So far, we have been keeping track of time by counting to four and tapping our foot on each downbeat. We also started to keep track of upbeats by using the word “and” between each downbeat (“1 … & … 2 … & … 3 … & … 4 … & …”). By doing this we divided each measure into eighth notes, which we used to create our strumming patterns.
Keeping track of our timing in this way is extremely useful when we are first learning a new strumming pattern or chord progression. By counting like this, we can play as quickly or as slowly as we can manage, which gives us a chance to get to grips with whatever it is we’re trying to learn. The disadvantage of keeping time using counting alone is that most of us struggle to keep perfect time – our counting will vary and we may be slightly faster or slower as we try to count the beat.
In a band setting, the drummer would normally keep time and most drummers will do an excellent job of keeping a steady beat through years of practice. When we practice by ourselves however, it would be useful to have something to keep a steady beat so we can focus on perfecting our playing technique.
Most musicians use a device called a metronome to keep time when practicing. A metronome provides an audible sound (usually a click or a beeping sound), produced at regular intervals to create a rhythm for us to practice along to. The rhythm can be set to produce quarter notes (“1 ……. 2 ……. 3 ……. 4 …….”) and eighth notes (“1 …&… 2 …&… 3 …&… 4 …&…”), as well as other divisions (which we will cover in a later lesson).
A metronome can also be used to speed up or slow down the rhythm so that the count is faster or slower. The speed of the rhythm is called the tempo, and is measured in beats per minute, or BPM. The higher the BPM, the faster the count and vice versa. The song we have been learning, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, has quite a slow tempo of 70 BPM.
When we read music notation, we will normally see the tempo indicated above the stave, e.g:
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan ( = 70)options width=700 stave-distance=30 tabstave notation=true tablature=false time=4/4 notes =|: :qS Bd/4 :8S Bd/4:8S Bu/4 :qS Bd/4 :8S Bd/4:8S Bu/4 | :qS Bd/4 :8S Bd/4 :qS Bu/4 :8S Bu/4 :8S Bd/4:8S Bu/4 text :h,|,.1,G,D,|,Am, ++,.13,.font=Times-8-,:8,|,1,(&),2,&,3,(&),4,&,|,1,(&),2,&,(3),&,4,&options width=700 stave-distance=30 tabstave notation=true tablature=false notes :qS Bd/4 :8S Bd/4:8S Bu/4 :qS Bd/4 :8S Bd/4:8S Bu/4 | :qS Bd/4 :8S Bd/4 :qS Bu/4 :8S Bu/4 :8S Bd/4:8S Bu/4 =:| text :h,.1,G,D,|,C, ++,.13,.font=Times-8-,:8,1,(&),2,&,3,(&),4,&,|,1,(&),2,&,(3),&,4,&
Using a Metronome
Traditionally, a metronome was a specific device you could sit on a desktop for use during practice. You can still purchase this type of metronome, and it would normally look something like the following:
Nowadays however, most people use metronome apps on their mobile phones, since these are convenient, portable, and usually free. There are also a number of websites which provide online metronomes so you can sit and practice in front of your computer. Just do a Google search for “online metronome” and there are several pages which provide this functionality.
To practice using a metronome, we’re going to use the one provided on this website. Click on the orange arrow button in the top right hand corner of the screen to open up the tools popout:
The metronome is positioned just below the tuner and is set to a tempo of 120 BPM in 4/4 time by default.
The large ‘0’ in the middle of the metronome is the current beat. This number will increase with each beat as we count through each measure and is the same as counting “1 ……. 2 ……. 3 ……. 4 …….”.
In the top left part of the metronome, there are three note symbols. The note symbol at the bottom sets the metronome to measure quarter notes (“1 ……. 2 ……. 3 ……. 4 …….”), the note symbol in the middle sets the metronome to eighth notes (“1 …&… 2 …&… 3 …&… 4 …&…”), and the note symbol at the top sets the metronome to sixteenth notes (we will come to these later).
Before we start using the metronome, we need to set the tempo. The tempo is the part which says “120 bpm” (below the large ‘0’). You can set the tempo using the slider directly below the tempo value, or by using the up and down arrows at the top and bottom of the metronome. Set the tempo to 70 BPM (to match our song) using the slider and/or the up and down arrows.
Click the ‘GO!’ button to start the metronome. It will starting beeping at regular intervals using quarter notes in the same timing as our song, ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. Try counting along “1 ……. 2 ……. 3 ……. 4 …….” with each beep to get a feel for the timing.
Next, try setting the metronome to use eighth notes (“1 …&… 2 …&… 3 …&… 4 …&…”). Notice that we can now hear eight beeps for each measure, one on the downbeat, and one on the upbeat. Again, try counting along “1 …&… 2 …&… 3 …&… 4 …&…” with each beep.
One other thing we can do with the metronome is to set a sound to indicate the start of a new measure (remember a measure is a complete count from one to four). Click the bell symbol on the left side of the metronome – it will change from grey to yellow and you will hear a new beep on each count of 1, indicating the start of a measure. Click the bell symbol again to switch this off.
Now that we’ve had some practice with our metronome, we can try playing our song. Here are a few different things to try when practicing:
• Play it at the original tempo of 70 BPM.
• Slow it down to a tempo of 50 BPM. When learning something new on the guitar, a useful technique is to start at a slow tempo, and gradually increase to our target tempo once we have mastered playing slowly.
• Try increasing the tempo to see how it changes the way you play. First change it to 60 BPM, then 70, 80 and 90.