A metronome is any device that produces a regulated aural, visual or tactile pulse to establish a steady tempo in the performance of music. It is a useful practice tool for musicians that dates back to the early 19th century.
metron = measure, nomos = regulating
The mechanical metronome was invented by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel in Amsterdam in 1812. Johann Mälzel copied several of Winkel's construction ideas and received the patent for the portable metronome in 1816. Ludwig van Beethoven was the first notable composer to indicate specific metronome markings in his music, in 1817.
Metronomes may be used by musicians when practicing in order to maintain a constant tempo; by adjusting the metronome, facility can be achieved at varying tempi. Even in pieces that do not require a strictly constant tempo (such as in the case of rubato), a metronome "marking" is sometimes given by the composer to give an indication of the general tempo intended, found in the score at the beginning of a piece or movement thereof.
Tempo is always measured in beats per minute (BPM); metronomes can be set to variable tempi, usually ranging from 40 to 200 BPM.
Many electronic musical keyboards have built-in metronome functions.
A style of performance that is unfailingly regular rhythmically may be criticized as being "metronomic." Many notable composers, including Felix Mendelssohn, Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi and Johannes Brahms, have weighed in on the use of the metronome:
From a performance perspective:
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