Which metronomes are best for practicing and learning to play? Whoever learns to play the piano needs it, whoever has learned it remembers the relentless clacking from the wooden box on the piano, which often brings beads of sweat to one’s forehead: we are talking about the metronome, the helpful and necessary beat generator, without which disciplined and successful practicing on the piano is hardly possible.
But not only among keyboardists and pianists is the metronome the medium to prepare for easy to difficult musical literature, it is used by all those who have the claim to be timing-fast in the everyday life of music making. In music, there is always someone who sets the tempo: In the orchestra the conductor, in the band the drummer, … at home the metronome. If you have been advised by your piano teacher to use a metronome, you will certainly be overwhelmed by the variety of different concepts, designs and price ranges on the market. But don’t worry: metronomes are already available for pocket money and even these do what they are supposed to do: Set the beat.
In order not to let the choice of the suitable metronome become a torture, we explain in our buying guide why you need a metronome, which metronome types there are, how they are constructed and how much you have to spend for it.
What is a metronome?
A metronome is a mechanical or electronic device that uses acoustic signals to set a constant tempo at regular time intervals. A distinction is made between mechanical metronomes, which work with a clockwork and produce a mechanical click, and their digital counterparts, which use a battery or rechargeable battery to reproduce the set tempo by means of an electronically generated sound (beep, click, bell). On top of that, the market also offers metronome apps for smartphones. Which one you choose depends largely on your own preferences, because all three types have advantages and disadvantages.
Why do you need a metronome?
Especially for piano beginners, the metronome, also called a beat generator, offers rhythmic help to orientate to a guiding tempo in the context to be practiced.
Why is a metronome so important?
The condition for rhythmically correct playing according to notes is that we keep a constant tempo. When we play the piano by notes, the pitches of the notes tell us which keys to play. At the same time, the notated rhythm instructs us when to play these keys and when to release them. All this happens at the speed of a predetermined tempo, which calls for both slow and fast changes of tone, which can also be rhythmic challenges. Beginners in particular have their difficulties with this, resulting in arbitrary tempo choices that must be avoided. The metronome helps to achieve a regularity in playing – similar to the pulse – that gives the overall playing that little bit of perfection that can be heard.
What doctors call cardiac arrhythmias pose a real threat in music, too, especially when you’re playing music with others. You’ve never heard a song on the radio where the guitarist, or even the whole band, suddenly sped up, only to slow down again at a difficult part? Probably not. That wouldn’t sound so great and that’s exactly why nobody does it on purpose. But it happens all the more often unintentionally. For those who have just started to learn the piano, it is very difficult to concentrate on everything at the same time. Not only do you have to read notes and find them on the keyboard, you also have to read the rhythm, take note values into account and play and release everything at the right time. That’s quite difficult at first. And that’s where the metronome, also called ‘Taktell’, comes in.
What does the metronome do when practicing?
A metronome ensures that you keep a constant tempo when practicing the piano. This sounds good at first, but unfortunately the metronome is not a panacea, namely when you do not engage with the given tempo, which is difficult for beginners, especially in the beginning of learning to play the piano. They then play their own tempo, often completely bypassing the metronome. However, this is normal, because the simultaneous coordination of hands, fingers, note values and keyboard is not yet developed in the implementation.
How should I use a metronome?
Always choose the tempo of the metronome only fast enough so that you don’t make any mistakes while practicing. It is better to set the tempo slower at first, so slow that you can still allow for the time of a difficult note change with the appropriate fingering. Only practicing a difficult passage slowly will bring the desired success. After that, choose the next tempo level you can set. With a metronome app, for example, you can select the BPM value (beats per minute) five units higher. You will hardly notice this acceleration, so playing your practice passage at the new tempo is relatively easy. In this way you can increase the tempo almost unnoticed in sensible steps and after a short time you will master the passage perfectly in double tempo.
The metronome is therefore a practical aid when you are overwhelmed by the independent maintenance of a constant tempo during practice, or when you simply can’t get on with a certain passage without rhythmic help. It trains you to play evenly and serves as a rhythmic support, just like the training wheels on a bicycle that keep the beginner from tipping over. Eventually, you’ll have the regularity of playing down, just like riding a bike without training wheels. Nevertheless, extensive study of the musical text is still indispensable.
Can I practice without a metronome?
If you have just practiced a part of your piece extensively with a metronome and know how it should sound, turn off the metronome and try to reproduce the same result without ‘Taktell’. Close your eyes and concentrate only on the sound. Later you will be able to do without the metronome when you have learned the important practice steps with the rhythm-giving aid. So, practice like a pro!
What types of metronomes are there?
Mechanical metronomes are made of either plastic or wood. They are wound like a clock and produce a pleasant-sounding mechanical clack. From a certain housing size and price range, a bell is often installed. This additionally marks the first beat of a bar with a separate tone. Mechanical metronomes are – if they are larger – more suitable for stationary use. However, there are also smaller models that can easily be taken to lessons.
Digital metronomes are modern and offer much more functions than the mechanical representatives in higher price ranges. The sound or click is generated electronically. However, they also always require power for this, usually in the form of one, or depending on the size, several batteries. Depending on the equipment, a tap tempo function allows the user to preset the tempo of the metronome by typing, so that one saves the manual setting. Headphone jacks are also obligatory from a certain size.
Metronome apps are much more practical when it comes to transporting the beat generator, because we actually always have our smartphone with us. And functionally, of course, these metronomes are way ahead. With them, rhythm training is child’s play. The biggest problem is often the volume, since many smartphones have the volume of the device throttled for hearing protection reasons. Whether you can hear the metronome app over the smartphone’s speakers while practicing simply has to be tried out. Otherwise, almost every smartphone offers a headphone output anyway.