As a singer or musician, if you don’t practise properly before going in the recording studio then you could be wasting your day. But why is it important to practice with a metronome specifically?
The benefits of practising with a metronome are well-known in the industry. It helps you speed up or slow down as required, stops you racing ahead, or dragging and improves your sense of timing – something that’s essential as a singer or instrumentalist.
This is a piece of kit that can be make or break for a recording career. Read on to find out exactly what a metronome does, the ways it can help you and how to use it effectively.
The benefits of practising with a metronome
If you’ve never recorded before and only sung live, you may have never used a metronome. But, if you want to be able to work with other musicians and go into a studio, then this is a piece of kit that you mustn’t ignore, whether you’re a singer or an instrumentalist of any kind.
What is a metronome?
A metronome is a device that makes a clicking sound at measured regular intervals. These intervals are set by the user, based on the tempo (timing) of the song or piece. You may have seen them in old movies in the form of a little mechanical wooden box that was placed on top of a piano.
Nowadays most metronomes are digitised and can be played through headphones (often referred to as a click track). They are also available to buy online, from music shops and for download as apps – ideal if you’re on a budget or have to travel a lot. Once you set it going, a metronome will not stop or miss a beat, making it far more reliable than trying to keep time with a foot tap or by clapping.
How does a metronome help you – what is the point of a metronome?
By measuring the beats, a metronome helps you keep time with the music. This doesn’t mean you can’t speed up or slow down in parts, but it helps you stay with the rhythm of the piece. Imagine a band with everyone playing or singing at a different pace? This is what happens when you’re not in time, and it’s so easy to do unless you have a natural gift for it, which very few people do.
Why is it important to practice with a metronome?
When it comes to going into the recording studio it’s vital you practice and perfect your song to a metronome ahead of the session. If you don’t you could waste the entire session (an expensive mistake), especially if you have been always used to playing your song live. Without realising it you may have gotten used to performing the song whilst varying the tempo throughout.
If this is the case, it will then feel completely alien to suddenly play it in time. And this is very bad news for backup singers, backup musicians, sound engineers and editors.
Why use a metronome – how important is a metronome?
It can totally throw you and even change the nature of the song if the speed is out. However, by practising ahead of a recording session to a metronome you can refine and perfect everything before the session, so you are totally happy, ready to record and able to start adding other instruments. Other musicians will also have practised to the same time signature and your studio team will know what to expect.
Without being in perfect time it will be almost impossible to add more instruments and musical backing to your song. So unless you just want a live recording without further music, it’s essential you practise to a click. Successful singers who use a lot of artistic licence live, will also be able to follow time and understand how to be creative, without losing the beat.
Why do people use a metronome?
Using a metronome prepares you for using click tracks in the studio. It’s common for musicians to listen to one of these click tracks through headphones when recording. It ensures the song is always at the same speed on different takes, much like the use of continuity on a film set. This is because it makes editing easier and means that the best bits of different takes can be pieced together for a polished finished track.
What is the use of the metronome in guitar?
If you play an instrument – especially one that’ll often carry the melody or lead, you have a lot of responsibility to keep time in a group, and even more so if performing solo. Many keyboards have inbuilt metronomes, but a guitar does not. But did you know that you shouldn’t use one all the time when playing guitar?
How to use a metronome with a guitar
You should have a metronome and practise with it when playing, except:
- When returning to fix a mistake. You may have to slow right down and play each note carefully to rectify it. If you keep pace, then you won’t be allowing the space for it. Once it’s perfected, return to the metronome.
- Throughout solo sections (if playing in a band). You’ll want to keep time, but when it comes to riffing you need to abandon this and freestyle. If recording, the solo will become a section in editing terms. It will be easy to cut and paste as the person doing the editing will take the best take of the full solo.
In fact, these rules don’t just apply to playing guitar, but any instrument and for singing.
How to use a metronome for guitar scales
You should practice at a slow pace to begin with. This might mean setting the metronome for a slower pace than the piece demands, in the same way you might sing through a song slowly while learning it. Equally a good way to test yourself, is to play faster than you would usually…
Set the metronome for a faster pace and see if you can keep up! Your fingers will have to work harder, but it’ll help you build speed, so that you have room in your playing to go very fast and very slow, as required. The same applies for scales. Try them very slowly at first, while you’re adapting, then see how fast you can set the metronome, while still getting every note bang on.
And it’s not just the guitar. Whatever instrument you play, and that includes your voice, the timing is important.
How to use a metronome
The operation of the metronome will depend on whether it’s digital or analogue. Many people use apps as they are cost-effective, don’t take up any space in your kit bag and have great functionality.
How do you practise using a metronome?
First, you need to know the time signature of the piece. If you are reading the music, this will be stamped on it, informing you of the beats in each bar and the value given to one beat. You then need to set your metronome accordingly.
Learning to read music takes time and is a bigger topic, but for the purposes of the metronome, you just need to know the tempo – and up metronome doesn’t have any further settings in any case. The numbers to look for on the staff that dictate the time are:
How to set a metronome for 4/4 time
4/4 time is usually the most common tempo in music and equates to four beats in a bar. But when it comes to setting the metronome, it is done on beats per minute (BPM). In the case of 4/4 timing, this is 60 BPM.
So if you don’t yet have a metronome, now is the time to get one. Pop into your local music shop and have a chat with them about your needs and uses. Or download an app and get your rhythm back on track today.
- What is metronome in a keyboard?
If you play electric keyboard, the chances are it’ll have a digital metronome built-in. Check the instructions if you’re unsure and ask when you’re buying one. Some people still prefer to use an app, or traditional analogue metronome though.
- Does playing with a metronome help?
Yes! Not everyone has great natural rhyme, so this is a great way to pick it up. Over time you’ll find you start to develop your own inbuilt metronome. Although don’t get complacent if this happens – you should still use one to practice.
What benefits of practising with a metronome have you found? What kind of metronome do you use? Share your recommendations in the comments below.