Is this why the metronome is not my friend?

I feel like in all the years, I’ve made so VERY little progress using a metronome… I questioned my own normalcy. ‘This is what everyone does - why doesn’t it work for me?!’

Now I think that maybe I finally figured out why…

Recently I’ve been using a method from Peter Hadcock, a clarinetist with the Boston Symphony (separate post). I feel like something’s finally happening. Without reproducing all the specifics here, the idea is NOT to sit on a tempo ‘until it feels comfortable,’ and only then move on. Rather, you use the metronome to coax more and more out of your hands (it’s hard to describe… I haven’t really analyzed Hadcock’s method yet to get ‘under the hood’).

Speed-X-until-it-feels-comfy - the way I always tried to use the metronome in the past - would be, in the weightlifting world, like saying: keep benching 100 lbs., until it feels comfortable, and then you’ll be able to do 120. (No you won’t! You won’t even get to 110 that way.) I know it’s dangerous to mix athletic metaphors into guitar practice, but I think this analogy may actually work.

If you’re goal is 100 lbs., you’ve got to do more than 100 lbs to reach it. Same with a scale, a lick, DWPS, etc.

I think I never got anywhere with the metronome before now because I didn’t understand the fallacy of ‘get-comfy’ thinking (which seemed like conventional wisdom to me). Makes sense? Anyone else had this experience?

I personally think metronomes are a bit over used as practice tools. What you’re referring to is what I call “gunning it” and it’s also addressed in Troy’s lessons.
Where practicing a particular speedy passage at slow speeds has limited returns. Because the movements are different when played at a manageable tempo rather than a tempo where you can’t think it through.
I used to live with a metronome. I used it to brush my teeth and it sure helps with your overall timing it doesn’t really help with learning fast passages. I use a metronome for rhythm strumming. Make the click disappear on down beats. That’s about it.

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At least your roommate would always be on time for everything.

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Nah, that’s not even remotely true at all.

Muscle building requires progressive overload with systematic and intelligent programming and enough caloric intake to support anabolism.

Hitting 200 BPM 16th notes requires that you have the right movement pattern, which can be trained immediately, unlike benching 315 lbs for 5 from the moment you step in a gym for the first time (unless, of course, you want to kill yourself).

Want to play a song at 164 BPM? Start with 164 BPM, even if you have to chunk the smallest amount of notes possible. The gym mentality doesn’t apply here.

If you want to hit 164 and you play at 120 BPM for weeks to “get comfortable”, you are training muscle engagement that will be associated with whatever pattern you’re learning. That’s why when you finally move up the metronome, you feel crippling tension and like you are losing your time. You now have to unlearn those sensations. There’s a reason why Nashville studios do not call up death metal drummers to play a four-on-the-floor at 120.

If you have the right movements speed is the last piece of the puzzle. It happens when you have all of your ducks lined up. You don’t have to worry about it. If you want to use a metronome for really specific live tempo performances or DAW recording, that’s encouraged.

edit: It’s insane how many times I’ve answered this question on here but I feel like just dumping links to old posts is too clinical so fuck it

Also

Booooooooooooooooooo

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Noting again that it’s dangerous to mix athletic metaphors when discussing picking technique and thst there are mechanical reasons why this isn’t true for picking anyway…

…it’s also not really true for working out. If you try to do sets of 100lbs until “it feels comfortable,” well, it’ll probably never feel comfortable, but you’re going to be able to do a rep or two at 120 LONG before that happens anyway.

My poison of choice is road cycling so I always revert to that filter - what you’re describing is basically high intensity interval training, doing sets at challenging intensities, and it’s been proven to be a very “cost effective” way of building threshold and max power (depending on how you’re tailoring your intervals) relative to the amount of training time you’re puttng in. Now, again, the challenges with picking are more mechanical than muscular, so muscular conditioning above even a low baseline is a non-factor, but this approach DOES work with fitness.

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Can you expand on that - how does road cycling work?..

I get that mechanics don’t improve with a metronome - Troy makes that abundantly clear. But if you take a kid who’s new to guitar, teach him DWPS (i.e. not to string-hop)… then according to what I hear you saying he should hit 16ths at 200 right quick.

But we know that’s not gonna happen. And I don’t think that’s what you’re saying, either. So what am I missing?

Chunking, right? Chunking your way to 200 is gonna take a long time (for an intermediate player, anyway, who’s not close to being a chops-buster yet.) Nothing wrong with that - no pain, no gain - but… before I say more, let’s see if you agree or not…

It’s easy. You buy a road bike, find a nice road, and then turn the cranks to ride down that, preferably with a helmet. Eventually as you get more into it, there’s the repeated lighting of hundred dollar bills on fire, but it starts easily enough!

It did for my sister.

This past March when quarantine started, out of sheer boredom my sister picked up my nylon acoustic guitar with my red Jazz III pick, and we ran an experiment to see how fast she could get it moving knowing NOTHING about the instrument except what I told her and a five minute video excerpt from Troy on wrist motion (the bulletproof one on YouTube).

I wanted to test how well Troy and Tommo’s advice worked with a literal blank slate of a learner who had no bias/years of crappy motion habits. I tap tempo’d her playing and she was alternate picking sixteenth equivalents at around 170-180 for a few bursts.

Her mechanic was primarily elbow and wrist, like her body was spazzing out trying to figure out which one to use.

Was it consistent? No.
Was it perfect? No.

But the speed was there. And this is what most people forget… It’s not about “being perfect”. It’s about having a solid base of quick, quality sound that is fleshed out over the long-tail of motor learning. That is the ONLY thing that matters for fast playing and why speed is the ultimate test of efficiency.

