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The sight of a traditional clockwork metronome ticking away can dredge up memories of endless piano scale rehearsals in Aunt Mary’s parlor, but metronomes have come a long way since then. Modern electronic metronomes don’t just provide precise timekeeping; they also provide visual, auditory, and sometimes tactile cues for practicing and performing musicians.
At BestReviews, we compiled a shortlist of the best metronomes available on the market today. We use a combination of customer feedback, expert opinions, and independent lab testing to create unbiased product reviews our readers can trust. And we never accept special “review products” from manufacturers, because we want our recommendations to be completely unbiased and trustworthy.
If you’re in the market for a new metronome, whether for a beginning piano student or a seasoned cover band, we invited you to check out the top five contenders listed above. If you’d like to learn more about the world of metronomes, continue reading our in-depth shopping guide.
Invented around the turn of the 19th century, the first metronomes were complex mechanical clockworks. Many composers were opposed to the idea of regulating the performance tempo of their music, believing that it would limit freedom of expression and interpretation. But a few composers, most notably Ludwig van Beethoven, embraced the idea of using a metronome to suggest a preferred tempo.
The three most common types of metronomes sold today are the mechanical metronome, the electric metronome, and the electric metronome/tuner hybrid.
Also called “clockwork” metronomes, these have become synonymous with the hours of practice many young piano students have endured over the years. A triangular wooden base contains a spring-loaded mechanism that supports a large metal needle and counterweight. This counterweight can be positioned at various points to generate a steady click rhythm, from a lethargic 40 beats per minute (BPM) to a downright peppy 208 BPM. Some models have a bell that can designate the first beat of a measure, but this is an option many users choose to disable. These traditional metronomes are often valued for their craftsmanship as much as their ability to keep steady time.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Peterson BodyBeat Wireless Synch Pulsating Metronome
Professional and Wireless
The Peterson BodyBeat Wireless Pulsating Metronome is pricey, but we believe professional musicians and composers who work with complex rhythm patterns will find it to be the best they've ever used. Band members rely on their best timekeepers to keep instruments and vocals in sync, and a discreet wireless master/slave connection like the one can keep it all together.
These use a variety of sounds to generate a steady beat. A digital display provides useful information, and a bank of lights provides visual cues when the tones are not audible.
Many electronic metronomes incorporate wireless technology to help musicians stay in sync with one another other. Some even offer a special pulsating attachment that delivers a tactile response for those who cannot hear the tones or see the lights.
Electronic metronomes are generally compact in size and can generate a wide variety of complex rhythms and tempos.
Multi-purpose electronic metronomes are becoming increasingly popular, often featuring a tuner and tone generator along with storable rhythm tracks.
These are the most recent development in metronome technology.
Musicians can tune their instruments to a specific note, using the tuner’s virtual needle to raise and lower the pitch by degrees. Some models even generate tones that musicians can use to find the correct pitch.
Metronome/tuner hybrids can be more expensive than other types of metronomes, but they take care of several important tasks at once.
Some state-of-the-art metronomes can be synced wirelessly to help an entire band maintain the same rhythm and tempo.
It’s important to match the right musical need with the right tool. A beginning piano student may only need a basic timekeeper with an audible click track, but an advanced band musician might like an onboard tuner, a wireless transmitter, or a tactile delivery feature.
Here are some elements to consider when shopping for a metronome.
Traditional clockwork metronomes are often crafted from high-end wood and fitted with brass mechanisms. The housing for modern electronic metronomes, however, is usually a little less dramatic. Most are more functional than stylish.
The visual display (screen, LED tempo lights) should be easy to read, even from a distance.
The metronome controls should feel responsive and intuitive in the hand.
A metronome with a supportive stand is nice to have, since many musicians prefer to keep the metronome in their periphery for quick reference.
A bell commonly marks the downbeat on a clockwork metronome, but many modern metronomes use a distinctive tone or a different color of LED light.
Does the metronome do what it claims to do? Will it work reliably during a rehearsal or performance? Can you hear the tone in a noisy environment? Can you see the visual cues while seated at your instrument?
All of the above are important questions, but the most critical function of a good metronome is timekeeping. A good metronome will count out beats and establish a tempo. A better metronome relays that information to the performer on time, every time.
If the musician cannot hear the auditory click track or see the visual light cues easily, then the metronome becomes worthless.
