Back when I worked at a recording studio full-time, I had an unexpected opportunity to work on recordings for Christopher Cross‘ live show. I was expecting to meet a washed-up 80s pop star with a falsetto timbre and a lack of musical ability. Instead, I met the best guitar player I’ve ever heard. (To be fair, he does have a higher voice.) I was used to spending about three hours per song per guitar track when recording. Christopher Cross played it perfectly in one take. Unreal talent. Unreal.
At some point in the day, everyone happened to be out of the control room (the place where you click record) except for me and Christopher Cross. So I meekly began, “Um, you’re the best guitar player I’ve ever heard. How do you do it?” Keep in mind two things: 1) I was a guitar major in college and I’m pretty good at it; 2) I never, ever talk to famous people about how/why they’re famous. He’s graciously and quietly replied,
I love the metronome.
THAT’S IT?? That’s the key to playing guitar better than anyone on the planet? After thinking about this for years, and now having taught music to elementary students for three years, I think he’s right. Here’s why.
The most important part of playing music is rhythm (when you actually play the note). If the rhythm is off, everything is off. Playing along with something that has a steady tempo (a recording, keyboard, drum machine, or metronome) is the best way to play your own instrument with a steady tempo.
A metronome simply clicks at a consistent beat. Beginning musicians can usually play along with the cd that came with their book, and emerging musicians often play along with cds to practice. There’s a huge problem with this–it only has one tempo. If that’s too fast, and it will be when you’re learning a song, you never play it correctly. Use a metronome to practice at a slower tempo, and you can slowly and steadily increase the tempo.
There are several options for buying a metronome: use Web Metronome if you’re near a computer, or buy Metronome+ for $2. It is flexible with tons of customization, portable, and well worth the money. I use Metronome+ with my band students, and they can actually play together. It may be completely out of tune, but the rhythm is accurate. As they progress, they will have a solid foundation. In a sense, I’m helping foster a new generation of little Christopher Crosses.