What is a metronome, and why should you use one? In this article, we’ll find out the answers to these questions plus much more!
A metronome is useful to musicians of all abilities, no matter if you play drums, guitar, piano, or any other instrument. It’s one of those key accessories that should absolutely be in every musician’s toolbox.
The more you practice with a metronome, the better your timing and sense of rhythm will become. There are also numerous other benefits that you will learn about throughout this article.
In this guide you will find out why you should use a metronome and how to use one, you’ll also discover all of the different types available, and I’ll recommend some of the best models currently on the market. Finally, we’ll look at some tips to help you get the most out of your metronome, as well as some advanced practice techniques that you can use to really boost your rhythmic ability.
The famous saying is that practicing tricky pieces with a metronome for just ten minutes is better than practicing without one for a whole hour. Is that true? Let’s find out!
Table of Contents
- What is a Metronome?
- Why Use a Metronome?
- How to Use a Metronome
- How to Practice With a Metronome
- Types of Metronome
- What Is The Best Metronome?
- Bonus Metronome Tips
- Advanced Metronome Practice Techniques
What is a Metronome?
A metronome is a tool used during practice sessions to help musicians play with increased precision and accuracy. It produces an audible beat (also called a click or pulse) at a regular interval of time (tempo) which can be sped up or slowed down. Through practicing to this beat, a musician can greatly improve their timing and sense of rhythm amongst many other benefits.
Find out about all of the amazing benefits below!
Why Use a Metronome?
There are a few main reasons to use a metronome. The first is to make learning tricky pieces of music easier, and the second is to help maintain a steady tempo during practice/recording sessions (or even during live performances!). Also, using a metronome will promote better technique and, as a result, potentially help you to avoid an injury. Lastly, a metronome is also a great tool for tracking and measuring your progress.
1. Make Learning Tricky Music Easier. If you’re struggling to play a complicated lick or passage at full speed, then a metronome is going to help out massively. Simply set the tempo to a slower speed that you can comfortably manage, and then gradually raise the BPM in small increments until you reach full speed.
2. Help Maintain A Steady Tempo. One of the main purposes of a metronome is to help you feel a consistent beat. Having a strong sense of rhythm can absolutely be learned, and spending time with your metronome is definitely the best way of doing this. Your band-mates will thank you, especially the drummer! Unless you are the drummer…then you’ll just thank yourself.
3. Builds Better Technique. Blasting ahead and attempting to play tricky pieces that you are not comfortably capable of playing yet is only going to encourage poor technique. Practicing with a metronome will force you to slow down and build a better base from which you can slowly and strongly expand upon.
4. Avoid Injuries. Playing with poor technique and/or excess tension can oftentimes lead to injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which could mean weeks or months away from your instrument while you recover. As mentioned above, careful use of a metronome can help to improve your technique, as well as eliminate tension.
5. Track Your Progress. At times you can really lose motivation when you feel that you aren’t advancing anymore, when in fact, you might actually be making great progress. Because a metronome gives you numbers that you can keep track of, it’s easy to see how far you’ve come and helps to keep your practicing consistent.
How To Use a Metronome
1. Set the Tempo
Firstly, we’ll need to dial in the correct tempo. The tempo is measured in beats-per-minute (or BPM). As an example, 60 BPM would be equal to the second hand on a clock or watch, as it moves 60 times every minute.
Most old-school mechanical metronomes will be capable of between roughly 40 and 210 BPM, whereas digital models and apps will have additional range.
On a wind-up mechanical model, we can set the tempo by sliding the metal weight up and down the bar to the desired value. On digital and software metronomes the tempo will usually be entered on the screen. Additionally, on some models or pedals, we also have what is known as ‘tap-tempo‘ where we can ‘tap’ the required tempo using a finger or foot.
2. Choose The Time Signature
Note: This is only really a feature on modern digital and app-based metronomes.
For those new to music, a time signature is written like a mathematical fraction and indicates how many beats are contained within each measure (or bar).
The top number shows how many beats are in a measure, and the bottom lets us know the value of the beat.
So for example, a piece of music in 4/4 time will contain four quarter notes in a measure. A piece in 3/4 time will have three quarter notes in a measure. If you’d like to learn more, Skoove has a great time signatures guide.
Should the song have more than one time signature you will most likely need to break it up into smaller parts and reconfigure the metronome for each section. Some more advanced software-based metronomes may allow you to program in multiple time signatures, however.
3. Set The Volume
Many digital metronomes (and all apps) will allow you to adjust the volume of the beat, and sometimes change the sound of the beat as well.
Choose a volume that is loud enough to be heard, whilst not being so loud that it easily distracts you (or others!) whilst practicing.