Classical tempo notations such as “andante” and “moderato” do not always correspond with the BPM markings on a metronome. The composer often uses them as suggested tempos.
Traditional clockwork metronomes are generally self-contained devices with few additional features. But electronic metronomes often have a number of useful additional features.
Some electronic metronomes have a built-in library of rhythm tracks, from simple four-beat click tracks to complicated world music rhythms.
Some electronic metronomes allow you to create customized rhythm tracks and store them for later playback.
Tuners and tone generators are also great additional features to consider.
Most clockwork metronomes have a printed range of 40 BPM to 208 BPM. Modern electronic metronomes can be set for much slower or faster tempos.
Many feature-packed electronic metronomes are surprisingly easy to afford. In this price range, you can expect a very reliable timekeeper with audible and visual cues, although the volume and visibility of metronomes of this caliber vary.
You can also find some basic traditional metronomes in this price range.
Centuries after their introduction, traditional mechanical metronomes are still popular. However, the prices of some traditional metronomes can be prohibitive.
This mid-range price point generally includes tuner/metronome hybrids and basic mechanical metronomes.
These models are ideal for advanced musicians who need reliable gear for performances and group rehearsals.
Metronomes priced over $75 tend to be well-crafted clockwork models with intricate woodwork and brass mechanisms. Very few electronic metronomes sit in this price range.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Korg Instrument Tuner and Metronome
Metronome and Tuner
While other metronomes put the bulk of their emphasis on timekeeping, the Korg works as a tuner and metronome simultaneously. The device incorporates a highly sensitive microphone for real-time tuning and an electronic beep generator for timekeeping. A backlit LED screen makes it possible for musicians to read tuning and tempo information in a dark room. The LED display uses a needle image to help musicians find the right pitch as well.
Tempo and rhythm are just as integral to musical performance as melody and interpretation. Musicians need to develop an innate sense of timing, and the steady beat of a metronome helps improve that skill.
All musicians who want to play well with others need to share a common language where meter and timing are concerned. The best way to ensure unity in a musical ensemble is to have an objective and consistent measuring stick available. That’s the role of a metronome.
Many beginning musicians learn the theory behind note values, starting with quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, and so on. What is not so easy is developing a relationship between those notes in a composition. A half note is twice as long as a quarter note, for instance, but without a basic sense of time, those values don’t mean much. A metronome provides the basic sense of time needed for rhythmic success.
For musicians on a budget, there are metronome apps available which can duplicate many of the functions of electronic metronomes.
Another benefit of using a metronome is consistency. Many musicians practice alone, but they need to know that other performers in their group will be on the same page in terms of tempo.
If each person practices with a metronome set at 160 beats per minute (BPM), the group rehearsal should be easier because each person is accustomed to playing at that tempo.
During a performance, using a communal metronome system can helps band members find their way back if they get out of sync. Other musicians may slow down or speed up the tempo in the heat of the moment, but a metronome can help restore order to an out-of-tempo song.
Q. My son plays in jazz band at school, but he says he can’t hear or see the metronome once everyone starts playing. Is there a solution to this problem?
A. There are metronomes available that add a tactile delivery method to the mix. A special sensor clipped to the player’s body produces a pulse synced with the selected tempo. Your son’s band leader may have to invest in several of these wireless metronomes in order for the entire group to benefit.
Q. I’m a music novice. How do I know what speed to set my metronome when practicing a new piece?
A. Sheet music publishers often include tempo notations at the top of the first page. For classical pieces, this is usually an Italian word designating a specific tempo range, such as “andante”, “presto,” or “moderato.” You should set your metronome to match the tempo notation on the score. (However, as you’re learning the piece, you may wish to adopt a slower tempo.)
Other sheet music may use a number system to establish the tempo. You may see a notation such as (quarter note) = 120. This means the quarter note should be played at the rate of 120 beats per minute. Modern metronomes should have both classical and BPM settings.
Q. I’m planning to study world music during my next semester at college. Will a metronome help me with those different (and difficult) time signatures?
A. Most traditional clockwork metronomes are designed to produce Western-style tempos and rhythms, which would not work well with other time signatures. However, some modern metronomes do offer a variety of rhythms based on world music tempos, and you may be able to use them during rehearsals. This is not a common metronome feature, however, so it pays to do some comparison shopping.
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