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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tick Tick

I teach an adult student who has been playing for about 11 months and has been making steady progress. Her movement from chord to chord is becoming more fluid, she has a couple "go to" strumming patterns that work in 90% of the songs she wants to play, and she has a natural affinity for fingerpicking. To help her move to the next stage of her playing, I've been preaching metronome work.

We had a good laugh today when she said, "The metronome messes me up."

Right now, my student has trouble strumming steady quarter notes along with a metronome set to 80 bmp. However, she can count out loud in time with the metronome, no problem. She can also tap her guitar in time with the metronome. After she counts out loud and taps, she is then able to strum to the metronome. So, that's the exercise…count with the metronome, tap with the metronome, and then strum with the metronome. I've given her one-bar combinations of quarter notes and eighth notes to play, but I've asked her to always start with the quarter note exercise.

This may sound like a remedial exercise, and I know for certain that my student doesn't enjoy this, but it's absolutely essential to develop a sense of rhythm and time. It's the only way you're going to play well with others. Even if you're a soloist, you're going to need to keep a steady beat, otherwise people will find it challenging to listen to you.

Whether you want to be a killer lead player or a rock solid rhythm player, practicing with a metronome is the most efficient way to improve your technique. Once you are able to maintain a steady beat and stay in sync with the metronome, you can make friends with difficult lines or chord changes more easily. First, you start the metronome at a tempo at which it is nearly impossible to make a mistake. It may be an excruciatingly slow tempo, but that's okay. You want to start super slow, so that you are properly training your muscle memory. Get it right in slow motion, and you can then incrementally get it right at speed. Just start at a nice, easy tempo. Practice a problem area until you can play it correctly. Increase the metronome speed by 5 clicks and repeat the process. You will eventually run into a speed at which your technique finally breaks down. Remember the top speed at which you could play with control. The next time you practice that spot, start 10-20 clicks slower than your top speed and build from there. It won't be long before you can sail through that lick or those tricky chord changes.

My student has told me that she has no rhythm. I beg to differ. She has an undeveloped sense of rhythm, but it's in her. All she needs is a metronome and a few minutes a day focusing specifically on tempo.

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