How to develop SPEED and what a metronome is actually used for when practicing guitar (Hint: not speed)
Well, that’s sorta right.
You see, the purpose of a metronome isn’t actually FOR developing speed per se… It’s more for training you to keep in time. To improve your ability to sync with a steady beat.
So how do you train for speed then?
It’s a 2-step process:
1. Program the new movement
2. Refine and “clean” it up
First, programming it in…
By practicing something enough so that your hands OWN that technique, so that it becomes part of your repertoire… Meaning, your body just knows what to do when you need it to…. and THEN pushing the speed.
This will probably mean doing it REALLY SLOWLY and REALLY CLEANLY at first — to PROGRAM IT INTO YOUR BODY. Maybe for like 5 sessions in a row or more. No tempo. Not yet. Take as much time as you need to get it clean and accurate. You know it’s programmed in when you don’t have to really think or focus hard to do it. You just give your fingers the command, and they do their thing.
(Read that last part again. It’s the key.)
Did you catch that? FIVE sessions in a row or more doing it super slow. Do most beginners realize they even need to do this? My guess is no.
And that there is a huge reason why we have a lot of people claiming guitar is hard. It’s not hard. It’s just SLOW.
Anyway, once your body has added that technique to its “bag of tricks” and the technique has been PROGRAMMED IN, it’s time to REFINE the movement. To see where the movement isn’t smooth and natural, and then fixing it. You won’t be able to see this doing it slow anymore. You have to speed things up to bring out the “kinks”.
This is where a metronome comes in.
You use a metronome to “test” how fast you can cleanly play something. To find the “max speed”. Then you stay somewhere at 80% of your max speed for a while (or slower) to “clean it up” and perform it more smoothly, more accurately, and with less tension. If you’re rocking the 80% speed, kick it up again to the max and see if you’re still messing it up. If so, back off again and hang out there some more. If not, kick it up a notch.
It’s all about seeing where you are, pushing it to the edge, and backing down when you need to clean it up. Keep doing this and working it more and more. (Keep in mind this is AFTER you’ve programmed it in cleanly, not before).
2 steps forward, 1 step back is a good way to remember it. Get to that edge where it feels dangerous, then back off a bit. Then back at it again. Then off again. Be persistent. Be relentless.
But be smart. It all happens bit by bit. Not in huge leaps.
The most important thing? Get that new technique or whatever you’re learning into your “bag of tricks” as soon as possible by practicing it super slow for like 5 or more sessions in a row. That installs it into your muscle memory. Once you hit that point, once it feels somewhat automatic and natural…
Start kicking up the speed. Use a metronome.
By the way, if you prefer practicing to the actual song or recording itself, you’ll want to use the same process. After the chord change, lick, riff, or whatever has been burned into your muscle memory, put the song on at maybe 20%-40% speed and start there. A good tool for this is Song Surgeon. You’ll use that to isolate a part of a song you want to practice and loop it over and over at different speeds.
Developing speed ain’t rocket science. It’s just smarter practice.
P.S. I would recommend all the same resources anyway, but if you sign-up through my links above, you’ll also help support No B.S. Guitar and I’ll earn a small commission. Thank you!