The #1 Most Important Practice Tool for Musicians
Playing the right pitch at the wrong time is still a wrong note. To be a good musician you must become a master of time.
On the most basic level, regardless of instrument, musical notes have two essential components - PITCH and DURATION. Pitch is manifested through frequency. The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch. Duration is a function of time. Notes can be longer or shorter relative to the context they are played in.
On the guitar and bass guitar the pitches are already precisely defined by the strings and the frets. If you have each of the strings tuned correctly all of the pitches at each fret will also be correctly tuned. So determining the pitch element of any given note is essentially just making a choice from a pre-determined menu.
However, for any instrument the rhythmic component to each note correctly is left entirely to the player to define. There are no markers or constraints on the instrument itself which will guide us to producing sound at the right time with the right duration. We need something additional to give us a rhythmic framework in which to determine the right time for the notes we want to play.
There is one essential tool that can supply that vital rhythmic framework - a metronome.
Every musician should have a metronome and use it regularly. Here are some reasons why:
4 Benefits of Practicing with a Metronome
- Quantify and Measure Progress: the level of difficulty for any piece of music is directly correlated to the tempo at which it is performed
- Develop Internal Pulse: cultivate your internal time sense to the point where the using the metronome is no longer necessary
- Read and Internalize Rhythmic Patterns: unfamiliar or difficult rhythmic patterns can only be interpreted within the context of the larger beat framework that the metronome can provide
- Preserve the Integrity of the Musical Line: using a metronome encourages the player to play the music in a continuous stream without stopping or hesitating
Metronomes come in two basic categories: digital apps and stand-alone units. Originally all metronomes were the stand-alone type. Typically they were entirely mechanical devices that had to be wound up and featured a swinging arm with a sliding weight attached that could be moved to adjust the tempo. These worked well enough but given today’s technology there are many more features available that are highly desirable.
Whether you choose an electronic box or an app on your phone I recommend you choose a metronome with the following capabilities:
5 Essential Functions
- Tempo Spectrum: usually 30-300 beats per minute (BPM)
- Variety of Meters: modern metronomes should be able to articulate at least 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, 9/8, and 12/8
- Subdivisions: your metronome should be able to subdivide beats into eighth notes, eighth note triples, and sixteenth notes
- Visible Movement: being able to visually mark the time in-between the beats is important for developing a true time sense
- Tap Function: quickly determine the tempo you want by tapping the tempo into the metronome
This is the best metronome app I have seen so far. The basic app is free but I recommend purchasing the Options Menu for $1.99.
Metronome+ (Dynamic App Design LLC): https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/metronome-plus/id434136233?mt=8
Boss has a long history of producing good quality metronomes. They offer a number of models of different sizes with various features but if you are truly serious about using a metronome to improve your musicianship I recommend the DB-90.
Boss Dr. Beat metronomes/DB-90 (Boss): https://www.boss.info/us/products/db-90/