Let’s send some love to that open mic-er. Their cover song starts out invigoratingly upbeat. You can’t wait to here the next riff. Suddenly, you’ve hit a time warp and the most rhythmically complex part of the tune sounds like it’s being played in slow motion-increasingly slow motion. That’s because it is. Proud to have made it passed that riff alive, open mic-er awkwardly gets right back to the beat.

We’ve all had those moments. I’ll be the first to admit to warping time in front of an audience!  There’s a way to avoid it and I’m going to make a commitment to using this one simple trick. Use a metronome. A metronome? Yes; that thing you used in seventh grade band. It sways side to side and makes clicking noises. Is that too low tech for you these days? You can download a metronome app on your tablet or phone, or hit up Google and find an online metronome.

While using a metronome during a performance would likely seem silly, it is undoubtably important to your practice. Without it you’d likely remain tragically unaware of the tempo you’re keeping throughout the entire song. Of course, many musicians, especially singer/guitarists, don’t feel the need to read music. It’s perfectly okay to perform music that you’ve learned by ear or partially by ear. However, a lack of tempo awareness is problematic.

Whether right or wrong, you will internalize music the way you are used to playing it. This means that when you practice transitioning from verse to chorus, you’ll run the risk of becoming accustomed to the incorrect tempo changes. The sad part is, you won’t know it’s happening. Tricky rhythms, note changes and chord changes can feel faster than they really are when learning a song. They require faster skills than you might be perfectly comfortable with (for now). As a consequence, you may very likely play them more slowly. By accidentally practicing these changes in tempo, you’re teaching yourself to make this mistake until you can barely hear the difference.

But, everyone at open mic night can. Therein lies your second problem. You’re audience may not know the song, or the song’s tempo for that matter. Heck, they may not even be a musician like you. It doesn’t matter. The amazing fact is that human beings are biologically wired to understand music on an intuitive level. This is why artists can bring their audience to tears through song. It’s the same wiring that enables nonmusical listeners to pinpoint music that’s out of tune.

Not every song has a constant tempo or time signature, but very few don’t. Not every song has one correct tempo that it must be played at. Take the songwriter’s artistic decisions seriously when choosing tempos. It’s perfectly normal and fun to make spontaneous artistic changes during your practice sessions. But, when you do come to a decision about a tempo to use, practice the song with those new changes. The same goes for your own original music.
Your listeners may not always be able to pinpoint why, but they’ll be able to hear the artistic purpose of the song more clearly. You’ll exemplify the dedicated, well practiced artist that you are.
Practicing  with a metronome is going to help you accelerate your progress as a musician. Once you know how to use this trick to your advantage, it’s simple. That said, it’s important to know when it is right or wrong to practice with a metronome. Sometimes, a metronome can only get in your way.

Stick around to learn when a metronome can help or hinder.