Metronome Secrets for Guitar 3/4

Welcome to part 3 of this 4-part series on Metronome Secrets for Guitar. Over the course of these articles I’ll be covering lots of different and interesting ways to use the metronome to improve your time-keeping, groove and technique. This will be a nice intro for those new to this tool, and a nice refresher with some creative new ideas for those who are already metroprone.

Drop Out
A great technique to strengthen your feeling of the pulse is to drop Play or clap to the click – when you’re settled in mute it and keep clapping. After a while, fade the click back up again. Are you still in time with the click, did you stray from the pulse? Did you speed up or slow down?

If you’re going to try this, make sure you just silence the click, don’t stop it completely – it’s important that it keeps pulsing away silently so when you turn it up again it’s still in the same time as it was when you started!

It might be tough to simultaneously play and mute/unmute the click track, here are a couple of solutions:

    • do the exercise with a friend, each of you taking turns to operate the click.
    • program a computerised click track with pauses.
    • tap your leg with one hand, operate the click with the other
    • play a part that has some gaps!
    • you can just stop playing your part for a few seconds to mute the click. If you keep feeling the pulse, you should be able to drop right back into the groove.

In this session’s video, I play a rhythm guitar part in the classic rock style. Listen closely and you’ll hear I’ve programmed the click to drop out at several points – it then fades back in again so I can make sure I’m still locked in. I heard of one drummer who used to leave minutes between clicks to test his internal pulse – that’s some hardcore dedication!

 

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Metronome Secrets for Guitar – 1/4

Welcome to part one of this 4-part series on metronome secrets for guitar. Over the course of these articles I’ll be covering lots of different and interesting ways to use the metronome to improve your time-keeping, groove and technique. This will be a nice intro for those new to this tool, and a nice refresher with some creative new ideas for those who are already metroprone.

First off…

…go and buy one! It doesn’t matter if it’s an old wooden one or a fancy new electronic one, they all do the same job. You can download free metronome apps for most smart phones, or download free metronome programs for your computer. There is literally no excuse for not owning a metronome!

I am constantly losing and re-finding my metronomes, so I’ve ended up accumulating  ton of different ones. Here are my favourites:

  • For general use, the Korg MA -30.

No Guitar? No problem!

Clap in time with the metronome. When you lock just right, your hand-claps will drown out the click and the metronome will sound like it’s disappeared. If you deviate from the pulse, you’ll hear the click ‘poke out’ either side of your hand clap.

While you do this (and while you do any metronome exercise) make sure to tap your foot in time with the click. You can tap on every beat, just on the 2 &4, or even just on the 1…but make sure you keep that foot going. It’ll develop into a constant, physical connection with the pulse – your own built in metronome – something that comes in handy in a lot of situations you might not expect (any kind of playing, sight-reading, transcription etc…).

Speed King

The metronome is a fantastic tool for improving your speed and technical facility on the guitar. I like to take a lick, start it really slow and gradually increase the metronome speed until it’s stretching the limits of my technique. Over time, I’ll be able to play it faster and faster…It’s important to start slow to develop relaxed control and good muscle memory.

In this video I take a blues lick and gradually bump up the tempo. In personal practice, I’ll increase the metronome 4-8bpm each time. To save time on the demo, I bump it up in larger increments (10-20bpm) from starting down at 70bpm and stretching up to 200.
Make sure to check out  2:20, where I base a whole solo around the lick and its variations.

Slow Downer

Another great trick is to slow the part down. Sure, that funk part sounds great at 120bpm, but can you play it at 80bpm…or 50bpm? Not only does playing slowly give you more space to focus on your sound, technique and note choice, it’s also a serious workout for your time. Making a quick part feel funky at a slow tempo is really tough and will help you develop a really professional, mature groove.
One of my absolute favourite guys for this is Robbie Mcintosh – this guy is a wonderful player! Check out his solo at 2:48, it’s a masterclass in restraint and taste.

For more Robbie Mcintosh, check out http://www.robbiemcintosh.com/.

For more metronome secrets for guitar, check out PART 2/4 coming soon!

Breath Power!

