How To Improve Your Rhythm & Time Feel with a Metronome

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Are you practicing with a metronome? If not, you should be!

Rhythm is usually the biggest weak spot for developing saxophone players. Part of the problem is we’re always focusing most of our energy on what notes to play, when we really should be paying closer attention to the rhythms of those notes.

Today I’m going to show you some different ways to use your metronome to improve your rhythm and time-feel. This is going to help you sound a lot better, no matter what kind music you play.

Using a Metronome

If you’re not using a metronome when you practice, you’re doing it wrong. Sorry to be so blunt, but using a metronome is an essential part of becoming a better musician.

Think of it like a clock. If you went through life without a clock you would be late for work, late for dinner, and generally be out of sync with everyone else.

If you’re playing with other musicians, and don’t have that inner pulse so you can play together, it’s all going to be one giant, musical mess.

If you don’t have a metronome, check out this app called tonal energy. I use it everyday and it doubles as a metronome and tuner. It’s about $4, and think you’ll find it very useful.

You can also type metronome into google and find a perfectly good free metronome as well.

Today’s Lesson

We’re going to start with a concert B flat major pentatonic scale and play it up and down with the metronome set at 120 bpm (beats per minute).

Play each note as a quarter note, one note per beat.

Variation 1

For this variation, you’re going to do the exact same thing… Except the metronome will be cut in half and set at 60 bpm. This means you’ll have half as many clicks. 2 notes will take place over 1 click. This will help you start subdividing because the metronome clicks on beats 1 and 3.

With fewer metronome clicks, a lot of students find themselves rushing and getting ahead of the beat. This is normal. Be mindful and try to stay with the metronome.

You can do this with any scale or pattern exercise, it’s applicable to just about anything you might be working on. By reducing the amount of clicks you’re hearing, you are forced to rely on your own inner rhythm.

Variation 2

Okay, now it’s time to turn the beat around. Instead of having the metronome on beats 1 and 3, it’ll be on 2 and 4.

At first this is probably going to be a bit of a challenge because we’re all hardwired to hear the strong beats 1 and 3.

Try thinking of beat 2 as the first thing you say, instead of 1. Count to yourself and emphasize beats 2 and 4, it’ll trick your brain into thinking that way instead.

Set the metronome at 2 and 4 and try to get your body used to how that feels.

Variation 3

This next variation is a bit more advanced.

The metronome will still be set at 60, but the tempo of what we’re playing is actually going to be 240 bpm. This means you’ll have 1 click per measure in 4/4 time.

To demonstrate this exercise, I’m going to play “Anthropology” by Charlie Parker.

When playing at a fast tempo can feel good to have the metronome on beat 3 instead of beat 1. It helps the rhythm lay back a bit little more and feel more relaxed.

In order to play these melodies up to speed, you will want to practice them slowly first.

Final Thoughts

I hope this lesson has been helpful for you. Let me know how your metronome practicing goes in the comments below!

Interested in more content to help improve your rhythm? Check out “How to Master Syncopated Rhythms.”

Also be sure to follow BetterSax on Facebook, InstagramLinkedIn, and YouTube to stay up to date with us for news, giveaways, and other saxophone tips and tricks.

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Tom says:

I got hipped to using the metronome on the offbeats by a NY theater musician who was running the band for a musical I played, and it really helps to feel the bounce you need in jazz. But honestly I never thought about using it on three for fast passages. See?, no matter how long you have played, there’s always something new to pick up from other players. Thanks Jay!

Jay Metcalf says:

there are other ways to move the click around that are helpful. Try only on beat three for medium and slow tempos as well. Or only on beat one for slower tempos. This will expose any tendency to rush (that we all have).

Samuel says:

Is there a video for this????

Jay Metcalf says:

Sorry, this is a blog post I made without a video. I have some videos that cover the same topic though.

Carmen says:

My name is Carmen I am 70 years old trying to relearn the saxophone that I have played back in grade school of course there’s a lot more to learn and harder at my age but I do not want to give up my wife bought me a brand new socks for my birthday two months ago and I’ve been practicing almost every day you have been helpful very much I do have some difficulty with the notes using my little finger what is your advice, and I do want to play by ear and that by reading music I think it would be easier your thoughts please thank you



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