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Want perfect time? Buy a metronome.

Oh, quit whining already...go buy one now!
Have you ever listened to your favorite player and found that you are totally overwhelmed by their sense of rhythm or groove? Human beings are not born with "perfect time" or "internal clocks". All musicians must and will spend much time practicing with a metronome or drum machine to develop this skill. Musicians have to learn to keep steady time in spite of their emotional and mental states which fluctuate constantly. So, daily practice with the metronome will help you master all styles of music at any tempo.

"Musicians have to learn to keep steady time in spite of their emotional and mental states which fluctuate constantly."
Gone are the days of the pendulum-style metronome. In our digital age, you can purchase a metronome with a modest, built-in tuner that is the size of a credit card! Also, drum machines are a great way to practice as long as you can program them really well or the factory preset rhythms may be sufficient for your needs. Just make sure the tempos are steady! Also, some metronomes/drum machines can handle odd meters. Check out all of your options concerning the myriad of products available and choose the one that best suits your needs. Personally, I own several different types of metronomes, and program drum patterns on my sequence gear.

Most musicians are unaware of the various ways to use the metronome to simulate the "feel" of a drummer or rhythm section. Here are the most common ways to use the metronome effectively:

  1. Set the beat for each quarter note for Latin, Funk, or Rock styles
  2. Set the beat on "2 and 4" to simulate the way a drummer hits the snare or hi-hat for Swing or "Back-beat" rhythms.
  3. Set the beat on "1 and 3" for Classical or Reggae.
  4. When practicing triplet groupings like 3/4, 6/8 or 12/8 set the metronome beat to eighth notes.
  5. To practice speeding up and slowing down...record the metronome doing this and practice to the play back of your recording.
  6. After a while, you will know when you are right on the beat of the metronome because you will get the sensation of not hearing the metronome while you play! Essentially, your notes are replacing the metronome beats. This will happen but requires much patience/practice to achieve. Alternately, practice playing behind, ahead and against the beat of the metronome.
  7. Create your own play-alongs by recording the changes to your favorite songs in a way that the metronome can be heard clearly along with the chord changes.
Be creative when you practice with a metronome. Remember to practice within the comfort range of your abilities but also use the metronome to practice extremely slow and fast passages. Everyone will experience at least one performance in their lives where they just felt like tempo was a real problem for them. Maybe you will rush the rhythm section or drag the beat. Practice the extremes so that when you are in live performance you will be prepared for anything!

Good luck.

Steven Faile is a guitarist, teacher, husband, and an altogether nice guy.