I wrote a long article last week about how you can use a metronome (whether real or software) to improve your ‘inner’ sense of time. Most of the time when you’re practicing using a metronome (or drum loops, or whatever time keeping device you prefer) can really help (just don’t get hooked on playing with a click on every beat, it will make your sense of time ‘lazy’ – see the earlier post I wrote) – well today I wanna write about the exception, one time when you should turn your metronome off.
The time to turn your metronome off is whenever you’re learning something new, whenever you’re playing something for the first time.
You see when you’re learning something (whether you’ve got a tab, or a transcription or you’re transcribing it by ear bit by bit to learn) you want your brain to really focus on the music you’re learning. When you’re faced with a new piece of music you’re confronted with the following challenges:
* which notes do you play
* in what order
* where are you going to play them (on the fretboard)
* how are you going to play them (which fingers will fret them)
* how do the notes relate to the harmony (both static and moving – eg are the note(s) part of the current chord, is it leading to the next chord, is it chromatic, etc etc
* how do the notes relate to the melody
Now with all this information for your musical brain to process you don’t really want to be dealing with rhythm and time as well.
When you look at a new piece of music I’ve found that the best way to learn it is to play through it slowly and systematically, working out how to finger it, listening to the way each note connects to the those around to make phrases, gradually putting short phrases together to make longer phrases.
Only once I’ve played through it a couple of times do I think about adding a metronome and trying to play it in any kind of time. (I learnt this from reading a book of interviews with classical piano masters – you can always learn something by talking to musicians who play other instruments and/or other styles, even if you’re a ’strictly roots, 8th note kind of a guy.’)
In fact playing through a tune that would be considered complex and difficult (say ‘YYZ’ by Rush) can be strangely liberating when you play it both out of tempo and without any rhythmic considerations.
In fact you can kill two birds with one stone and use a piece like this played slowly and without rhythm as a warm up every day. Do that and you’ll find that after a week (or two weeks…or a month…or however long depending on the complexity of the piece) that the tune starts to ’sit’ under your fingers and pretty soon you’ll be able to play it up to tempo (TIP: from the same book of pianist interviews I learnt that a good way to learn to play a fast tune perfectly is to learn to play it slowly, perfectly, first. That might sound arse over face, but give it a try, it works!)
So when you’re learning a new tune – especially long and complex pieces – try turning your metronome off and putting it together bit by bit slowly and without rhythm. Don’t learn in time, play in time!