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HOW TO USE A METRONOME
When learning to play music, the focus is typically on playing the right notes—which, of course, is a proper and necessary exercise. But equally important is the ability to play the correct note at the correct time, and the best way to develop the all-important skill of playing in time is to use a metronome.
If you’re already familiar with how to use a metronome, you can set your desired tempo on our metronome below and start practicing. But if you’re new to this essential tool and want to learn how to use it most effectively, scroll down to our tutorial.
What Is a Metronome?
A metronome is a mechanical or digital device that produces an audible signal that “clicks” in time to a preset tempo, which is measured in beats per minute, or bpm. Most metronomes have a range of about 40 to 208 bpm. Some actually “click,” while a digital version might “beep,” and some even have a visual element such as a small flashing LED light.
How Do I Use a Metronome?
The first step in using a metronome is to understand time signatures. The time signature consists of two numbers, stacked vertically, found at the beginning of a piece of music, right next to the clef symbol and key signature. The top number tells you how many beats are in a measure, and the bottom number indicates the value of the beat. The most common time signature in popular music is 4/4, which indicates there are four beats per measure (top number), and each beat has the duration of a quarter note (bottom number).
Here are a few other common time signatures:
3/4: three quarter-note beats per measure (“waltz time”)
2/2: two half-note beats per measure (“cut time”)
And then there are compound meters, which denote eighth-note beats, but are actually felt as dotted quarter notes:
12/8: four dotted quarter-note beats per measure (some slow blues and old R&B
6/8: two dotted quarter-note beats per measure (Irish jig)
In these compound time signatures, you might count the beats as: 1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3, 4-2-3 or 1-2-3, 2-2-3, respectively, with the downbeat, or metronome click, on the bold numbers.
What About the Tempo?
As stated earlier, the tempo of a song or piece of music is measured in beats per minute. It is usually indicated above the first bar of music, typically with a quarter-note symbol with an equal sign and a number, like this: [quarter note symbol] = 92. In this case, the tempo is 92 quarter-note beats per minute.
Occasionally, the tempo will be indicated using descriptive words like “Slowly,” “Moderately,” or “Fast.” This leaves a little room for interpretation, of course, but here are estimated
bpm ranges for several common tempo adjectives:
Slowly (Adagio): 60–76 bpm
Moderately Slow (Andante): 76–92 bpm
Moderately (Moderato): 92–120 bpm
Moderately Fast (Allegretto): 120–144 bpm
Fast (Allegro): 144–172 bpm
Very Fast (Presto): 172–200 bpm
Extremely Fast (Prestissimo): Over 200 bpm—This is Slayer meets Pat Martino territory. If you can play these pieces correctly, contact us about becoming an instructor.
Got It. What’s the Next Step?
Look at the song you wish to play. Find the time signature and the tempo. If you think you can play the song at the indicated tempo, just set your metronome to that number and begin playing. But it’s usually not quite that simple.
When you come across difficult passages or find that the song is just too hard or too fast to play right away (don’t worry, unless you’re a professional musician, you probably won’t be able to play it correctly at tempo right away), the metronome becomes your best friend.
Let’s say the song has a tempo of 132 bpm, which is quite brisk. Set the metronome to a tempo at which you can play the song or difficult passage correctly and then play it—say, 72 bpm. When you’ve played it about five times without a mistake, bump the metronome up a few notches, say around 78 bpm, and play it again. Repeat the process until you can play it at the proper tempo.
Occasionally, you may come across a song with a tempo that exceeds the maximum on your metronome—like Slayer’s “Raining Blood,” which has a section of 214 bpm, or Pat Martino’s “Impressions,” which clocks in at an insane 292 bpm. When that happens, set your metronome at half tempo (e.g., 107 and 146 for the examples mentioned above), but play the notes twice as fast as indicated; in other words, in 4/4 time, you’d play two quarter notes, four eighth notes, or even eight sixteenth notes for every click of the metronome.