Don't ever believe those players who claim to have "perfect time". Sure, rhythms, cycles, pulses and pulsation of all kinds, might be found everywhere in nature, but as most things out there, they fluctuate...
We owe it to ourselves (and to the musicians we play with...) to constantly work on our time. To do that, we need to spend a large portion of our practice sessions with the metronome.
There is a myth floating around that metronomes are for beginners only-- not true !
Another misconception is that they will make your time sound "stiff".
Good ones are those small battery-operated ones. Choose one that is simple in design and easy to use. It must have a pleasing tone. If the chirp or click is too annoying, you will not want to play with it for very long. I find the flashing light useless-- particularly when it moves from side to side or up and down the metronome-- because it is often out of sync with the actual click, but hey, it looks nice ! On the other hand, an adjustable volume is a great option.
It is fun to vary the feels when working with the metronome. Your basic 4/4 tunes will be played with the clicks on beats 2 & 4. If the tempo is very fast, it is best to reverse the clicks to beats 1 & 3. On those fast tempos, try also to put the click on beat 2 only or on beat 4 only.
Just to make sure we don't get too dependent on that "assisted" swing feel, it is a good idea to go back to putting all 4 clicks to the measure every now and then, and strive to generate a nice swinging pulse on our own, without the help of the 2 & 4 back-beat.
Tunes in 3/4 should be played with only one click on beat 3.
For a shuffle feel, place a click on the last partial of each triplet: if we are thinking 12/8, it means that we will have a click on the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th eighth note of each measure. Not that obvious...
A great form of aural visualization is to put the guitar down and sing to the metronome. I sing improvised melodies, or bass lines with the metronome clicking away. When doing that I try to think very hard of where I place the beat, how I phrase the lines, how I accent my notes, how I subdivide the time, etc... Having a clear mental vision of those details is extremely helpful when we pick up our instrument again.
A reality check is to practice playing tunes without the metronome from time to time (I guess that is what we do at gigs or at sessions...) just to make sure that we can still feel a pulse on our own. I suppose there is always that possibility that the metronome can work like those training-wheels that some kids use when they learn to ride a bike: take them off and they fall... but really, take my word for it: do spend the majority of your practice time with the metronome !
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