It’s All About Timing
Instead of trying to be as prolific as usual on this week's blog, I thought I’d rather take the opportunity to share a few click/metronome tips and ideas that I hope you may find helpful.
Understanding how to use a metronome is a ‘must have’ skill for any wannabe or pro musician and although its usage (or your knowhow of its role) may not always be called upon in every working situation you find yourself in - to work alongside the time keeping device in a comfortable manner should be something you try and achieve for, from as early as possible on your musical journey.
Some musicians, especially in their early stages of development, really struggle getting to grips with clicks/metronomes and even swear them off altogether. They resist and fight against the devices 'robotism as if they're fighting some kind of system, and will do whatever they need to do to show ‘the man’ that they can develop world class timing on their own (and their instrument) without using it.
Now, while I’m sure that this may be possible (eventually at least). The cold hard truth is that learning to embrace the click/metronome and use it to your advantage early on can actually help accelerate your musical progression, allow you to develop better overall timing, have a better understanding of musical pulse and even improve your groove - regardless of the genre or what instrument you play.
So without further ado, here are some tips that I’ve personally learnt (and used) over the years that I hope may help you learn that the click/metronome doesn’t actually have to be your enemy and show you how with enough practice you actually don’t have to sound robotic at all.
1. Regardless of time signature, learn to count loud with the metronome beeps/clicks. I’d even suggest letting the metronome beep/click for a few bars (usually 2-4) and count with it before you even attempt to add playing along with your musical instrument. Also, remember to always start slow - especially in the beginning stages of learning how to use a click/metronome.
2. Always tap along. It doesn’t matter if it’s your left foot, right foot, both feet, or even a head nod, embrace the beeping/clicking sounds and try and feel it within your body. Along with the counting, these first two tips will eventually help you develop more of an overall musical pulse and, although this might take some a while, once you get to grips with standard pulse (and can feel it internally) you will notice your entire groove and overall feel improve drastically.
3. Once you're comfortable with tips 1 and 2, change the revolutionary beep/click (usually the one) to the same pitch as all the other beeps. This makes the ‘one’ less obvious, but again allows you to develop a stronger understanding on overall pulse and downbeats in general. Don’t rush this step, it may take a while, so be patient.
4. Allow yourself to change subdivisions. This can mean that you set the metronome to quavers (upbeats or eighth notes) and see what it feels like (and how it changes) the overall feel when playing to more beeps/clicks, or even less beeps/clicks by setting to minims (half notes). You could even use dotted notes, it’s a great way to develop clave type pulses. Regardless, this method can allow you to feel a lot more (or a lot less) space depending on the subdivision, so start slow and always allow the metronome to go around a few bars before you just play so you can internalize the timing, as mentioned in tip 1.
5. Know what to listen for. It takes a while to really get comfortable with the click/metronome, but once you do (especially if you really lock in with it), you will find that more often than not you won’t even hear the beeping/clicking anymore. Now, typically this means you’re actually in time, but for the purpose of this blog, it’s not to say that you’re always going to be, so make sure you stay diligent and listen. For me, I pretty much only pay attention to the downbeat (or the one) and rely on my instinct for the rest of the bar now days. Please keep in mind though that I started practicing with clicks/metronomes over 25 years ago, so just because this works for me doesn’t mean it’s going to automatically work for you, nor does it have to. Find your own path and follow it.
6. If all else fails and you’re still really battling to get to grips with having to follow those bastard little beeps and clicks, try loosen up and treat the metronome like a hired percussionist, that simply only plays quarter notes when you play and is there to jam with you. This will take some of the pressure of trying to play perfectly in time off of you and by default you may learn to sit with the click/metronome without even realizing it. Oh, and also just for your information - 'perfect time' does not exist (it may according to a DAW or machine), but we’re humans and therefore if you’re trying to create/play music like a human, you don’t have to be ‘perfect’.
Lastly, and this isn’t so much of a tip as it is just a generalization, but please keep in mind that depending on the genre of music you play that you don’t actually always have to use a metronome for recordings. Some bands do, some bands don’t. It’s all going to come down to your overall preference and the overall idea that you (or your band) have conceptualized. That being said though, even if you only use a click/metronome while you're practicing by yourself, I assure you that you’re going to notice a huge difference (and improvement) in your timing, plus - it can be a fun way to explore different pulses and beats musically, so try and enjoy it. Until next time.