As students of jazz guitar, we’re all told that we need to practice with a metronome, and after doing so we learn quickly just how important working with a click can be when developing our sense of time in the practice room.
While we know it’s important to use a metronome in our jazz guitar practicing, sometimes we’re not sure exactly how we should do this to gain the most benefit from our time in the woodshed, or we only know one way to use a metronome when working with a click on technical and improvisational exercises.
In today’s article, we’ll be exploring three different approaches that you can take when using a metronome that can all push your playing and time feel in new and exciting directions.
Clicking on All Beats
The most common way to work with a metronome in the world outside of jazz is to put the click on each beat of the bar.
This can be a good approach if you’re just starting out, or if you are finding that your time needs some work in the practice room, as having the click on each beat really lines you up with the pulse of the tune/exercise you’re playing.
Another variation of this approach is to put the click on each note in a bar.
So, if you’re working on 8th-notes and you want them to be nice and even, you can put the metronome on and set the click to be the 8th-note pulse, playing one 8th-note per click during that exercise.
You can also do this for 16th-notes, or even triplets if you have a newer metronome that allows you to set the beat to click on each of the three notes in a triplet grouping.
Try these exercises out for size and see how it feels to work with the click on a specific rhythm, and then working down to one click per beat with the same exercise.
Set the metronome to a medium tempo, say 100 bpms, and that will be the 8th-note for the exercise.
Play any scale of your choosing in 8th-notes along with this exercise, so one 8th-note gets one click of the metronome
When you are comfortable with this exercise, slow the metronome down to half speed, so 50 bpms
At this slower tempo, treat the click as the quarter-note and repeat the above exercise, so now each click gets two 8th-notes as you work your way up and down the scale
At this point, notice if you feel that you are rushing (playing ahead of) or dragging (playing behind) the beat
If so, really focus on playing your notes nice and evenly with the click as you work through the scale
Repeat the above exercise with different tempos and different melodic devices such as other scales, arpeggios, licks and patterns
Sometimes we need to work on straightening out our rhythms, especially when we are playing faster durations such as triplets and 16th-notes, so working with one click per beat or one click per note can be a great way to tidy up our rhythmic accuracy in the woodshed.
Clicking on 2 and 4
This is the standard way of practicing in the jazz style in order to work on developing your swing feel, and general jazz time feel, as you work on technical and improvisational exercises in the woodshed.
Treating the clicks of the metronome as beats 2 and 4 of the bar, lines it up with the hi-hat pulse that is often played on those same two beats in a traditional jazz ensemble.
While it can be a very productive way of practicing, and one that many jazz teachers work on with their students, there are a couple of things to watch out for when practicing on 2 and 4.
The first thing to check is that you are actually on 2 and 4.
If you are new to this approach, you might find that you “flip the beat” while practicing, since it is more common in many other genres outside of jazz to feel the beat on 1 and 3.
Flipping the beat means that you “drop” a beat along the way, and your 2 has suddenly become 1 and your 4 has become 3.
This happens to the best of us when we are first learning to swing and practice with the click on 2 and 4, so don’t let it get you down if you find you are flipping beats.
Instead, slow down your metronome, and play an easy scale or lick that you know with the click on 2 and 4, play something that you could play in your sleep so that you can focus on the time instead of the lick/scale/arpeggio that you are using in your exercise.
Once you feel comfortable with the click on 2 and 4 at a slow tempo, slowly increase the speed and take this rhythmic approach to other parts of your practice routine.
The other issue many players face when putting the click on 2 and 4 is that you might find yourself rushing, playing ahead of, the beat.
If you find that you feel anxious or that you are rushing your lines, arriving at the next bar early or just feeling uneasy with the time feel, then again, slow things down and really focus on lining things up with the click.
You can also go back to putting the click on all beats of the bar until you are satisfied with your feel, then come back to the 2 and 4 until you really have it down.
Because of these issues, some players and teachers also like to play and teach putting the click on beats 1 and 3 of the bar, which has a more relaxed feel than 2 and 4 but doesn’t line up with the hi-hat pulse of the band.
Clicking on 1 and 3
The last variation for practicing with a metronome that we’ll look at is putting the click on beats 1 and 3 of the bar.
For those that are familiar with Bossa Nova and Samba music, you’ll know that this is how that music is felt and written out, often as 2/4 on the page and the click would then line up with 1 and 2.
Since 4/4 time is more common in jazz than 2/4, you can feel this beat as clicking on 1 and 3 of each measure as you play through your exercises or solo through tunes with this beat.
One of the reasons why this method is taught and used is because clicking on 1 and 3 tends to produce a more relaxed feel with some players compared to 2 and 4, just listen to and Bossa Nova tune and you’ll get the idea.
If you want to explore clicking on 1 and 3 in your own practicing, try picking a tune, then improvising while placing the metronome on 1 and 3.
You can also solo along with a backing track while tapping your foot on 1 and 3 to bring this feel to a band situation as well.
Try out all three of these approaches this week in your practice routine and see how putting the click on different beats affects your time feel and phrasing as you work through technical and improvisational exercises.
What are your experiences with using a metronome on different beats of the bar? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.