Metronome Clicks: Keeping the Beat in Time
When composers write a piece of music, they have an idea in their head of how fast or slow they want the piece to be played. But, how do they convey this information to a musician? This is when a metronome comes in handy. In today’s blog, we’ll discuss the function of a metronome, and other ways composer leave instructions for how their music should be interpreted.
What is a Metronome?
A metronome is a device that audible clicks at regular intervals. Often this is counted in beats per minute. The word metronome comes from the Ancient Greek “métron” or measure and “némo” I lead. It is used to guide the musician strictly through the tempo (mean the speed) of the piece of music.
What’s more, practising with a metronome trains the player’s internalised sense of timing. However, these devices do not account for interpreting the emotion and other expressions that are often not played exactly on every click. Therefore leading to divide between “metronome time” and “musical time”.
Types of Metronomes
There are a range of different metronomes that can be used.
Analogue. This device relies on weight and clockwork to function. It moves a thin stick of metal back and forth to count the beats out.
Digital. These clickers can be a little more exact with their numbers and often have a more digital sound to their counting.
How Are Beats Measured?
But, how exactly do metronomes measure these beats? Well, a beat is a steady tap that exists in all music. Different types of beats are equal to different lengths of time:
- There is a crotchet or quarter note.
- There is a minim or half note. It is as long as 2 crotchets.
- This is a semibreve or whole note. It Is as long as four crotchets, and 2 minims.
Beats in music form group — most commonly groups of two, three or four. These groups are called bars or ‘measures’. The first beat is felt to be a little stronger than the others. Sometimes a metronome will make a slightly different sound to reflect this downbeat. A composer indicates the number of beats per minute at the top of the piece like this:
Each beat of a bar is equivalent to 72 beats per minute.
The musician is now able to hear/play the indicated tempo of the music.
Other Tempo Markings Besides Metronome Counts
There are other ways composers can indicate tempo without giving a number. This is often by use of Italian words or phrases.
- Accelerando (or accel.) means gradually getting quicker
- Adagio means slow
- Allegro means quick and cheerful
- Andante means at a medium walking speed
- Lento means slow
- Moderato means at a moderate tempo
- Rallentando (or rall.) or Ritardando (or rit.) means gradually getting slower
At the end of the day, while a metronome will dictate the exact speed of the music it will not account for the emotional journey the player is trying to convey. While it’s important to stay true to the intent of the composer, aspiring musicians should also learn to feel and interpret the music outside a constant count.