That right then and there convinced me Troy’s stuff worked. I can’t agree with your assertion that it’s “not gonna happen” based on this alone, because all it takes is one person to disprove anything.

For what it’s worth, Brendan on the CTC team has been clocked by Troy at 280 BPM and he is not a guitarist by training.

280 is laugh out loud stupidly fast. That is Shawn Lane-levels of “gobbldey gook” speed that barely even registers with the human ear as music.

That’s super interesting! So let’s say she stayed interesting - what path would you have mapped out for her to follow in order to reach 200, ‘perfectly and consistently’ as you put it? (Specific, please.)

Think what I was really interested in was your reference to HIIT. With weights, running, etc., there are biochemical, muscular and other markers that can be measured, so I’m guessing we could form a fairly accurate idea of why HIIT works in sports.

For guitar, seems to me it’s more of a ‘black box’ process - i.e. we know that applying HIIT principles (e.g. Hadcock’s 5-and-1 method I posted on elsewhere) improves speed and accuracy, but it’s hard to say precisely why.

Thought provoking question… Let me think on it tonight while I practice. Tomorrow will be a slow day at work so I will respond by then.

No, atually, we know it doesn’t work to improve speed and accuracy. See @guitarenthusiast’s post above. What we do know is high speed “run before you can walk” playing is a good way to figure out if a mechanic IS capable of working at very high speeds, but the actual muscular development needed to alternate pick very quickly is pretty minimal - beginners can be taught a motion and do it VERY fast within extremely short periods of time.

As far as cycling, it depends why you’re not fast, so it’s tough to give you a generalzied answer… But, for example, one interval workout that I’ve come to truly hate that I’ve found very effective for increasing my “functional threshold power,” or the highest power I can sustain for long periods of time (conventionally defined as an hour, and conventionally tested as a 20-minute max effort and taking 95% of that) is doing a hard opening interval and then transitioning into a long block of over/under intervals, starting with the under, alternating between an endurance output and then a VO2Max interval, one minute off and one minute on. The idea is it’s supposed to help train your body to better metabolize lactate, by building up rather a lot of it during that hard opening effort, then forcing your body to try to metabolize it while still working relatively hard during the following “under” intervals, and then topping your lactate levels back off with another “over” interval.

So, I think I know where you’re trying to go with this, that if doing short hard intervals can make you faster on a bike, then it should do the same for guitar, right? But that’s not really what’s happening here. Paradoxically it’s actually the “off” intervals where the real adaptation is occurring, as it’s where your body is being trained to do something that will allow it to work at harder and harder levels by burning off lactate before it can build up, making you faster. Any VO2max or neuromuscular benefit from the “on” intervals is purely secondary here. Beyond that, of course, you’re nowhere near your lactate threshold when playing guitar - for me, that corresponds to a sustained workout with a heartrate stabilizing in the low-mid 160s, say, and playing guitar barely elevates my heart rate.

An even worse variation of that workout stretches out the “under” blocks, but bumps them up to just under your threshold power, meaning your body is being forced to recover at like 90% of it’s sustained long-term output. I actually like/hate that one more, but shorter over/unders are easier to squeeze in on your lunch break.

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In my experience, the metronome is helpful to sync things up when they get complicated / hard to remember, but definitely not for building up technique as others have said.

I think it’s great for coordination/timing - lately I’ve been doing legato against a click track (technically, drum loops) just really repetitive scale runs, to make sure I’m really 100% in the pocket, and doing the slow/gradually ascend tempo thing there to make my fretting hand as even as possible. It definitely has a place, but the ability to move the pick back and forth isn’t really a limiting factor for alternate piking for most people, and it tends to be a naturally rhythmic motion anyway.

I think we need to differentiate between mechanics and speed. I’m not saying the metronome will do anything at all for your mechanics; that’s like trying to pound a nail with a screwdriver. But once you have the right mechanics - then some kind of graded speed work (e.g. Hadcock’s staggered metronome method) will work.

Not to pull rank - I have none to speak of! but Hadcock does - the guy played in the Boston Symphony and taught his students to do this, so I gotta believe that somebody got faster doing it.

I’m just trying to get to where you obviously are and have been for a while, @Drew. It’s just getting frustrating after 4+ years of trying everything.

Could you tell us a bit more about what you think are the relevant mechanical similarities of clarinet and guitar?

If she said she wanted to keep going with this, and reach a higher level of playing, I would ask her to keep playing without the metronome and follow the method I’ve used countless times to build speed, which is right here:

I thought about typing the above out but I ran a Google search and Claus has already summarized it so there you go. And just keep in mind when he says “No mistakes” what he means is not doing an upstroke when you mean to do a downstroke, etc. As in, you have a sequence, and you have sorted all the fretting and picking components beforehand. By mistakes he does not - at all - mean slightly mis-striking a note or having string noise. Those are errors that occasionally pop up even if you have the proper mechanics. It happens.

edit: After Phase 2 the metronome is off and stays off. Do not turn it back on.

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Zero. The main point has gotten buried a bit at this point in a long thread: again, I’m talking about use of the metronome.

Thanks for that link. And for the point about mistakes (I’m the type who would have taken that literally.)

So he leaves out one thing - in the text as well as the video - and it’s probably intuitive for some, but again, I’m on the literal side. In Phase 3, you’re playing at whatever slow speed you’ve been using since Phase 1. You’re not revisiting the metronome, so… when and how do you speed up?

(Or is that the point - once the pattern’s burned into your neurons, you’ll just start to zoom at a point without even thinking about it…?)