November 05, 2021
If you took any kind of music lessons as a kid, you probably had to practice with a metronome. Your teacher may not have explained why, though. As adults, many musicians don’t bother practicing against a metronome or a click but doing so is quite valuable for a number of reasons.
Some people’s internal clocks are naturally solid and even. Some, however, naturally vary quite a bit, and while changing speed can be a great way to convey emotion, having the ability to stay super even is a valuable skill – especially when playing with others. As it turns out, the best way to develop solid internal timing when playing without a click is to practice with one.
It’s easy to get complacent with your skills, especially if they’re working for you. When it comes to tempo, we tend to lock into a given tempo for certain songs or phrases, and even gravitate toward a narrow range when writing new riffs. A click is a great way to break up that comfort zone. Forcing various tempos both slow and fast can give you new ideas you may not have found otherwise.
Since we do tend to gravitate toward comfortable tempos, using a metronome to speed yourself up can improve your ability to play difficult passages in time and generally feel more agile and quick with your instrument.
Playing well with a band or ensemble means being able to shift your attention to the group rather than just your own playing. Using a click in practice helps develop the skill to play and also listen to something other than yourself.
Many great live players have trouble capturing their sound in the studio. Sometimes that’s because they’re bad at playing against a click. Using a click in the studio is standard practice and can really speed up the process and tighten tracks, so practicing with a click is one of the best ways to be ready for the studio. The key here is to learn to retain feel and artfulness while maintaining that solid tempo.
Even without a click, we all know how to learn a difficult passage: slow it down. The great thing about a metronome is you can set a slow tempo and systematically push yourself forward over time as you get better at the lick. The bonus is the whole time you’re learning the riff, you’re also internalizing the ability to listen to other things and stay on beat when it’s time to play it in context.
Some players may not love it at first, but a metronome can be a great gauge of your progress and where you really stand rhythmically. It may not be fun at first if you realize you’re sloppier than you thought, but that information can prove invaluable in helping you improve.
Finally, it’s worth noting that practicing without the click is valuable too. After all, you won’t always have the luxury of a metronome on stage, and you don’t want to get too dependent on it. Not to mention, there are plenty of times when you want to vary tempo. Practicing with a click is definitely a great skill builder, but it’s also a good idea to turn it off sometimes.
Plenty of musicians resist it. But metronome practice is the not-so-secret secret of the pros who have the best timing and the tightest bands. If you don’t already, it may be time to starting practicing with a click.
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