Expanded practice tip #4: Use a metronome

In an earlier post, I outlined five tips for practicing. For this article, I’m going to elaborate on the fourth tip: use a metronome.

In order to convince you of the importance of using a metronome, let’s do an experiment. Listen to each of these three music clips a few times each and choose the one that sounds the best to you:

Clip #1


Clip #2


Clip #3


I’m willing to bet that you picked Clip #3 as sounding the best. Perhaps you picked Clip #1. I’m confident, however, that you did not pick Clip #2 as sounding the best. How do I know this? Because of your basic human nature.

MetronomeYou see, we humans are very good at detecting patterns. In fact, our incredibly well-tuned ability to detect patterns is one of the main reasons we are at the top of the food chain. Music, at its most fundamental, is organizing sounds into patterns that we enjoy hearing. Patterns of pitches and patterns of rhythms. It is precisely rhythms that I’m talking about now.

We are so good at detecting patterns that we can even detect when that pattern is broken or compromised. Let’s return to the audio clips. Clip #3 is a perfect electronic version of the opening riff to “I Don’t Need No Doctor” by John Mayer. Each note is precisely where it should be in perfectly mechanical way. Clip #1 is identical to Clip #3 except that it has been altered so that each note occurs out of time by a random amount, as much as 15%. Clip #2 has been altered so that its notes are as much as 30% out of time.

Here’s the thing: even within Clip #3, with its deviation from perfect time of up to 30% percent, notes are only moving out of time by mere milliseconds from perfect. That’s it, milliseconds. Yet, you were able to detect that the pattern, the timing, was broken. And I hate to say it, you’re not special. Any average person, including non-musicians, can hear it too.

So, if you want to be a better musician. If you want to sound as good as you possibly can, your sense of time needs to be undetectable by the human brain.

You can’t get that good without using a metronome.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.

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