by Tony Scaltz
There are solid techniques for using the metronome beyond checking tempo. I’ll give you two exercises below: the first was taught to me by my teachers years ago and really helped with my technical speed. The second I constructed when I was in State College, PA and still use in order to hear rhythms at various BPM.
Exercise 1: begin at 60 BPM (beats per minute) and choose a lick that is comfortable for you to do smoothly and accurately at slow tempo but is challenging at high tempo. Play the lick using 8th notes at this tempo. Make sure to play the lick ascending and descending. When you have completed one “cycle” of asc/desc, stop and increase the BPM on the metronome by 3. You will now be at 63 BPM and run the cycle again. One clean cycle is all that is required, and you do not have to repeat any cycle at any BPM unless your run was sloppy. Next go to 66 BPM and repeat, and continue to do this until you are in double digits. In this workout you are going for you max clean speed, which believe it or not will increase everyday. Once you hit your max BPM rate, let’s say 172, and you start to feel the lick falling apart, stop and record your max BPM on paper with the date. The reason for the 3 BPM increase is that your brain can not feel an increase in tempo below 3…imagine you went from 112 to 113. You wouldn’t know the difference, as anything under 3 BPM is unnoticeable…so 3 is the sweet spot where you can work the increase and not feel it.
Exercise 2: for this workout set a random BPM and put your guitar down for 15 minutes or so. The objective for this drill is to audiate (hear) various rhythms while randomly bending the tempo. You’ll need your notebook handy as well. On paper record your set BPM, while underneath that number construct a visual rhythmic figure. For instance, you may write in 4/4 and compose three bars of combinations of quarter and eight notes. Doesn’t matter really, but what is important is to write something you can clap or vocalize for this following workout. Once you have a rhythm you like, go to the set BPM and either sing or clap the rhythm. Now, once this is fluid and you feel the pocket, randomly move the BPM (for instance 72 to 168), and…this is the trick…on the very next downbeat, without clapping it singing, hear the rhythm in sync with the new BPM. Sit with this new audiation for a few cycles, then sing or clap at the new BPM to “test” your accuracy. Repeat again with a new randomly chosen BPM marker. Then when you feel finished. Compose a new rhythmic figure, set at low BPM and repeat.
A variation on this drill is to simply set random BPM markers and improvise rhythmic figures while moving the tempo and staying in the pocket without falling off the rhythm…this is probably the most challenging of these drills, but the most useful in terms of live application.