I’ve played the bass for over two decades. And, in the early days of my playing career, I was lucky enough to have my brother teach me how to practice with a metronome.
If you want to improve your timing and rhythm skills as a bassist, practicing with a metronome is a great way to do that. And, in this article, I’ll show you effective ways to learn to play with one.
With the right approach, you’ll have a solid time-feel that breathes and doesn’t feel stiff. I still use these practice techniques to this day, and it’s helped me develop my internal sense of time.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
- how to have solid time
- how to be able to groove without relying on other instruments to keep the time
- how to feel syncopation, cross-rhythms, and poly-rhythms
- how to deepen your groove and improve your time-feel
Let’s get started.
What Is A Metronome?
A metronome is a device that produces a steady pulse or beat, usually in the form of a ticking sound, that you can use to keep time while playing. It’s a great tool for helping you be more aware of any issues with your time and keeping your practice honest. So, whether you’re trying to lock in your eighth note or sixteenth note feel, incorporating a metronome into your practice sessions is a must.
All-Around Best Metronome To Use For Practice
My favorite metronome of all time, is the BOSS DB-90 Dr. Beat. I used this metronome all throughout college and more than a decade beyond that. It was a different model back then, but its only gotten better. I recommend checking it out.
While I now use the iPhone app, Pro Metronome, in my practice routine (mainly because of convenience) the BOSS DB-90 is still the king of all metronomes.
I love the BOSS DB-90 metronome because of its:
- ease of use
- pleasant ticking tones that don’t hurt my ear
- features, like rhythm patterns, and volume sliders
- huge dial to adjust the tempo
- ability to play slow… very slow tempos
- add an accent on the first beat
With this metronome, your internal sense of tempo is sure to improve.
How To Practice To A Metronome And Solidify Your Time Feel
The development of a good time-feel has more to do with maintaining a consistent feel and tempo than it does with playing metronomically.
3 Metronome Exercises That’ll Make You A More Solid Bass Player
Over the years, I’ve found that the more subdivisions I have ticking, the more robotic my time-feel becomes.
So, if you practice with minimal clicks, you will be better off. This will allow your time to breathe and teach you to feel bigger phrases. For example, instead of having the metronome click on every eighth-note, try having it click only on beat one.
Next are a few time-tested ways to practice to a metronome and solidify your internal clock. The main focus for each exercise is to be accurate and consistent.
More Tips For Practicing With A Metronome
If you’re new to playing with a metronome, be sure to watch my video above. Below, I’ll go over additional ways you can use a metronome to practice your bass guitar.
Practice Rhythms To Extremely Slow Tempos
Whether you’re trying to develop your groove or play faster on the bass, practicing to very slow tempos is the secret to playing more accurately.
And with accuracy, comes speed. Speed is inevitable.
The BOSS DB-90 Dr. Beat metronome can go very slow, like 30 bpm (beats per minute).
- Start out with the metronome at 60 bpm. Then play any bass groove, along with it. Groove along to the metronome for a while until things feel solid.
- Next, slow down the metronome a few beats and play the same groove. Once you feel solid, slow it down again. And again. Until you’re as slow as the metronome can get.
You’l find that slow tempos will reveal inaccuracies and inconsistencies with your groove.
Play Along To The Metronome Clicking On 2 & 4
In a 4/4 time signature, the backbeat is a beat that’s typically played on beats 2 and 4. Basic drum grooves will play the snare drum on the backbeat. It’s a very common pattern in modern pop music.
- Having your metronome click to beats 2 & 4 will teach you to lock with the backbeat of a drummer, and also solidify your internal feeling of where beat 1 is.
Random Mute Exercise
Not all metronomes have this feature. But if you find one that does, this is a fun exercise to do.
- Set your metronome to mute its clicks, randomly.
- Play a bass groove along with the time and when the time drops and there’s just you playing the groove, see if you still lock with the metronome when the clicks unmute.
You’ll be surprised how much we rely on external sources to keep our time. This exercise will expose this opportunity and teach you to feel time on your own.