Some metronomes can also be used without an audible click. For example, the Roadie 3 tuner has a handy vibrating metronome function. Check out my Roadie 3 review for more information.
How Do You Practice With A Metronome?
We’ve already touched briefly on a lot of different metronome techniques and ideas, so let’s take a closer look at some of these in action. The video below will give you a great beginner-friendly introduction on how to incorporate a metronome into your practice sessions.
In addition, it also touches on the idea of using drum-loops instead of a metronome to add more of a real-world element to your practicing.
Types of Metronome
Mechanical Wind-Up Metronomes
When you think of the classic metronome design, this is the one that probably pops into most peoples’ heads. It’s very simple with limited functionality and looks like a bit of an antique, but that’s definitely part of its charm!
To function, these metronomes have to be wound up, usually via a screw on the side of the device. This means that a mechanical model will only run for so long before you will need to re-wind it, a slight downside. On average you can expect around 15-20 minutes from a full wind depending on the model.
Various notches are etched into the pendulum arm to designate specific BPM values. To operate, simply slide the metal weight to the desired notch and then swing the arm into motion. No batteries are required, and this is a good benefit of a wind-up model.
The arm also displays the common Italian tempo markings from grave or largo up to presto or prestissimo. This is handy if your sheet music only indicates that the tempo is allegro for example, as it will save you having to remember what each term means.
In general, you won’t be able to set different time signatures with these devices. However, some modern mechanical metronomes do have the ability to accent selected beats, albeit in a limited fashion.
While digital metronomes can change the tempo in 1 BPM increments, you can only accurately set a mechanical model to one of the ‘preset’ values. At the faster side of the device this can amount to an interval of 8 BPM between values. So keep this slight disadvantage in mind if you require very specific tempos.
In general, these metronomes are accurate, however, you will require a level surface for them to function correctly.
I owned one of these as a kid, and can still fondly remember how satisfying it was to swing that pendulum into action. There’s just something about analog devices that oozes cool. There are some digital models that try to emulate the style of a mechanical metronome, but they just don’t look or sound as good!
Speaking of sound, these devices only have one, so make sure you can live with this!
Prices tend to start at around $20, but they can easily cost hundreds for a higher-end model.
These metronomes can really add a touch of class to your music room, and their retro look is definitely a big part of the appeal for many. With their limited functionality, however, their aesthetic is probably the only reason why you would choose to buy one over a digital or app-based option.
+ No Power/Batteries Needed
+ Very Simple To Use
+ Classic Looks
+ Satisfying Sound
+ Child Friendly
x Limited Functionality
x One Sound Only
x No Volume Control
x No Accented Clicks (Generally)
x Can’t Use With Headphones
x Needs Rewound
x Needs a LEVEL Surface
Digital (or Electronic) Metronomes
Don’t like the sound of constantly having to wind up your metronome? Then how about a battery-powered electronic unit instead?
While mechanical metronomes are quite basic in operation, a digital model is more complicated and adds a raft of additional functions.
For example, a digital metronome will generally allow you to raise and lower the beat volume and change the sound of the click. They can use accented beats plus different time signatures and subdivisions. Some models will even use a human voice for the tempo, and some people swear by these for correcting rhythm issues.
They can quite often also be used with headphones for quiet practice, or to allow you to hear the beat in noisier environments.
Generally, they are also more compact in size so they won’t take up as much space in your gig bag. Oftentimes, a digital metronome is actually built into a larger device such as a multi-effects unit or tuner, eliminating the need for a separate unit entirely.
As well as an audible click, these metronomes will often also have visual cues, usually in the form of a flashing LED light. Some models may also have the ability to vibrate to the beat, allowing you to hide the device in your pocket for example.
In addition, an electronic metronome is also easier to use in darker environments thanks to their backlit screens. These digital screens also make the units fairly simple to use in general, despite their additional functionality.
Lastly, they are also far more rugged and durable when compared to wind-up metronomes, and do not rely on having a level surface to function accurately.
+ More Accurate
+ Volume Control
+ Ability To Change Sound
+ Accented Beats
+ Headphone Compatibility
+ Compact Size/Portability
+ Can Use In Dark Environments
x Reliant on Batteries/PSU
x More Complicated To Use
Various different types of digital metronomes are available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.
Models are available which try to emulate the classic aesthetic of a mechanical device. Small clip-on designs can be attached to your clothes, music stand, or instrument. Watches are available that will vibrate on your wrist to the beat, and in-ear models allow you to more easily hear the click or practice in silence. Pedal-based models allow you to control the beat with your feet – these are usually either standalone pedals or are incorporated into larger multi-effects units.
The most common type is probably the simple pocket metronome, which fairly often comes bundled with tuner functionality as well. These devices start from as little as $10 for a basic model, and can reach around $150 for a higher-end device.
