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The Secret of the Metronome

The dreaded, the feared, the despised: The Metronome. I’ve not met a musician who hasn’t loathed the thing. However, it is the very thing that makes you good. The metronome itself will sharpen your sense of timing. 

According to the ever-trusted and faithful steward of all things true on the interweb, Wikipedia, Johann Nepomuk Mälzel wasn’t the original inventor of the metronome. It was Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel who was the original originator. It seems that Dietrich didn’t copyright his invention and Johann seized the opportunity, added the scale, and…. um, stole and… ah…. received the credit for the device.


What is it?

So, what is a metronome? How does it work? A metronome, obviously, is a mechanical or electronic device or software program that produces a steady pulse, either a click or a beep, that helps the practicing musician or someone recording to stay in time with the music.

The mechanical metronomes operate via an inverted pendulum with a weight attached to it on the outside and a second weight attached to it on the inside of the device. The weight on the outside allows you to control the speed at which the ‘click’ occurs (as you shouldn’t be messing with the weight on the inside…. don’t you do it). This is usually measured in Beats Per Minute (bpm).

Electronic metronomes use a quartz crystal to create this pulse or beat and nowadays you can download metronomes on your phone or in your browser.

What Does the Metronome Do for You?

According to Kyle Coughlin, the metronome does five things:

  • It improves your sense of timing – A metronome helps you to sync up your playing to the rhythm.
  • It helps develop listening skills – When playing with the metronome you have to discipline yourself and listen to everything that is going on. Listen to the pulse being produced, listen to your playing, listen to your singing… or not singing. Timing is everything. This will make you a better musician.
  • The metronome will reveal the mistakes – have you ever been playing a piece and when the hard section comes up, you automatically slow down? I have. A metronome will reveal that you really need to work on that section. 
  • The metronome provides structure to your practice – It makes you slow down and focus on those hard parts. It helps with your coordination. Practicing slowing and with the metronome makes you accurate in your playing (see some results here)
  • Accuracy in your playing – The metronome helps you play rhythms more correctly. Listening to the pulse and counting out loud (before you pick up your instrument) will help you understand how the rhythm is exactly played.

So, go forth my very musical friend, and be not afraid of the metronome. It will help make you a fine musician. 

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