All the principles of heaven and earth are living inside you. Life itself is truth, and this will never change. Everything in heaven and earth breathes. Breath is the thread that ties creation together. – Morihei Ueshiba

Have you ever been concentrating on something and noticed yourself holding your breath? This can happen before an audition, before a big solo, or at a particularly challenging or exposed section of music. I even find myself holding my breath while playing warm-up exercises before a practice session or when reading a musical score for the first time.

As a musician, there are many reasons why it is helpful to breathe fully and clearly:

  • Holding your breath (negatively) affects your time and groove.
  • Breathing helps keep you mentally limber. When you’re breathing fully your body and brain are well-supplied with oxygen. It’s hard to think when you’re gasping for air!
  • Good breathing helps reduce tension in the body, relaxing the muscles of the arms and torso. Holding your breath creates tension.
  • Deep breathing helps reduce stress and anxiety (stage fright, anyone?). This is especially true of a long, steady exhale.

Breath Experiment

Take a moment to try a simple breathing experiment with me. Inhale for six seconds, drawing the breath into the pit of the stomach. Then inhale for six seconds. Try to draw the breath in and out at an even pace, not over-reaching at the beginning or rushing towards the end. As you breathe, keep the shoulders relaxed and stationary – breathe into the stomach, there’s no need to raise your shoulders up to your ears for a deep breath; let your belly fill and expand as you inhale and let it collapse as you exhale.

Some people like to visualise a trail of warmth or light traveling into the nose and down into the pit of the stomach on the inhale, and then that same trail of warmth or light rising through the spine, up the neck and out the top of the head on the exhale. Others visualise a stream of bubbles. There’s nothing particularly mystical about the visualisation itself, but it can be a nice tool to aid focus.

Next time you warm up, sight read, or play technical exercises, be aware of your breath. See if you can breathe evenly and deeply through the exercise. For added credit, take a mental tour of the muscles of your arms, shoulders, back, chest, stomach, legs, and even feet – relax each one consciously until you’re using only the bare minimum physical tension needed to play the musical passage.

Sing It

The next time you take a solo, either with a backing track or a live band, try to sing what you play. You don’t need to have the voice of George Benson to do this – you can just vocalise along with your solo quietly and away from your microphone. You may find your lines take on a more personal, phrase-based sound.

I distinctly remember sitting in a lesson with Giorgio Serci – I was a student in the beginning stages of learning how to improvise in a jazz style and was struggling. Sure, I could (just about) navigate some basic jazz chord progressions but what I was playing sounded dull and very ‘by the numbers’. After a few minutes of playing Giorgio said, ‘let’s do it again, this time sing what you play‘. The difference was immediate and powerful – at once my playing sounded alive and like ‘me’, my own voice began to sound.

Why would this happen? Firstly, uniting what you sing with what you play can provide a more solid bridge to the music in your head – sure, you’ll still play your Clapton licks, but you’ll be surprised with how many more of your own melodic ideas and phrases will pop out too.

Secondly, the physical requirement to pause for breath will chop your solo into smaller phrases. For most beginner and intermediate players this is a very good thing – it’s too easy to noodle aimlessly and continuously around a scale with no real sense of melodic statement.

Thirdly, I personally find vocalising helps me connect my emotions to what I play. Whether it’s joy, anger, frustration, mischievousness, if I can recruit my breath and voice into the process I find it somehow shortcuts my inhibitions and allows those feelings to more easily channel through the music. I think there’s some truth in it when people say that the breath is the bridge between the conscious and the unconscious – because it can be controlled by either.

Admittedly, this second principle is somewhat negated if you can circular breathe!

Going Forward

Play with the following exercises and try to 1) maintain a conscious, full breathing pattern throughout and then 2) sing what you play. Be aware of the effect either approach has on your sense of time, melody and connection with the music.

– Play a scale at a slow pace to a metronome.

– Improvise over a simple chord sequence (perhaps a blues).

– Play a solo you know well (for example, ‘Alright Now’ or ‘Hotel California’). As you breath evenly, you may notice particular parts of the solo are much harder than usual – this is where you usually hold your breath! Work these areas until you can breath evenly through them.

– Play any song from your repertoire, again noting and working through areas of unexpected difficulty.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on the relationship between breath and music – go ahead and post below!

Good luck!

SJ