Increasing Subdivision Exercise
- Start out by having your metronome click on the slowest tempo. And, have it click for every quarter note.
- Then play quarter notes on the bass guitar.
- Once that feels good, play eighth-notes.
- Get that feeling solid, then play eighth-note triplets.
- After that, switch to playing sixteenth-notes.
- You can even go further and play quintuplets, then sixteenth-note triplets.
- Do this, all the while keeping the metronome ticking at the same tempo the entire time.
Same BPM, Different Time-Signature
- Set your metronome to click at a moderate tempo, like 100 bpm.
- Perceive the clicks as eighth-notes in 4/4 time signature. Then, groove along with it.
- Then perceive the clicks as eighth-notes in 3/4 time signature, then groove along with it.
- Switch between these grooves.
What you’re doing is playing cross-rhythms. The tempo and subdivisions essentially stays the same, but the time signature and the way the time is felt changes.
Triplet Subdivision with Four-Note Groupings
The following exercise is one of the easiest ways to start out feeling polyrhythms.
- Set the metronome to click at a medium tempo, like 60 bpm.
- Play quarter-note triples on your bass.
- Then, accent every fourth note.
What you’ll end up with is a polyrhythm of 3 against 4.
- Play a simple bass groove with your metronome.
- Then play the same exact rhythm, but start the phrase an eighth-note later.
- Keep displacing your groove by an eighth-note.
You’ll find that by simply displacing your rhythmic phrase, the phrase will take on an entirely different feeling.
Bury The Beat Exercise
While playing metronomically isn’t the main goal when it comes to practicing with a metronome, this exercise can produce some really good results.
- The goal of this exercise is to have your metronome clicking on every quarter note. Then, play along with it.
- Whenever your groove has a beat that lands on a quarter note, try to bury the metronome. In other words, play that beat so accurately that you stop hearing the metronome.
When you’re quarter notes become spot on, you will not hear the metronome clicks.
Speed Up Incrementally
This final exercise is a time tested approach for gaining speed on the bass guitar.
- Play a phrase, then bump up the speed one notch.
- Keep going until the phrase is too fast to play accurately.
The key here is to speed up the metronome incrementally. Bumping up the speed in small increments makes the change not very noticeable with your fingers. Soon, you’ll be playing fast before you know it.
Common Myths When Practicing With A Metronome
Here are a few myths when it comes to practicing with a metronome.
Myth #1: Metronomes Will Make You Sound Robotic
I don’t believe practicing to a metronome makes musicians sound robotic. I do, however, believe that your perception of time and how you hear time is what makes you feel either robotic or not. If you hear time as “tick-tock tick-tock”, then you’ll feel that way. But, if you hear time as “Bah Dah Boo Dah Dah Boom Bat”, then you’ll feel and phrase differently.
Myth #2: There’s No Need To Practice With A Metronome
It’s true that you can develop an excellent time-feel by always playing with musicians that are good time-keepers.
So while, there is some truth to this, I’ve seen and heard many musicians that refuse to practice to a metronome, and their time is all over the place. A metronome helps develop an awareness. If you’re not aware, then you need to use a metronome when you practice. Anyone should at least check themselves first and see if their time is as steady as they thought. If you want to improve with anything, then being honest with yourself is the fastest way to fix any problems.
Myth #3: Any Metronome Will Do The Job
Not every metronome is accurate and as steady as you’d think. I used to think all tuners were the same. That’s until I got a strobe tuner, and the difference was noticeable. It’s same thing for metronomes. So, check the specs and compare with others before you buy.
Practicing with a metronome should be fun and creative. Remember, the metronome is just a tool to develop your awareness of time and check if you’re maintaining a consisting tempo. The best recordings have energy and feel alive. So, strive for a good time-feel over any rigid playing.
Developing your sense of time, isn’t something that you’ll get overnight. And when you do start to get it, you’ll need to maintain it. Play with drummers that feel good to you. Practice often with your metronome, and practice often without it. This is the key to having a strong internal clock and not relying on an external time keeper.
Keep at it. You got this.
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