Musings on Metronomes
A metronome is a solid tool for any musician. It provides a consistent tempo to base our playing on, helps to keep that playing consistent and is very useful for determining all the mathematical subdivisions of rhythm. The older I get, the more I use my metronome for practising.
For those new to the device, a metronome is, in essence, a variable clock which provides a regular tick at the speed of your choosing.
Metronome apps are available for all platforms, they are fine, as far as they go, but most of them don't go loud enough, are inevitably screen based, and generally far too complicated. All you need from a metronome is a "tock", everything else is marketing.
Early on in this pandemic, to preserve my sanity, I decided to lose as many screen-based devices as possible. With my metronome this had the unexpected and welcome bonus of removing notification distractions.
Not all metronomes are created equal. I'm a fan of electronic (but not digital) metronomes, because electronic analogue metronomes won't break if you drop them, and yet still provide a decent tock (without unnecessary frills). My favourite is the Yamaha QT1B which is no longer being made, so your only option there is to locate a second hand one and, if you do, buy it immediately. They don't come cheap but it will be the last metronome you ever buy.
Failing that, features I look for in a metronome are
A decent sound: not a pitched beep or a bip, but a white noise tock with enough volume to be heard over playing.
An easy to use dial to select speeds - I avoid things with screens, even LCD screens. In my experience these are always over-complicated.
The smallest number of "features" that is possible - ideally none beyond the tock.
The reason I don't like digital metronomes is that they generally come with a host of "features" which never get used to do anything other than annoy people. No one needs subdivisions of the beat, just do the math, no one needs something that bips on the first beat and bops on the second and third. You just won't use them. Don't waste your time (or money). Also, they often have unpleasant sounding pitched beeps rather than the desired tock, which grates on the ears.
If you can't find a decent electronic analogue device, I believe the next best thing is the "classic" metronome. This is a pendulum in a box with a moveable weight to adjust the speed and a clockwork mechanism to keep it going. My problem with these is their lack of transportability - they don't go into a bag nicely, will break if dropped, and will slow down as the clockwork spring unwinds. They also need to be placed on a perfectly level surface or they will go tick-TOCK, tick-TOCK in an unsatisfying and unhelpful manner.
Photo by Paco