What is a Metronome?
A metronome is a device that provides a steady beat. A metronome makes a pulsing click sound that can be set at various speeds. You can check out the online metronome I developed for studybass.
Musicians use metronomes to practice rhythm, pace themselves, and to learn to keep a consistent beat. Metronomes are a great practice tool.
Most metronomes nowadays are digital and run on batteries. They are highly accurate. The older style metronomes use a pendulum that swings back and forth making a click with each swing. Pendulum-style metronomes are usually wound like watches used to be.
Buying a Metronome
I recommend purchasing a digital quartz metronome. I’ve always liked Seiko metronomes, but there are many choices. Make sure you listen to it and that it makes a clicking sound, not a beeping sound. That will be important in coming rhythm lessons. I also prefer the metronomes with dials rather than push buttons.
How to Use a Metronome
Beginners are often unsure of how to use a metronome. It’s not very complicated. Most often you will play music in 4/4 time and count 4 beats to a bar. (See time signatures.) Each click of the metronome will equal one of those four beats. Counting one beat on each click you would count: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. You can count other time signatures the same way. In 3/4 time you'd count: 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, and so forth.
The metronome will help you learn to keep a steady pace. Keeping a steady beat is a critical skill for bassists and musicians. Good music almost always requires a consistent pulse. Think of a metronome as your rhythmic training wheels.
Beginners will often slow down on difficult parts and speed up on easy ones. You can’t do that. The beat must be consistent throughout. This is where the metronome will help.
If you are running through some music for the first time, you don’t have to start with the metronome. Get familiar first, then work out the rhythm with the metronome guiding you.
There are other ways to count with the metronome, too. The click can be interpreted any way you want. You could set the click faster and count two clicks per beat. Or, you could set it slower and let it click on every other beat. Metronomes are very versatile. I’ll be showing you a number of ways to use them to develop your sense of rhythm. How to play with a metronome will become more obvious as we play and practice rhythm.
Metronomes allow you to select the tempo. Tempo is the rate, or speed, at which the beat occurs. Tempo is often expressed in Beats Per Minute (bpm).
A slow song might have a tempo of 60 bpm. A rock song may range from 100-200 bpm. A really fast jazz tune may hit 300 bpm or more.
Metronomes allow you to adjust the tempo usually by twisting a dial or by pushing buttons.
What Tempo Do I Set the Metronome To?
What tempo you set it on will depend on what you are practicing. Perhaps you want to play a song that is 150 bpm, but it’s too fast for you to play. You might start at 60 bpm and incrementally work your way up to 150. If you can’t play something slowly, you probably can’t play it fast. Working a bass part out slowly and building up your speed is always a good idea.
Many of the newer metronomes have features that emphasize the first beat of each bar with a louder click. Don’t use it. As a bassist you need to develop a strong internal sense of where beat one is. You can’t let the metronome give you the answer. You need to learn to feel the beat and develop confidence you know where beat one is. The emphasized beat may seem like a useful feature, but it is a crutch and you are only delaying your progress in developing this essential skill.
But, I Hate the Metronome…
I’ve heard this a million times. There’s no reason to hate the metronome. What you hate is your inability to play in sync with the metronome. If you hate the metronome it tells me even more you need to use it. If you can accurately play with the metronome the click will disappear into the background of your bassline. You'll hardly know it's there. If you are off rhythmically, the metronome will seem erratic, but it's you. Don’t kill the messenger for your unsteady timing.
Now, start using that metronome!