You're likely here because you're wondering what a metronome is.
Well not only am I going to let you know, but I'll also give you a lot of other important metronome related information which you'll need for your music playing.
So read on for all the details.
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What Is A Metronome?
In its simplest form, a metronome is a device that audibly “ticks” at a set rate specified by its user.
Musicians use metronomes to practice playing in time.
What’s “in time” depends on the tempo (bpm) the metronome is set to as well as the exact material the musician is practicing.
Supposedly, Andalusian inventor Abbas ibn Firnas was the first to attempt creating a working metronome.
Either way, it’s been around for centuries, and has a long history in music.
As we all know, music is made up of melody, harmony and rhythm. The rhythm in a song is typically created by a percussionist or drummer.
But there are plenty of situations in which musicians play unaccompanied, and still need to retain a sense of time and rhythm.
Practicing with a metronome can help you develop your internal clock.
This is also helpful in the studio, where musicians are often required to play with precision so that their performance lines up perfectly with other tracks.
You can pick up a top metronome here.
Why Use A Metronome?
Using a metronome is not a prerequisite to becoming a musician.
With that in mind, playing in time is a particularly important skill, and is especially critical for drummers who are often responsible for holding the band accountable to a set tempo.
And, that’s not to let any other instrumentalist off the hook. We should all effort to become skilled at keeping time and counting beats.
There are also genres of music, like progressive rock, that tend to incorporate many musical styles and time signatures in a single tune.
So, to play more complex music, you must be able to play in time in different time signatures too.
Metronomes are also considered quite important when you’re looking to increase your speed as an instrumentalist. I’ll talk more about why that is later in the guide.
Finally, as I’ve already hinted at, when you’re tracking in the studio, you’ll often be using a click track and be required to keep time.
If you’re planning to be involved in any recording projects, you should get used to playing with a click.
Click tracks are also used in some live situations, especially shows where musicians are required to sync up with the videos playing on the screens behind them.
What Is A Metronome Used For?
A metronome is not vital for learning to play any instrument.
What you need to be able to play an instrument is the right technique.
But music is created using three devices – melody, harmony and rhythm. So, rhythm is one of the legs of this three-legged stool that makes up music.
Rhythm is generally produced with percussive instruments. Percussive instruments generally maintain a steady tempo within the context of a song.
But this isn’t to suggest other instruments don’t contribute to the rhythm of a song because they absolutely do.
And, knowing what notes to play, when and for how long is a key component of music.
A musician who’s just getting started has plenty to contend with – including unrefined technique, an undeveloped ear and little to no sense of rhythm.
I’ve taught musicians who had a natural sense of at least one of these devices. But most musicians worth their salt had to work at every aspect of their playing to become proficient players.
Rhythm is fundamental to virtually all music. To work on your rhythm, you’ll want to practice with a metronome, a drummer, a drum machine, or something that can keep you on time.
And, if you’re a drummer, then there basically is no better reference than a metronome.
Are There Other Ways To Develop My Sense Of Timing & Rhythm?
Of course, there are.
- Use an analog, digital or software drum machine and program a rhythm to play along to.
- Find a jam track on YouTube or another site and play along with it.
- Play along with your favorite songs on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music or otherwise.
- Jam with other musicians, especially drummers or percussionists.
- Tap out a steady rhythm with your foot and play along to it. I honestly think this is quite unreliable, especially for beginners, because the temptation will be to slow down as they approach a difficult section of music.
- Find other rhythmic sounds in your environment, such as the ticking of a clock, and play along with it.
- Study music theory, especially standard notation, and learn to count.
Most of these methods are great ways of developing your rhythm.
A metronome is ideal for when you want to practice speed drills or break everything down to its core components, especially music that you’ve written.
As an artist or band playing original music, there’s nothing more embarrassing than not knowing how your music is structured rhythmically.
Do I Even Need A Metronome?
There are several alternatives to conventional metronomes that you might want to check out.
Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW) software tends to come with a built-in click track.
Hardly surprising, because when you’re recording a part, you’ll probably want to keep it in time with other tracks.
There are certainly no rules against pulling up your DAW every time you want to jam along with a click track.
If you have a smartphone or smart device, you can download a metronome app that you can take with you everywhere you go.
You can also surf the web for metronome apps. Even Google has one built into their search engine – if you enter the keyword “online metronome”, you’ll be able to use their proprietary metronome that goes from 40 to 218bpm.
There are also plenty of situations in which you might not have access to the internet or your smart device, so having a metronome in those situations might turn out to be worthwhile.
A drum machine (analog, digital or software) can also be a great alternative to click tracks and metronomes as you can create drum-like beats to play along with.
You don’t absolutely need a metronome, but if you have any desire to record in the studio and work on your speed, you’ll probably want one.
What Is A Metronome Meaning & Definition Conclusion
No one is going to force you to use a metronome.
If you have a music teacher, they would likely prefer that you use one.
If you’re in a band, they’ll probably thank you for working on your sense of rhythm – especially if you’re a drummer.
If you’re planning to become a pro in any capacity (even as a session player), you’ll want to work on your timing too.
But there’s no need to practice with a metronome 100% of the time. I didn’t spend a lot of time practicing with a metronome until I started recording, and I turned out just fine.
Ultimately, I don’t care whether you use a mechanical metronome or drum machine – if you’re thinking about taking your music beyond a hobby level, you’ll want to learn to play in time.