All About Metronomes
A metronome is a gadget which generates "ticks" or "peeps" at specified intervals. The numbers on the metronome indicate the number of ticks per minute. The standard settings are 40 - 208.
Although some teachers despise them, I feel a metronome is an important learning tool. It lifts from the student's shoulders the burden of maintaining a steady tempo during the learning stage of a piece so the student can concentrate on locating the notes accurately and playing them for the duration specified by the composer.
Another use for a metronome is for a gradual increase in tempo. The increments are so small that, almost without knowing it, the student increases the speed at which she can play the piece accurately.
Many teachers use the metronome as an adjunct to technical drills.
And a metronome can introduce the student to the reality that sometimes he may not select the tempo! Sometimes someone else - - such as the conductor - - will impose her idea of what the speed should be. The student must learn to adjust his playing!
There are three kinds of metronomes:
- Mechanical. These are the wind-up kind and work by a spring mechanism. When the spring unwinds entirely, the metronome stops and must be re-wound. Speed is changed by moving a weight on a pendulum-type arm. (Think of a teeter-totter. The closer the kids sit to the fulcrum, the faster the movement. A mechanical metronome is sort of half of a teeter-totter. The moveable weight is one child, and the unmovable counterweight is the other child. The closer the moveable weight is to the fulcrum and the counterweight, the faster the arm moves.) Sound produced is a "tick." Many metronomes of this type are pyramid-shaped with a footprint of about 4" x 4". It is possible to get smaller ones that do not take up a lot of room on the piano, although sometimes the volume of the ticks suffers. Mechanical metronomes are fragile; do not allow the cat to become too enamored with it. Don't allow a curious child to rip the cover open and grab the moving arm (Bingo! It's bent and won't tick evenly!)
- Electric. These are "black boxes" with a dial and that plug into an outlet. Speed is adjusted by the dial. Often these metronomes are quite large. The footprint might be 5" x 5". Sound is a burly "TICK!" Very sturdy.
- Electronic. Often cheaper than a mechanical metronome, these tend to be smaller. They are battery-powered. I once heard one the size of a credit card, and its sound was a "peep"/weak click - - hardly discernable. To add insult to injury, the numbers advanced one at a time (not, for example, 108 > 112, but 108 > 109 > 110 > 111 > 112; what student would put up with such a laborious process?; better to skip using the metronome!) On most electronics, however, speed is selected via a dial. The virtue of these electronic metronomes is that they are very portable, and, unless abused, are fairly impervious to damage when dropped. The biggest problem with electronic metronomes is that they often/usually are made with a flashing light accompanying each tick. The whole purpose of using a metronome is to listen to the device! In some - - horrors! - - one sets the number of ticks desired per measure and then there is a bell and light on the first count and ticks and lights on the remaining three counts. As you can see, if you miss the first beat in the measure, either you ignore the bell when it sounds (very difficult to do, especially for a student) or you must wait until the beat-sequence recycles so you can match up with the first beat again. Waiting for the metronome to cycle through builds in a hole, which is what you're trying to correct by using the metronome. I encourage you not to buy an electronic metronome that does not allow you to disable the bell or other "marker" for the first beat of a measure. If you can disable the bell but not the flash, the student can turn the metronome around so the light is hidden.
- Note: Most electronic keyboards have a built-in metronome. Alas, they usually have the light/bell feature, and it cannot be disabled. If the bell can be disabled but not the light, cover the light with something.
You need volume. What good is a metronome if the student can't hear it after he starts to play along with it?!
Two other points:
- For size and price and loudness in a mechanical metronome, I recommend a Taktell Piccolo.
- If you prefer something battery-driven, I recommend Seiko's SQ50-V (formerly SQ50; it's the same device, renamed, so don't hesitate to buy it - - in fact, you might be able to find this one at a discount). This metronome does have a light on each tick (which you can't disable), which is the only fault I find in it. It's as loud as a mechanical. I ask my students to turn it around so the light is not visible.
- I encourage you to stay away from any that has a bell sound that cannot be disabled. These metronomes are counter-productive, as noted above.
- If the only shortcoming of the unit is a light that cannot be disabled, turn the metronome around to obscure the flash.
- Note: I am not affiliated in any way with the makers or any retailer of any of these metronomes.
A metronome is an investment your child will use forever. Don't scrimp on this purchase, please.
The one my parents bought me is still ticking away!
copyright 1998-2013, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.
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