Any of you that are regular readers of my column will know how much I waffle on about the importance of rhythm. Some of you might also know that I sell an app called the Time Trainer Metronome and I hope you’ll forgive this article if some of it reads a bit like an advertorial. The app came about from wanting these tools myself for my own practice and assuming that others would find them helpful too – and it would seem by its popularity that people do!
The first training mode I’d like to discuss I call Bar Breaks. The general idea is that you play something (most often a rhythm part) along with a metronome and then the click stops for between 1 and 8 bars, and you keep playing and hope that when the click starts again that you held your tempo solid and are perfectly in sync. I found it a LOT harder than I thought it would be when I started doing it. Even stopping for a bar can be tricky for most people when they start out - once you get used to keeping your tempo and can really solidly in time for a bar, try lasting a few bars. Managing to keep perfect time for 8 bars is something I find very difficult, I’m getting better, and I know this app is helping and I’m sure many of you will find it an amazing practice tool. In the app, you can set how many bars you have at the start to get in the groove and then how many bars the click will drop out for and how many bars of click you get before it drops out again. I recommend a minimum of 3:1 ratio of solid to silent, particularly when you start out, and when you get to longer breaks, take even longer time to lock into the tempo.
The next training mode to explore is the Random Beat Dropper. I found this most effective for things like scale practice when I found I was almost leaning on the metronome. The RBD does what it says on the tin and randomly removes the click at a percentage set by the user. The effect is that you change your relationship with the click from something you rely on, to a kind of pace runner that is beside you that you can check in with from time to time but are not relying on. To start with you should be dropping just 10-30%, so you get used to the beat dropping, but where it gets really fun is making the drop rate over 60%, so less than half the clicks are there, and you’ll have some bars with no clicks at all! Your challenge is to keep your time solid and make sure that you don’t allow the missing beats to throw you and that when there is a click that you are totally locked into it! There is a gradual setting too so you can slowly increase the number of clicks that will drop and help you acclimatize to a more full on zone!
The Speed Upper training mode is super effective at speed development for licks, scales and any short phrase that you want to push your limit on. Simply set a start and end tempo and a time for the session and off you go. Do remember not to increase the tempo too quickly and if you start making mistakes, you are going too fast and should stop and re-assess your tempos. Practice makes permanent so practice perfectly!
The one thing I didn’t like about the Speed Upper was for grooves and rhythm elements where practising speeding up doesn’t seem a good idea. So we developed the Step Upper, which as it says, allows you to change tempo after X number of bars or a defined time period. This is awesome for complex rhythm passages where you want to really get locked into a groove at a set tempo before the tempo goes up. I know this training mode is super popular with drummers.
The last thing I want to mention about working with the metronome is making things feel good – something I go on about quite often, but I really think it is a key element of practice. If you’re working on anything other than pure technique development, remember that it should feel good! When you feel comfortable and relaxed, you will play better, and people can pick up on that kind of energy and feel good too. I still spend time playing simple grooves with a metronome and making them feel good, and I think that kind of practice is really helpful for most players, no matter the level, because the better you get, the more important (and harder) the ‘easy’ things become!
Please excuse a plug - the Time Trainer Metronome is available for iOS and Android and has rave reviews from all over the globe. I hope you check it out and find it to be a super Time Trainer. Wishing you safe and fun travels on your guitar journey!
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