Discussion on Banjo Hangout, July 2009:

Mike Moxcey in Colorado writes:

If you’re just starting out, turn off the metronome.

It is a far more useful tool for intermediate/advanced players. It can give you a rhythm to explore syncopation over the top of and can get your bluegrass roll timing down exactly correctly.

But it’s just one more thing that gets in your way when you’re starting out and trying to learn chords and stuff. Read Wernick’s BNL column last month for a second vote.

I personally think a metronome is counter-productive because 1) it takes time to learn to use properly, time that would be better spent learning proper chord formations and far worse, 2) it trains you to listen to the metronome instead of to yourself.

NINJO writes:

I always enjoy MInstrelmike’s input but I have to disagree this time. At least practice your right hand rolls with the metronome even if you are not doing anything with the left. The sooner you can lock in your rolls the better. The left hand will catch up when the right is locked in. Give yourself one month of doing nothing but rolling your right hand with a metronome (beat machine etc.) for an hour a day and you will be in there. In kung fu we spend a couple of months standing on one leg for 10 minutes at a time before we learn to extend the leg in a kick. Why? Because when the foundation is built solidly, the kick is unbelievably powerful. You need to build the foundation of picking before your music will be kicking. Just one opinion.

I think NINJO’s statement about firming up the rolls is excellent and insightful.

But I stand firm on not wanting to trouble a beginner with a metronome. I agree that a person should firm up the rolls. But playing along with a bland “click” does not feel like playing music. It seems more like “discipline” than “fun”, and I believe in making music, even practicing, as fun as possible (as long as it gets *results*). I can see a Kung Fu person being comfortable doing lots of practice of rolls just to a disciplinarian click, but most people want to have fun when they play.

So there is a more fun way of practicing rolls, and that is to play along with any simple and slow and *correct* music. That’s why I created three play-along jamming videos using very simple 1-4-5 chord progressions and slow tempos played by real musicians doing real songs, which thereby also builds repertoire and the ability to follow chord changes (multi-tasking).

If a person is at the very beginning, I also did a video called “Get Rolling” which goes very slow and starts with a bunch of TWO-chord songs, which is only one step up from playing a roll on a G chord.

Another alternative is to use a slow-downer computer program or CD player to play along with any song you like. Make sure your roll is synchronized to the beat, change chords at the right time, and have fun!