Christopher Cross & The Metronome


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. 

  • I am in complete and total awe that you have written not only a post about Christopher Cross, but also about a Metronome. I am in awe sir, in awe.

  • Haha, thanks. That conversation changed the way I look at practicing an instrument.

  • My director in college also preached the same idea. Rhythm is always the most important aspect to the music. Doesn’t matter if you get the right notes, if you have the wrong rhythm. If you are on the correct rhythm wrong notes will be less obvious and there is still a chance you’ll get the next ones right and be back with the group.

    Also, the concept of practicing with the metronome slowly until mastery and then increasing the tempo is crucial, so it’s awesome that you’re passing it along to your kids as well. If you get a chance read the book “Effortless Mastery” by Kenny Werner. Really talked about practicing at slow tempos with the metronome to internalize a piece of music and get it worked into your muscle memory so that your hand can almost play without you. One of those things that completely changed my practice routines as well. Too bad I didn’t find that until after I graduated.

    I remember spending $250 + for a Dr. Beat that had a nice clave sound and would subdivide in 16ths and triplets. Now you can get the same functionality in a $2 app. Oh to have these tools when I was an undergrad. :)

    Thanks for sharing this story Bill, I never knew this about you.