Some of us learned how to play guitar in recent years; then there are some of us, like me, who learned when we were kids. When I was learning, I certainly wanted to impress many people with my slick solos and techniques. Keep in mind that this is a 13-year-old I’m talking about—a young, emphatic, enthusiastic boy who just never took no for an answer.
I would play on for a few minutes every single day. I was quick to pick up on some songs, especially those involving a lot of string-bending, tapping, and other technical… umm…techniques. My friends would typically have their jaws dropping, and many would go on to bug me to teach them how to play.
“No way! I ain’t sharing my skills with nobody!”
If I had done so, those poor souls would know how not to play guitars and make themselves look like a bunch of people playing together with absolutely no regard for something called synchronization.
Sometimes I ask myself, “Why is it that we often learn things the hard way, especially in front of others?” It’s often embarrassing, but whatever the reason, it does help you fix your errors in the long run. That one bad memory of being laughed at was enough for me to cry for a few hours and hide my face for a few days. However, it also gave me the passion for learning and correcting my methods. Today, that same person can’t stop praising, something for which I pat myself on the back.
“What the hell did you just play?”
“It’s “Comfortably Numb”, why?”
“You’re kidding me, right? Is that what you call playing? Your timing is so off that I felt numb sitting here waiting for the solo.”
“Hey! If you can do a better job, do it, or shut it!”
And you know what, he did. If that moment were a slap on the face, all my bones would’ve instantly shattered. For the first time in my life, I realized how absurd I was playing; those who went on to cheer me either had no idea of what I was doing or were just waiting for me to make a fool out of myself. Either way, I was done.
This friend, let’s call him Tom, helped me realize my errors. Even though rage drove me, he calmed me down and taught me the concept of timing. Trust me: I’ve never played a single note that’s off, even by the slightest of margins.
The iconic Guthrie Govan once said:
“I would rather hear someone play the wrong note in exactly the right place than play a bunch of right notes that are slightly in the wrong place.”
Many of the guitarists I’ve met in recent times, whether self-proclaimed professionals or newbies, overlook the importance of practicing with a simple device called the metronome. We live in a world where smartphones are replacing everything these days, from wallets to remote controls. From scanners to well, fingerprint scanners, you can find everything. Not so surprising is the fact that you can also download free metronome software. They may not be terribly accurate, but hey, they’re free.
Playing a song, a rhythm, or a solo is easy, but playing it without breaking the timing is the mark of a perfectionist. If you wish to be a successful guitarist, know that timing matters far more than anything else. It’s through the immaculate timing that you can deliver performances worthy of standing ovations. It’s through your impeccable timing that you can record your songs, licks, solos, and all things guitar with minimal takes. Get that off, and a world full of trouble awaits you.
If you’re someone who overlooked the importance of timing, here are some of the most common issues you would face:
- Completely out of sync with the band. Just as an important part comes in, everyone prepares to do their part, but you end up either starting just a split second too soon or too late: that alone would abruptly halt the others. What could be worse is the fact that you may actually cause confusion and everyone would have to skip a part or two just to catch up or slow down to allow you to catch up. It will all end in a disaster.
- Taking too long with segments. When your timing is off, you may start recording a 60-second piece, but since your timing isn’t exactly clockwork, you’d end up with a 62 or even 63-second part. See how quickly you’d lose time? To make things more complicated, you may have played the entire song out of sync, wasting all the time and energy you put in earlier remaking the piece. After a few takes, you’d either call it a day or the band would show you the door.
- An audible mismatch. I’ve heard tracks where guitarists have gone on to enter into the solo a little too soon or exit out of a sequence a little too late. Either way, if you’re playing the guitar live, there is no way to trim the length or alter the speed of the recorded loop without transposing the notes, making the music sound absurd to the listener.
To fix all of that, I have a straightforward solution. Call it a universal fix, if you may, but it gets the job done for everyone.
Do you have your guitar with you? Do you happen to have a smartphone on you as well? Well, stop whatever you’re doing and download a free metronome. Once done, simply set it to 80 BPM, plug in the earphones, and let it start.
The objective is simple: whatever you intend to play, match the tempo with the metronome. If you’re an absolute beginner or don’t know what to play, start by strumming a chord. You can also pick notes if you’re trying to synchronize your solos.
This step should be easy. Move on to the next chord without changing the BPM. Now, play the same thing you played before, but faster. If you were playing one stroke per beat, play two; this is also called the eighth note in music theory. Once you are comfortable, go ahead and do three, then four. In most cases, playing four notes or strumming the chord four times every beat would be quite challenging. However, if you genuinely wish to master your rhythms and solos, you must practice.
From here on out, you can change the BPM: raise it or lower it, whichever you prefer. You can try and match the BPM of the metronome with the songs you may be trying to practice. If you aren’t too sure which BPM sounds better, you can always search for it online. Google can undoubtedly assist you there.
Wrapping it up
Make it a habit that whenever you play, you do so with a metronome. You can also buy professional metronomes and further bring up your accuracy: they’re affordable and quite handy to have as a guitarist.
Until next time...