What Is a Metronome (And How to Use One)

A metronome is a musical device that emits a beeping or clicking sound to help you play at a consistent tempo.

Metronomes are used by musicians to improve their timing. They are also often used during musical performances, using “click tracks” through in-ear monitors.

How to Use a Metronome

Whether it’s analog or digital, using a metronome is pretty straightforward. All you have to do is:

1. Identify Time Signatures and Set the Interval

Before using a metronome, you need to be familiar with time signatures. These can be found at the beginning of a music piece, right after the clef and the key signature. 

A time signature is represented by 2 numbers. The top number is the number of beats per measure, while the bottom number is the beat’s value.

The most common time signature in music is 4/4 (4 quarter notes per measure), particularly for mainstream music genres such as pop music. Most songs on the radio are in 4/4 time, you can count along to the beats (1, 2, 3, 4) and when you clap along to the music, you will instinctively clap along to the 2 and 4 beats.

Typically, the music piece will have anywhere from 2 to 6 beats per measure. Here are a few examples:

  • 2/4: 2 quarter notes
  • 4/4: 4 quarter notes
  • 2/2: 2 half notes
  • 6/8: 6 eighth notes

2. Set the Tempo

Next, you need to set the tempo (BPM) based on the time interval of the music piece. Every click of the metronome corresponds to one unit of measure. You can adjust the tempo by moving the slider up or down on a mechanical metronome or rotating the tempo dial on digital metronomes.

Tips on How to Improve With a Metronome

A metronome can help you take your timing to the next level. However, if you’ve never used a metronome, you’ll need to take it slow at first, even if you have to count aloud. 

If you’re using a digital metronome then turn the volume off a few bars at a time and see if you’re still in time when you turn the volume back on. This trains you to stay in time without the metronome.

Another simple trick is to create a 4-bar loop by programming it into a sequencer app. This effectively works as a metronome too. 

Check out this video for some other great metronome instructions and tricks.

Should You Use a Physical Metronome or a Metronome App?

There are two types of metronomes used nowadays: physical metronomes and metronome apps. A physical metronome is usually better and more reliable. On the other hand, a metronome app is cheap or free but not consistently as solid. 

Physical Metronome

Pros:

  • Reliable
  • In the case of analog metronomes, there’s a more obvious visual cue with the pendulum action
  • More convenient to use

Cons:

  • Must be stored and transported
  • May break or deteriorate over time
  • They don’t always have headphone inputs

Metronome App

Pros:

  • Doesn’t require to be stored or transported (the app is always on your smartphone)
  • Free or cheap
  • Has more functions
  • Headphone inputs
  • May have also features such as found in rhythm training apps.

Cons:

  • Relies on the mobile phone’s performance
  • Not necessarily as convenient (phone notifications, distractions, switching between other apps)

Analog or Digital Metronome?

If you decide to opt for a physical metronome, you’ll be faced with two options to pick from: analog and digital. Analog metronomes use mechanical motion to set the interval time, while digital metronomes rely on electronic signals.

Each of them have their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, analog metronomes are easy to use and produce a noticeable sound, but they have some functionality limitations. Per contra, digital Metronomes are smaller and have more features but don’t have the pendulum action that many musicians like.

Here’s a quick recap of the pros and cons of each of them:

Analog Metronome

Pros:

  • Doesn’t require a battery
  • Easy to operate
  • Clear sound
  • More aesthetically pleasing than digital metronomes

Cons:

  • Must be set on a level surface
  • Limited functionality 
  • No accented beats

Digital Metronome

Pros:

  • Compact
  • Multiple sound options
  • Volume adjustability 
  • Accented beats
  • Can be used with headphones

Cons:

  • Needs a battery
  • Has a bit of a learning curve

Benefits of Using a Metronome

Metronomes are vital to learning good timing, but it doesn’t just end there. Here’s a quick overview of some of the perks of using this great musical tool.

Helps You Track Progress

When you practice with a metronome, you get a much better sense of how far you’ve made it till this point. With a device that gives you some control over your tempo, you’ll be able to track your progress. 

Makes You Practice at Challenging Tempos (Very Slow or Very Fast)

Everyone wants to get better as quickly as possible, but the truth is that you’ll never improve your timing unless you take things slow. In fact, it can be quite difficult to play musical pieces extremely slowly, as there are such long gaps between notes.)

With a metronome, you’ll be able to incrementally improve your timing by adjusting the tempo every time the slower one becomes easier for you. You won’t ever play at a faster tempo unless you’re ready for it. Learn to walk before you learn to run!

Skyrockets Your Speed

As a beginner, focusing too much on nailing the timing may hinder you from progressing your speed. With a metronome, once you start improving your timing, you’ll be able to play faster and with far more accuracy.

Play It Right

A metronome makes you realize how important it is to play the music piece at just the right tempo that the composer intended. Many players often neglect the importance of tempo and only focus on the notes and rhythm. 

Click Tracks

A click track is just another name for a digital metronome. It’s simply a metronome that’s recorded onto a single track of a multitrack recorder. They’re used to keep all the parts of a song consistent with the tempo.

Click tracks are great for bands on stage with in-ear monitors.

Summary

Now that you know what a metronome is and how to use it, it’s time for you to give it a shot yourself. If you’ve been having a hard time keeping your tempo consistent, there’s no better way to kick it up a notch than with a metronome.

Just make sure that you start with a slow tempo and gradually increase it until you get the hang of it.

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