Working in a guitar store for years, I’ve tried them all, and if you require a dedicated metronome, one of these is probably what I’d suggest. They’re super cheap and have all of the functions most should need. You’ll find my top recommendation for a digital metronome later on in this article.
There are plenty more styles available in addition to these, but you get the point – there are a lot of them!
Software & Metronome Apps
Software and metronome apps are becoming more and more popular. This is because they have pretty much all of the same features as a digital metronome, but eliminate the need for an extra device as they are built right into your phone or computer.
In general, you have three choices. You will find online metronomes which can only be used through an internet browser. Some metronomes you will be able to download and install on your computer. Finally, there are also a ton of options on the Android and iOS app stores to use on your phone or tablet.
Crucially for some, many of these options are completely free, allowing you to experience the benefits of a metronome without spending any money.
These apps generally have a ton of different click tones (including human voices), support for multiple time signatures, tap tempo, delayed count-ins, and a ton more customization in general.
Being able to use the touchscreen on your mobile device is also generally a lot more intuitive than using the physical switches and dials that you’ll find on most digital metronomes. In addition, your phone’s screen will be of a far higher quality and be more easily viewable in most environments.
As popular apps are constantly receiving updates, they should only get better the longer you use them.
An interesting feature of some software-based metronomes is a special practice mode. Here the tempo can be set to gradually increase or decrease over time. This can be handy for warm-ups/cool-downs or for building speed.
+ Take Up No Extra Space
+ Free Options Available
+ Multiple Time Signatures
+ Lots Of Sounds
+ Customize Appearance
+ Updates Add New Features
+ Bluetooth Connectivity
x Tethered To Phone/Computer
x More Complicated To Use
What Is The Best Metronome?
Now that you’re clued in on the different types of metronomes, you should have a pretty good idea of the best style for you based on their advantages and disadvantages.
But which specific model or app to go for? Of course, the best metronome for you will depend on the features you need, as well as your available budget. But let’s take a look at some of my personal top choices for mechanical, digital, and software metronomes and see if they tick your boxes.
Best Mechanical Metronome
If your heart has been won over by the classic stylings and analog sounds of a mechanical metronome, then I would personally recommend one of the choices available from Tempi.
These models are around the same price as a mid-range digital metronome, and look every bit as classy as wind-up options costing four times more. They are available in four different finishes to match your décor (brown mahogany, red-stained teak, white, and black). Note that the white model is plastic, not wooden like the other three.
It also features a bell which you can optionally use to accent the 2nd/3rd/4th, or 6th beat.
Aside from the additional colors and handy bell, the Tempi is pretty much the same as any other wind-up design. If you skipped the section, you can read more about the pros and cons of a mechanical metronome earlier in this guide.
You can click here to check out the Tempi metronome on Amazon if interested.
Here are a couple of additional options you might like to check out if the Tempi isn’t right for you. For example, the Tempi is not real wood, so you might like to look at the more expensive Wittner 811M instead if you want to impress your friends!
- Wittner 811M – Best High-End Option
- Wittner Taktell Piccolo – Great Portable Option
Best Digital Metronome
If you’re after something a little more modern, then the KLIQ MetroPitch is an affordable, pocket-sized option that packs most of the features that the majority will need. Plus, you also get a handy tuner and tone generator function built-in, killing three birds with one stone!
A wide tempo range of 30-250 BPM is available, as well as a tap-tempo option for quickly matching a song’s speed. A slight downside is that there is only one click sound available, but a volume slider lets you adjust to taste. It also features a great variety of beats and rhythm patterns.
The unit is plenty loud enough for most scenarios, but can also be used with headphones when needed. In addition, there are also LED indicators that you can use to visually follow the tempo.
The colorful LCD screen means that the display is easy to read, even in darker environments. A handy fold-out stand lets you use the MetroPitch hands-free as well.
It’s available in five different colors – black, grey, blue, gold, and red, and comes with a protective sleeve and a 3-year warranty.
If you’d like to learn more about the other functions (such as the tuner), you can click here to check it out on Amazon.
Here are a few other great digital metronomes you might also like to look into if the KLIQ MetroPitch doesn’t tick all of your boxes. For example, if you want all the features, then the Boss DB90 is probably the best digital metronome in the world!
- Boss DB90 – Most Advanced Option
- Korg KDM-3 – Digital Features With Vintage Looks
- Soundbrenner Pulse – Best Vibrating Metronome
Best Metronome App or Software
Dive into the Android app store alone and there are literally hundreds of results for metronomes, so you really are spoiled for choice here.
