A metronome is any musician’s best friend, not just guitarists and bassists, and having one can truly take your skill to the next level. In this article, you will learn more about one of the most valuable accessories that you can have, why you should always have one handy, and find the right mechanical or digital metronome for you.
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What Is A Metronome?
A metronome is a device that provides an extremely steady beat for musicians to play along to, which is measured in beats per minute (BPM) and these beats are almost always referred to as quarter notes and metronomes, on average, a metronome will allow you to select tempos from about 40 to 210 BPM, but some can go lower and higher, respectively.
When you play, each quarter note beat or pulse can be added up or be broken down into larger or smaller subdivisions or rhythmic values, which you might have seen on tabs or sheet music.
For example, you’ve got whole and half notes, which consist of 4 and 2 quarter notes each, respectively, but you can also divide quarter notes into 8th notes, 16th notes, 32nd notes. Of course, you will also run into dotted notes and triplets as well. Here’s an image to illustrate the concept of subdivisions:
Music is a blend of all of these types of subdivisions, and therefore, it’s essential that you learn how rhythm works, and a metronome can help you work on this skill.
Why You Should Use A Metronome
Metronomes are most commonly used while practicing because they can help you improve your sense of time, build rhythmic consistency, and also clean up your technique. You’ve probably heard people say that you should learn how to play something slowly before you play it fast, and this is because it will help you develop the motor patterns needed to execute passages efficiently.
Starting out too quickly with something you’re not familiar with can lead to sloppy guitar playing that can only be fixed by training at slower speeds, so it’s best to do it properly from the beginning so you will be less likely to need to go back and correct yourself. Playing fast is fun, but having speed and being able to play cleanly is even better, and increasing the metronome gradually will help you get there.
Learning how to play to a click is an essential skill, in my opinion, and if you ever plan on recording music, you will thank yourself later by practicing with a metronome regularly. Sometimes, a metronome is also referred to as a click track when used with a digital audio workstation (DAW), and most modern music is recorded to one of these because it improves your timing. This will make things tighter and more professional sounding as it makes things easier to edit, such as snapping notes to the grid on your DAW.
These handy devices are, without a doubt, very useful on an individual basis and it’s highly recommended you use one when you can, but if you’re performing with your band, it can make a world of difference in cohesiveness. The metronome isn’t just for your drummer to use during band practice, and if you have the tools to do so, like having in-ear monitors or headphones, feeding a click track to each member can help everyone really lock into the beat.
There are many players across all instruments who refused to play with metronomes, and I think you are doing a huge disservice to yourself and potential bandmates in the future by not getting acquainted with this skill.
One of the biggest metronome myths out there is that people believe that you will become robotic or lose your feel and soul in your playing. This is far from the truth; rather, by working with a metronome, you will increase your rhythmic vocabulary and sense of time so that you can become more expressive. Your rhythm and lead guitar playing will both become tighter and more coherent, which will lead to a better sound overall.
That being said, now that you know about the benefits of using a metronome, we can start exploring some of the metronomes you might run into and how you can tell the difference between them.
What Kind of Metronomes Are There?
Individually, there are all kinds of different metronomes out there to choose from, but in general, they can either be grouped as mechanical or electronic – learn more about them below:
A mechanical metronome is one of the first types of metronomes created by musicians, and the style is still used until this day. These were first invented in the 1800s and involve a pendulum, a wind-up mechanism, and they are usually shaped like a pyramid.
After winding it up, you can control the speed at which the pendulum moves by sliding a small weight up or down it. Typically, the tempo markings are printed on the face of the metronome, so you can find the BPM you want to move to.
Although they are super-effective, mechanical metronomes aren’t as popular as electronic metronomes for a number of reasons, particularly in that they’re not that portable and don’t really have any extra features. However, the simplicity of use and traditional nature of this device is attractive to many individuals. Mechanical metronomes also don’t use batteries, so this can be seen as a small bonus for people who are looking for their first metronome.
A lot of people also prefer the sound of the toneless click of a mechanical metronome rather than the beeps found in a digital one. I think it’s also pretty cool to watch how it works, but that novelty might wear off after a bit, and you may or may not find the visualization aspect of mechanical metronomes useful, but some people do.
Overall, they do a great job at doing what they’re supposed to, and you have to put respect on a design that has passed the test of time and people still love them – people still pay top dollar for Wittner metronomes because they are so dependable and they look really nice.
