Metronome: Guilty or Not?

Question by Ilya
(Kiev, Ukraine)

Metronome: Guilty or Not?

Hi Marc!

Can you give me an advice, please, what exercises will help me achieve an evenly rhythmic playing? I listened to the my own record and was horrified…

Hal Galper’s friend Mike Longo says that Metronome is killing the feel of swing… see this Facebook thread

Your playing is rhythmically strong and steady.

Thank you!

Greetings from Ukraine!

M-A Answers:

Hello Ilya,

This is a question for the ages … fortunately (for you and me), I do not like to take a side and declare strongly to the world that “THIS IS WRONG!”


98% of recorded music is in tempo. So, believe it or not, what you have to do in order to develop your rhythmic sense (you said “even playing”) is to play in time. And you have to do it a lot!

I think it doesn’t matter much how you do it, as long as there’s a pulse to what you play. You should listen to a lot of music, and play (with other musicians) in all sorts of contexts. It will give you some sort of an “internal pulse”, so you feel more free and at ease playing in time.

Usually, the big problem (with students anyways), is that our mind is too busy placing the fingers in the right places that we forget about the pulse / rhythms. Once the materials (tunes, chords, scales) become more familiar, we transcend the fingerings and play more “in the pocket”. That happened to me and many, many colleagues, friends and students.


Now: The Metronome Good or bad? But is not a courtroom!

So let me just give everybody my take on it, in point form. This way, you can see the different perspectives and thought patterns I go through when reflecting on this issue.

Don’t worry, it’s a dilemma for everyone! 🙂

  • The metronome is a tool and musicians do not bring it to the bandstand (or even at rehearsals).
  • Pretty much every time I practice, I use the metronome. NOT to show me where to play the notes or how to swing, but most often as a reference point when I’m working on something tricky.
  • Musicians can play that “boring” robotic feel whether they play in time or not. Uninspired performance it *not necessarily* to be blamed on the metronomic feel of the player. There are multiple other factors.
  • Lots of beginning and intermediate Jazz guitarist (say, the readership on cannot play in time. Forget the robotic feel (or not). The problem is the lack of accuracy in the counts (bars and beats). Sometimes 12-bar has 13 bars, or 11.5 bars.
  • In such a case where the student cannot play a complete form in strict time (for instance, just strumming the chords), and get the right amount of beats in, I’ll suggest to use the metronome. This is just to bring more awareness to the time-feel aspect of what there practicing, not necessarily to declare the metronome on “2&4” the new rhythms God.
  • Speaking of “2&4”: I think musicians should not be allowed to have an opinion on that unless they can do it. Go ahead, set the metronome at 100 BPM and play me 5 choruses of improvisation on Bb blues (used as 2&4, is now 200 BPM real tempo). Can’t do it? (Did you loose your place in the form?) Try again tomorrow, maybe slower. If you cannot follow a simple clicking machine, how well do you expect to be “following” and playing with a drummer … and a bassist? Seriously.
  • I still don’t understand what the “do-not-use-the-metronome” advocates have to gain from this fight. Just let people practice how they feel. They’ll learn from their mistakes soon enough! 🙂
  • I believe it is best to use the metronome (if at all) only for a portion of the practice session. Else, it becomes a crutch. The aim is to become melodically, harmonically and rhythmically strong on your instrument. It’s the case for everybody. Then maybe some creativity will emerge.
  • I STRONGLY believe our friends Mike Longo and Hal Galper should start pointing the finger at backing tracks instead. Not only do they provide you with a rhythmic background, but the harmony is also provided. I personally avoid back tracks, most of the time. Especially for students in the beginning stages. Once again, the goal is to become independent, and be strong on your own … NOT to rely on others to give you the time ‘o day!
  • Some rhythmical exercises are very tricky, and should be attempted with a metronome at first (see Ari Hoening stuff) … then perhaps you can try the exercises with bandmates.
  • Insert other neat uses of the metronome here: _____________________


And for desert:

  •  Some great musicians practice with the metronome.
  • Some great musicians DON’T practice with the metronome.
  • Some very bad musicians practice with the metronome.
  • Some very bad musicians DON’T practice with the metronome.


So I say: the metronome is not guilty. Practice with it if you want. Or don’t practice with the metronome at all! Who cares, really? What happens in the practice room isn’t of our concerns … as long you swing!

What I really care about are your musical ideas, your groove and your personal expression. Is your music touching me? Yes?! That’s all that matters. 🙂


And as a side note: what was mentioned in the article “Should I Practice With a Metronome” by Mike Longo is a bit misleading. If the author is suggesting Jazz students AVOID the metronome while practicing, why even bring up the issue of pop bands recording / performing to click tracks?

Also, I believe it is a very bad habit to take a side (have an opinion) and then find all sources to confirm what you think. Mike Longo did just that in his article. I forgot the name of this aspect, but it is part of formal logic and philosophy. (Somebody please correct me in the comments below, is it confirmation bias?)

I hope it helps! Don’t worry too much about it, you’ll be fine.

Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a REAL Teacher”


Old Comments for Metronome: Guilty or Not?

Mar 15, 2014
Metronome or not metronome?
by: Javier Alonso

Metronome can be an useful tool when you begin. If not, just to make you shift chords in due time, I mean, to force you to move your fingers fast enough along the fretboard. Once you’ve mastered that, “rubatto” comes on. Making times to follow your spirit, extending measures, etc…

One more example of a technique you must master before forgetting it. You should be able to play in time, and you should be able to know when time is not so important, just the feeling of it.

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