In music, rhythm is everything; every other element in music depends on rhythm to make sense. In this article, we highlight a few metronome exercises to help you improve your rhythm.
Like we already know, rhythm is that strong, foundational, and regular recurring pattern in music. In contemporary music culture, to have a strong sense of rhythm is to “have the groove” – sound familiar? Regardless of the genre or style, it is almost impossible to excuse a “weak sense of rhythm.”
A perfect approach to rhythm can rightly be described as “precise”. In rhythm, you have to be precise, you cannot arrive too early or too late – you have to be right on time. If the kick drum should be struck on beat 2, then it has to be on exactly beat 2 – not beat 1 and a ½ or beat 4, or beat 3.
Hundreds of years ago, musicians had already started using metronomes to achieve precision in time and rhythm. Great composers like Ludwig Van Beethoven made use of the metronome. Because of how important a role the metronome plays in helping a musician develop a strong sense of rhythm and time, let’s take a look at some metronome exercises that will help you to improve your sense of rhythm as a player.
The steady beats the metronome gives you are what will help you develop a strong sense of timing and rhythm, regardless of tempo (speed). To develop a solid sense of rhythm, start slow and then progress to ‘fast.’ What I mean is that it makes more sense to start mastering and being precise with slower-paced rhythms, before jumping to the faster ones. Instead of dialing up your metronome to [let’s say] 120 BPM and trying to play your scales accurately to that tempo, dial it down to a much slower tempo first.
You can start with 60 BPM, progress to 75 BPM, and keep increasing it in bits till you can get to your target BPM or even exceed it. Apart from learning to “crawl before walking,” this is one of the most effective metronome exercises that will also help you master slower tempos as much as the faster ones. You might be surprised that some musicians actually find it harder to play accurately on time with slower tempos. Use a gradual and progressive approach when practicing with the metronome.
For instance, if you are counting (or playing) a typical 4/4 time signature with your accent (emphasis) on beats 1 and 3, try switching things up and move your accents to beat 2 and 4. Simple but effective metronome exercises like this will do more than help you master rhythm, it will help you to own rhythm and master it in and out.
Also, if you did set your metronome that it will give you one-click per measure, you can reset the metronome so that the first click starts on beat 2 instead of beat 1 which is the downbeat. Changing up the click positions like this will help you interpret more complex styles more comfortably in the near future. It will also help you play better in a polyrhythmic setting and contrapuntal musical scenarios.
The goal of using the metronome to rehearse is not to make it ‘lord over you,’ but to make it become a rather silent accompanist and friend. One of the most effective metronome exercises for rhythm is simply keeping the metronome a bit far from you. By doing this, you are gradually building independence while also strictly following time and keeping to the rhythm. Avoid making the metronome the loudest thing in your rehearsal room, keep it far away – far enough that the sound becomes rather subtle but audible enough to accompany you while playing. When you master this technique, you will get to the point that even if someone stops the metronome while you are playing, you will not lose the sense of rhythm you were having while the metronome was accompanying you.
While using the metronome, try to strike a balance between being strict and being creative. Try playing polyrhythm – by that I mean, try playing a different rhythm from the steady clicks of the metronome. If you have a simple recording software, you can even try overdubbing yourself by playing several rhythmic patterns and grooves on top of each other. These metronome exercises will help you become better and more solid in rhythm.
For more metronome tips, you can check out this article on using a metronome when practicing.
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