Why a guitarist should practice with a metronome
Eventually there comes a time in a guitarist's life when he or she decides that it is necessary to clean things up a bit. I have seen so many guitar players work with sloppy riffs, and unsynchronized timings, until one day they make the "decision of precision".
1. The decision of precision and why it is important.
You should understand that no matter how far you want to take your playing on the guitar, there is always room for cleanliness and finesse. If you are going to spend a lifetime playing the guitar, you might as well do it to the best of your capabilies.
The great evention that bestows perfect playing is none other than the metronome, and I strongly believe that a guitarist who does not work with one, at least every now and then, is wasting talent. We all have the ability to play at a phenomenal level, no matter the choice of music.
A metronome facilitates all speeds of guitar playing or music in general. If you plan on playing something slow - use a metronome. If you plan to work on something fast - use a metronome.
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Remember this, control over timing, speed, and fluid movement is determined by the brain. This is also why a lot of guitar players never move forward with their speed goals. They don't understand that its a 50/50. Fifty percent of precision and speed comes from the physical properties of the hands, like muscle memory, and the other fifty percent comes about by the mind's strength and focus. These two factors must always be working in unison, in order to make the best of your playing.
2. Training with a metronome.
Working with a metronome is not hard, but at first it can seem a little boring. If you can stick with it consistently for a few days, you will start to notice a large amount of progress in your playing, and then the progress itself becomes a lot of fun.
A metronome is your best friend, because it tells you what's really going on. It works with you to clean up your playing and make great progress, as long as you are willing to work with it and not against it.
It reminds me of this program Quicken, which is used to manage your finances. Its amazing, because everyone who starts using it always comes back with the same response. "I had no idea that I was wasting so much money on useless things, and now that I see where my money is going - I can correct this for a better financial status!".
Though its and odd comparison, Quicken and a metronome both have something in common. They both can help you determine bad habits. In other words, they contain a lot of strange wisdom and help you to see the light.
No one can possibly progress in anything in life until they see what is holding them back.
If you really want to make great progress with a metronome, then here are some tips, and these tips can be applied to working with chords, or simply notes and other techniques.
a) Always start something new at an insanely slow amount of speed.
b) When you are working at this slow rate of speed, your objective is to establish perfect clarity with notes, chords, or other techniques.
c) Building a good foundation with a chord, chords, lick, riff, note, notes techniques, is the key to true progression. Speed should be in the back of your mind, as it will come naturally if you can play smoothly at increasing tempos.
d) Practice all things on the guitar with a different variation. If you can play one lick with strictly alternate picking, then work on that same lick with strictly legato. Play an exercise backwards, forwards, east and west.
e) Work with exercises in 4ths, 8ths, and 16ths, and do this at varrying tempos. Remember, the more notes or pick strokes, the more you should decrease the tempo of the metronome.
f) Try practicing complete rhythms and chord structures with a metronome.
Conclusion and final advice
I have talked about for years the importance of keeping a practice journal. This is obvious, as you simply jot down your daily progress, in as much detail as you can muster.
However, there is something that needs to be said for this. I don't care how well you were doing the day before, when you get ready to start the next day's practice routine - you must slow things down.
Spend a good half hour going through all of your exercises at mind exasperatingly slow rates of speed. When you are doing this, be aware of the feelings inside your hands, especially the picking hand.
The best way that I can explain this to you is to have you imagine yourself getting into your car, on a cold winter's day. Let's pretend that you didn't take the time to let the car warm up first, and you instantly get started on down the highway.
Under these conditions, it is common for a car to have trouble getting past a speed of 50 miles per hour. The accelerator is stiff and stubborn, and you can literally feel and hear the engine's response. The motor simply is not ready to go beyond 50 mph. It hasn't woken up yet, but once it does, the accelerator loosens up considerably and the car smoothly moves ahead.
This is exactly how the hands function when you first start practicing. Keep this analogy in mind, because when your hands are ready to actually start practicing, you'll know it. On some days it takes a little longer for them to get warmed up, so be patient! don't push them when they are not ready to go. When they finally kick in - you'll know it, and you can actually start practicing for real and strive for progress.
If you can discipline yourself enough to always incorporate these factors into your training, then the world is yours!