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Metronomes: About and How to Use

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

What is a metronome?

A metronome is a device invented by Maelzel, an acquaintance of Beethoven's although one could not especially say they were friends. Beethoven was one of the first composers to write music for Maelzel's metronome and included markings on a number of his works for the new device. In 1815 Maelzel patented a mechanical metronome with the title "Instrument/Machine for the Improvement of all Musical Performance, called Metronome" (see patent and drawings) In 1816 Maelzel became established in Paris as the manufacturer of metronomes. He defiantly sounds an interesting character

  • Maelzel will be especially remembered [...] by the Metronome. [...] As a man, Maelzel seems to have been quarrelsome, extravagant, and unscrupulous. [...] Had he possessed a larger amount of culture and of conscience, he might have done service to high Art.

The Year-book of facts in science and art (1856)

Just over 200 years later we now have wood, plastic, electronic, digital, flashing, bleeping and vibrating metronomes that can sync with the band, prices range from free to a couple of hundred pounds. You can even find a free use one on Google chrome by typing in online metronome.

I use metronomes from 'Level One'; at this early stage they help keep time and enable the player to coordinate the notes between the hands with greater ease. However the primary reason in these early lessons is to focus on rhythm and to learn to translate the rhythm cards into sound.

A metronome encourages you with every tick to hear the rhythm and understand the beat or groove. Many students find playing fast easy but playing fast without pauses in much harder and slow practice is required to perfect movements and rhythms.

Many new musicians will find the triple time signature quite difficult when compared to duple or quadruple time. The metronome can help here, start to experiment by playing with sound or free-styling.

Cross Hands 1 and 2 are great pieces to experiment with, in addition to learning to play in triple time you also learn to explore the piano.

We are jumping ahead slightly, let's rewind a little and set the metronome to tick on sixty beats per minute. Now, simply put your hand on the long keys on the piano and play

  • right hand fingers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and aim to play one note per tick,

    • repeat with the left hand

  • Try in reverse 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 again one note per tick

    • repeat with the left hand

  • Try hands together on the same notes an octave (8 notes) or two apart. To both hands starting on C

    • Try with both hands starting on G or F or any other note.

  • In the same position play fingers 1 together, then fingers 2, 3, 4, 5 etc .. back to 1

  • Which sounds work together?

    • Which sounds do not work together?

When you can achieve this try the same principle at seventy beats per minute, if this is too much of a jump try sixty-five.

Keep increasing by five or ten until you reach 120 bpm

Try with two notes per tick, play with the sound and see what works ... it is your time to enjoy!


Chris Caton-Greasley LLCM(TD) MA (Mus)(Open)

Ethnographic Musicologist, Teacher, Researcher

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