn new finger patterns, chord shapes, and licks that present different finger movements to switch between. This in turn means they have to get those changes up to speed to integrate the new material into their playing.
I hope this post helps! Let me know your comments and thoughts below, if you fancy sharing them. The more we collaborate, the more we can learn.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to find out more about what I do, you can visit www.jwsguitarlessons.co.uk, or one of my social profiles, where we can talk communally or personally about all things guitar-y.