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.
The word metronome first appeared in English c.1815 and is Greek in origin:
metron = measure, nomos = regulating
According to Lynn Townsend White, Jr.
, the Andalusian inventor
, Abbas Ibn Firnas
(810-887), made the earliest attempt at creating some sort of metronome.
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.
Types of metronomes
The following samples are generated by a click track
, but give a close approximation of the sound of a metronome.
One common type of metronome is the mechanical metronome which uses an adjustable weight on the end of a pendulum
(also known as a double-weighted pendulum) rod to control the tempo: The weight is slid up the pendulum rod to decrease tempo, or down to increase tempo. The pendulum
swings back and forth in tempo, while a mechanism inside the metronome produce a clicking sound with each oscillation.
Most modern metronomes are electronic
and use a quartz crystal
to maintain accuracy, comparable to those used in wristwatches. The simplest electronic metronomes have a dial or buttons to control the tempo; some also produce tuning notes, usually around the range of A440
). Sophisticated metronomes can produce two or more distinct sounds. Tones can differ in pitch, volume, and/or timbre to demarcate downbeats
from other beats, as well as compound
and complex time signatures
Many electronic musical keyboards have built-in metronome functions.
Metronomes now exist in software form, either as stand alone applications or often in music sequencing
and audio multitrack
software packages. In recording studio
applications, such as film scoring
, a software metronome is often used to generate a click track
to synchronize musicians.
Use of the metronome as an instrument
Criticism of metronome use
While the metronome is a useful tool for musicians, it does have its limitations. In many cases, the notation of music
is only one part of the method of communication between musicians, the other being oral tradition. Thus, the metronome markings in a score
may not accurately communicate the pulse
, or groove
of music, which is not necessarily regular.
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:
- Metronome Techniques, by Frederick Franz, New Haven, Connecticut, 1988