Jazz Guitar Practicing – Working With a Metronome

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.


Practicing jazz guitar with a metronome


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.

Hal Galper is a big proponent of using the click and feeling tunes on 1 and 3 and he demonstrates this in the video below as he works on time feel with a student in the first 3rd or so of the lesson.



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.

  1. Frank MaurerApr 3, 2013 at 10:37 am

    When the metronome goes on 2 & 4 does the foot tap on 1 & 3? I herad this suggested but I find it really difficult. It gets nearly impossible to do if you play quater note triplets!

    • Matt WarnockApr 3, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Hey Frank. I wouldn’t say you have to tap on 1 and 3. Maybe tab on 2 and 4 or just 1, or don’t tap at all if you have the metronome going. Whatever is comfortable is probably best to start with.

  2. Warren SendersSep 3, 2013 at 4:06 am

    For triplet-feel practice, I will take one line and practice it with the metronome on each segment of the triplet in turn, while tapping my foot always on the 1. It’s very demanding; if you work on one line this way for 15 or 20 minutes you’ll know you’ve been in a fight.


    For developing chops and speed, set the ‘nome to 2 & 4, tempo 60. Play or sing a single memorized line in half-notes on 1 & 3, then doubletime it, then go back to half-notes. Advance the tempo by one click and repeat. Keep going: half-notes, quarter-notes, half-notes – on the same lick, steadily increasing the tempo.

    When you get to mm. 120 (double the starting speed), drop the metronome back to 60, but maintain your doubled tempo, so the formula is now: quarter/eighth/quarter.

    Keep increasing, one increment at a time, until you’re at the boundaries of your technique.

    Then (this part is very important) decelerate one increment at a time, about 10-12 iterations before stopping.

    With a long line this can occupy well over an hour; repeated every day for a week it will build speed and clarity like nothing else I’ve ever tried.

  3. Greg BroueletteDec 3, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    You want to see just how good your timing really is? Set the metronome to click on 4 only. You will very quickly discover how far out of time you may be drifting.

    A former student of mine went to Berkley and said that was one of the first techniques they learned there and it was a real mind bender for him.

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