So let’s cut to the chase! Personally, I use the Soundbrenner Metronome app, which is handily available for both Android and iOS. I love it – very simple to understand and use, but also very powerful.
It’s designed to be used as a companion app for one of Soundbrenner’s wearable metronomes, but also works perfectly as a standalone option if you do not own one of these.
At the time of writing there are 21 different sounds available, and you can use three of those at the same time and in any order that you’d like – or use none at all! Another awesome feature is that you can optionally set your device’s screen to flash on every beat, giving a great visual representation of the tempo as well.
A ton of different time signatures and subdivisions can easily be programmed in, and any beat can be accented.
Save songs, and even complete setlists to your library for quick access at any time. Also, customize the display in either light or dark modes to suit your environment.
Sounds good, right? But how much does it cost? Well…nothing! It’s completely free to use.
Of course, there are more features to the app than what I’ve briefly mentioned above. But it’s free, so you know, go check it out yourself…
Top Tips For Using A Metronome
1. Raise The Tempo SLOWLY
When trying to train a difficult lick or passage up to speed it may be tempting to try and work towards the end result as fast as you can. This is only going to hurt your technique in the long run! The key to using a metronome effectively is to be patient and take your time.
It may be a tedious process, but ideally, you should only be raising the tempo in small, manageable increments, waiting until you’ve really mastered that speed before moving on.
This way, when you do finally reach full tempo, you will be playing the piece consistently with perfect technique and little to no tension.
2. Choose a Non-Distracting Sound
When selecting your metronome, be sure to pick one that has a sound that is suitable for your environment. Or just choose one that allows you to pick from different sounds!
If the click sound is irritating to you, or is too loud and has no volume control then it’s just going to be an annoying distraction during practice sessions.
Similarly, if you practice in a loud environment make sure to select a model with a loud enough pulse to be heard over the ambient noise. Or consider a model which accepts headphones – your partner may thank you for this too!
3. Practice WITHOUT Your Instrument
Sometimes it can be helpful to actually set aside your instrument and all of the distractions that come with it.
You can simplify things by just focusing on rhythm by clapping or tapping along to the metronome with your hands. This eliminates extra considerations such as technique and pitch.
When you pick up your instrument again you may find that everything falls in to place a little easier having already mastered the rhythm side of things.
4. Bonus – Try Using As A Sleep Aid!
If you struggle to fall asleep, or have a poor quality of shut-eye, you might want to test using your metronome to help out with this!
A 2013 study has shown that using a metronome to reinforce rhythms in the brain can help people to sleep better.
To try this out you should set a tempo of somewhere around your resting heart rate, so maybe between 60 and 80 BPM. Use a gentle click tone if your device has that option.
You can also optionally set up your device so that it turns off after a certain time limit, or you can even have it decrease the tempo over time to help you gradually relax.
It won’t work for everyone, but there are plenty of success stories using this method!
Advanced Metronome Practice Techniques
If you are feeling a little adventurous, here are a few more complex techniques that you can use with a metronome to really improve your sense of rhythm.
1. Use Dotted Rhythms
Also known as swing rhythms, this is a very effective method for honing in on tricky passages and ironing out any rhythmic issues. It can also help to relieve the tedium of constantly practicing with the same beat.
An example of this could include a dotted eighth note which is followed by a sixteenth note, or maybe a dotted sixteenth note which is then followed by a thirty-second.
Doing this will allow you to alternate playing longer and then shorter notes, ultimately giving you a little more time to prepare for the next note in tricky sections.
2. Reverse Your Dotted Rhythms
We’ve just looked at using dotted rhythms where we alternate between longer notes and shorter notes.
This technique is the exact opposite! We switch things around so that the longer notes in technique 1 are now the shorter notes, and the shorter notes now become the longer notes.
By doing this we can ensure that any technical difficulties that weren’t ironed out using the dotted rhythms above can now also be addressed.
3. Shift The Timing Of The Notes
This is a complicated technique (also called phasing) that can be used to great effect to give you a better musical understanding of difficult pieces.
The piece is first played at a slow tempo until you are able to play it perfectly without mistakes or tension. Next up, we will alter the timing so that the first note begins one sixteenth note later. After nailing that, we switch it up again so that the first note starts two sixteenth notes later. Finally, change it up again so that the first note begins three sixteenth notes later.
It sounds complicated (and it is!), but take your time and start to build this technique into your practice sessions. By using all of these different rhythmic variations you will gain a much better musical knowledge of the piece.
You’ve Reached The End!
Congratulations, that was a long one!
Hopefully, through reading this guide you will have learned just how essential an accessory a metronome is for any musician to keep in their toolbox. It truly is a device that can take your playing to the next level when utilized correctly. It might even help you to avoid a nasty repetitive strain injury further down the line!