There is a lot of overlap in practice aids. For instance, some of the newer modeling amps facilitate backing tracks, looping and even recording. Recording software often includes rhythm patterns, the ability to make custom rhythms, guide tracks, backing tracks, and a repeat facility. Not to mention guitar trainers and cross over devices. iOS Devices seem to be able to do it all with a special adapter and a download.

Metronome

Having a steady beat really helps you develop by keeping you from slowing down on difficult passages, and if you’re ever going to play with anyone else, you’re going to have to get use to playing with a steady beat. Options range from free apps for your computer, phone or tablet to dedicated devices.

You’ll want want one that’s loud, with a volume control, pleasing tones, has a headphone jack so it doesn’t bleed into a microphone when recording. It should be quick and easy to operate, and ideally can be set for different time signatures to emphasize the first beat of each measure. However, before you go too headlong into the search for the perfect metronome, let’s look at some other options.

For general practice, quick and easy to use are the most important. Look for a metronome app that:

  • Is easy to select beats per minute and beats per measure
  • Has a pleasing sound, such as a wood block sound, and is loud enough
  • Has a headphone jack if you’re going to record yourself through a mic

Other Alternatives include:

  • Free on-line metronome app
  • Click track in your recording software
  • Backing tracks
  • Free beat making app or
  • Drum machine

Drum Machines

People get pretty tired of playing to a click, so they often go looking for the perfect drum machine. There are some free apps like Hydrogen for your computer. When you start recording, you’ll find a lot of recording software has most of this capability built in, and comes with an extensive library of rhythm tracks for the choosing. Yet it’s often difficult to visualize the different drums in standard MIDI sequencer / recording software.

The EasyBeats 2 App for iOS is very capable and very easy to use with the onscreen labeled pads, labeled pattern editor, multi-measure rhythms. You can even import your own samples and build your own kits. If you already have an iOS device, at $4.99 it could easily become your favorite rhythm box.

For Android users, GrooveMixer is a free app that works a lot like Hydrogen on the computer, even allowing you to import your own samples to build your own kits.


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Looping

Foot operated loopers can be very helpful for quickly getting a rhythm down and practicing over it. Most loopers allow you to build up a composition by layering sound on sound or overdubbing. All this is great practice to hone your skills for performing and recording.

Many looping options even have a slow down mode for learning difficult passages.

They may take the form of:

  • Recorders and Guitar Trainers often have a looping mode
  • iOS Apps and Computer Recording Software allow for looping
  • There are loopers in amps, multi-effects boxes and dedicated pedals


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Recording Practice

Recording and hearing yourself played back can be very instructive. It can highlight mistakes that you don’t hear while you play. Practice recordings also get you accustomed to being recorded. There’s no need to go all out for practice recordings though. A cassette recorder would work, and while you might have trouble finding one anymore, there are Digital Recorders that work much the same way, although avoid “Dictation” recorders as they don’t really work well for music. There are a lot of software options as well. Many are free downloads or you can use the software that comes with Computers, Amps and Audio Interfaces. Hardware options vary by recording quality, number of simultaneous inputs, and ease of use.

You might start just using the onboard mic of an iOS device, recording into the voice recorder app, or GarageBand for capturing ideas and general playback to hear yourself. Garageband is nice in that you can put on your headphones and hear a click track or guide track while you record yourself.

Next, you might feed a Mic or direct connection into your computer through an Audio Interface. Macs come with GarageBand, and many Audio Interfaces come with similar software. Some amps, effects boxes, and mixers have on-board audio interfaces as well.

DAW: Digital Audio Workstation

Digital Audio Workstation is the name given to multi-track computer software. Many come with different software amp models, and rhythm tracks. They can often handle MIDI with a library of software instruments or voices. Plug in a MIDI keyboard and you can create your own sophisticated backing tracks. Add your guitar and output complete finished works.

You just need an Audio Interface with decent Analog to Digital converters to get your signal into your computer. Your computer’s built in sound card may have a line level input jack which might work to get down a quick idea, but external Audio Interfaces often have better converters with less noise. Many Audio Interfaces include DAW software which is typically a light weight version of their pro package. There are some quite capable free options as well. PreSonus has four versions of their Studio One app, including a very capable Free version. Studio One runs on Mac and Windows, making it easy to share projects with band mates.

While there are quite a number of DAWs these days, the heavy hitters are still Apple’s Logic and Avid’s Pro Tools. Not to worry, they’re all similar enough at this point that it’s easy to switch or try two or three. I wouldn’t obsess over which one to choose until you’re ready to cut an album, at which point the filters and processing engines might sway you toward one product or another.

Backing Tracks

There are a lot of sources for backing tracks, but I’d really like to encourage you to create your own original works, unencumbered by someone else’s copyright. When it comes time to put a video up on youtube, recording your own songs, unencumbered by 3rd party copyrights, is the only practical option while remaining legal, since synchronization licenses are difficult and expensive to obtain.

That said, I’ve tried a lot of tools to get decent drums including DAWs, Drum Pads, Beat Making Apps and Drum Machines, and none are easier to get usable beats than the GarageBand Drummer on Mac or iOS.


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If you’re ready to do some advanced level recording, see our [Gear for Recording] page.

Best Practice Aid Ever


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