Electronic metronomes are by far the most popular kind out there, but there is also a lot of diversity between them, and they can function slightly differently from one another when it comes to creating your pulse.
In this category, you have several different types to choose such as ones with buttons and a digital display (highly recommended), quartz metronomes, the click track on a digital audio workstation, and even apps that you can find online. Most are incredibly simple to use, but some are more advanced than others.
When comparing to mechanical metronomes, though, an electronic one tends to have a lot more features than mechanical ones, such as being able to be able to find precise tempos easier (you just need to press the button or use a dial if you want to get to something like 131 or 77 BPM, to name an example), and being able to incorporate different time signatures, subdivisions, and other patterns.
While a mechanical metronome is very reliable and steady, you just can’t beat the precision of a digital one either because it’s all electronic with no moving pieces, and this is something to consider when comparing mechanical vs. digital metronomes.
Some digital metronomes also allow you to change the sounds as well to find one that suits your liking and makes your practice more pleasant for you. They also often have headphone jacks included so others around you won’t need to hear the sounds if noise is a concern for you.
As you can see from the picture above, others have a tuner built-in to them, which is cool if you want something that includes both types of common guitar accessories. However, to do all of these features, almost all digital metronomes are battery-powered, so you’ll need to replace those once in a while or find a USB-rechargeable digital metronome.
In general, though, an excellent digital metronome is extremely affordable, portable, and will get the job done; it doesn’t need to be fancy. The Korg digital metronomes have been my personal favorite for basically as long as I’ve been playing and are some of the best ones for your money, but you can also find ones that might be cheaper and can be just as effective as the Korg ones.
There are more expensive ones available too, like the Boss Dr. Beat, which is one of the top metronomes that anyone can buy, and it has some fancy features (like programming options and counting vocalizations) and is pretty heavy-duty, but I think it’s a bit overkill for a musician who just wants something to practice at home with.
This is especially true for people who are new to using a metronome or being a brand-new players in general. You don’t want to be overwhelmed by too many features, and you probably won’t fully benefit from them at this point in time.
Additionally, there are also applications online that you can use that are also free and can use on your smartphone, but one problem I have with these is that it can be very distracting to be on your phone while you are practicing. You might be tempted to check your social media, respond to messages, or get caught up in something else that isn’t conducive to your practice time, so I personally can’t recommend them.
Instead, a nice portable metronome that does one job will do the trick and should keep you diligent and focused. You will get the most out of your practice time and improve quicker by minimizing all possible distractions.
So, What Metronome Should You Get?
Every musician will have their own personal preferences when it comes to different types of metronomes on the market. In my opinion, the most important thing is that you are committing to practicing with one. When it comes to mechanical vs. electronic metronomes, it doesn’t really matter much. It’s better that you just pick one that interests you and go with it.
Despite some of the smaller individual features that you might come across on some of them, they are all designed to do one main thing – provide a perfect beat for you to play to.
The best metronome for guitar is also one that is convenient and straightforward to use; sure, there may be a slight learning curve with how the device functions and learning what buttons do what, and you will also need to learn basic rhythm and counting, so you understand how to actually use the metronome and play along to it.
Once this part is out of the way, this will be one of the best accessories for guitar and bass, aside from maybe your tuner, and as I said before, there are devices that include both of these in one unit.
I personally like metronomes that are compact and that I can fit in a gig bass or guitar case, which means that I can get some time in with it even if I am away from my usual space. Similar to clip-on guitar tuners, there are also clip-on metronomes too that you can place on your guitar’s headstock, for those who really like that type of design.
Most of the time though, my metronome will be sitting on my desk ready for me to use each time, and I believe that it should be the same for you.
Whatever makes dedicated practice more enjoyable for you will be the best one that you pick up. It will be a tool that you can use for the rest of your life and never grow out of, and it will continue to help you become a better player as long as you stick with it.
Hopefully, this guide to the best metronomes has given you a helpful overview of what you can expect from one along with the differences and pros and cons between mechanical vs. electronic metronomes. If you find and purchase one, make sure to be patient and give yourself plenty of time to get used to playing along with it.
It might seem like it’s speeding up or slowing down on you, but this is really your flaws being shown.
The metronome never lies and you should think of a metronome as being an overly-honest friend. It might seem unforgiving, and you might not like what you hear at first, but it’s always there for you to tell you the truth and help you improve. You will get more than your money’s worth by learning how to work with a metronome and it will help you become a much better player in the short and long-term.