Imagine a musician’s practice space – what are the first objects that come to mind? Maybe you picture an instrument, a chair, a music stand and… a metronome. The metronome is a standard piece of equipment for any musician, and is usually the third item a player acquires after their instrument and a book full of music. But what is it for? This deceptively simple tool is a cornerstone of modern musical practice. Read on to learn more about its history and use.
The metronome is a simple device that produces audible “clicks” at a variable speed, to enable musicians to practice music with precise timing. Not only does it keep a player on time, it also allows them to practice difficult passages at slower speeds than intended, which is helpful for troubleshooting and mastering details. Originally, the metronome was intended for use only during practice, but today its role has expanded. Recording artists use metronomes to remain on tempo when layering multiple parts. It is even used during live performance, especially in large venues where it may be difficult to hear other musicians on stage.
The metronome as we know it was invented by Dietrich Winkel, born in Lippstadt, Germany in 1777. Winkel was an avid inventor, and created various automatic instruments. His original device was a rather simple machine, based on the pendulum regulated clock. In 1815, his invention was copied outright by Johann Maelzel, who added a scale that allowed the pendulum to swing at various speeds. Maelzel began producing the metronome at a commercial level shortly after. Beethoven was among the first composers to include a specific metronome speed in one of his compositions, and the practice spread rapidly throughout Europe thereafter.
Modern metronomes are built in many shapes an sizes. The Maelzel-style metronome is still common, though many players prefer electronic versions today, which work effectively the same way as a quartz clock: current from a battery is sent through a quartz crystal, which regulates timing, then to a small speaker, which produces the click. Metronome apps and websites are also common. For example, Google built a functional metronome directly into their results page.
Are you interested in improving your sense of time? Contact Thompson Tutoring for music lessons today!