5 Best Metronomes: Gear Guide to Keeping Musical Time
By Mason Hoberg
Tired of being unable to stay in time with your jam buddies or band? Well my friend, it’s time to break out the metronome. Once you get the hand of it, using a metronome will transform both your sense of rhythm and your overall technique as a musician.
The only downside is that it’s so dang hard to figure out how to choose the best metronome. There’s a ton of different models available, and if you don’t already know what you’re looking for it can be almost impossible to know which is going to work best for you.
If you’ve ever had a hard time figuring out how to choose a metronome, you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you all the information that you need to make an informed decision, as well as give you five great recommendations to help aid you in your search.
- What Is A Metronome?
- How Should I Practice With A Metronome?
- Top 5 Metronomes
What Is A Metronome?
A metronome is a device that makes a noise at a set tempo, generally a click or beep. This allows you to practice time based exercises against a steady tempo.
Interestingly, the metronome is actually a pretty recent invention. Well, recent as far as music goes anyway. The metronome was patented in 1815 by Johann Maelzel, though it’s debated as to whether or not Maelzel pulled an Edison and stole the design from Dietrik Nikolaus Winkel.
The device was quickly adopted by professional musicians the world over. Ludwig van Beethoven was actually the first notable composer to start incorporating metronome markings (generally referred to as beats per minute) in his work, having started to do so in roughly 1817.
How Should I Practice With A Metronome?
The metronome is kind of a controversial device. Some musicians feel that using one will lead to playing that sound mechanical or boring, while others feel that it’s the only surefire way to help a musician develop a good sense of rhythm.
The thing is, they’re both right and they’re both wrong. A metronome is just a tool, and the results that you get from it are going to depend on how you use it. A metronome isn’t going to make your playing sound stale or uninspired if you use it correctly, and a metronome also isn’t going to automatically transform your playing if you’re not utilizing it in a productive way.
So how do you use a metronome the right way? Well, there’s some debate to that in all honesty. However, a good place to start is practicing scales and exercises in time with the metronome. When you get bored of doing it in quarter notes, try breaking into eighth notes or triplets. Also, make sure you start at a low tempo like 60 or 70 BPM.
When you’re starting out, you only want to use the metronome for boring or mechanical things. The reason for this is that it gives you an idea of how it feels to play more complicated rhythmic figures, without interfering with your ability to stay locked into group when you’re playing things that sound more musical. Because humans aren’t perfect, we do not play in anything that even resembles perfectly even time. A metronome is just to help train your brain to interact with a rhythmic center. This does translate into better performance when you go to play with a band, but you’re still going to have to get used playing with other musicians. And unfortunately, the only way to do this is through practice.
Metronomes are available online for free, but virtual metronomes aren’t really as good for you as a musician.
The reason for this is that a computer or phone is a distraction. It’s hard to be constructive when you’re phone is in front of you constantly. The same thing goes for the computer. There’s nothing wrong with either of those devices, they’ll just hinder your practice. A physical metronome is great because it helps you get into the zone. It’s just you, your guitar, and a little box that’s clicking at you.
The Top 5 Metronomes
Korg TM50 Instrument Tuner and Metronome
Korg was founded with one driving principle: making high quality digital instruments and accessories a viable option for gigging musicians. Something that many musicians don’t appreciate is that digital accessories and equipment have grown by leaps and bounds both in regard to the fidelity of sound they’re capable of as well as they’re overall affordability.
Case in point, Korg itself was actually founded because Tadashi Osani (a notable performing musician in his local Japan) was dissatisfied with the Wurlitzer Sideman rhythm machine he used to supplement his gigs. The company’s first device, the Disc Rotary Electric Auto Rhythm maching Donca-matic DA-20, was both a solution to the problem faced by Osani as well as the company’s first step towards the legacy they’ve established in the present day.
A great example of the company’s commitment to quality and affordability is the Korg TM50BK Instrument Tuner and Metronome, which boasts an impressive amount of utility for any musician at a price that is easily justifiable for the vast majority of us.
The most notable thing about this metronome is that it produces an audible tone when the metronome function is used, as opposed to providing solely visual feedback. The important thing about this is that having auditory feedback helps to increase your sense of timing because once you learn to feel the various divisions of rhythm (triplets, eighth notes, quarter notes, etc.) it gives a feeling more similar to practicing with a band. The only flaw here is that the metronome uses a “beep” as opposed to the more standard percussive noise you generally find with a metronome. The device also has 15 rhythm variations housed within the unit, which increases its overall amount of flexibility.
The detection range of the tuner spans from C1 to C8, so odds are you’re going to be able to tune just about any instrument with this tuner. The device uses a backlit LCD display, which is great for outdoor applications. It still suffers from glare like any other screen, but not to the point where you’ll be unable to read the tuner.
An interesting feature of the Korg is TM-50 is that it features a “sound back” design. The sound back design allows you to play a tone in the same octave as what you’re trying to tune to. This helps to hone your sense of pitch because it allows you to practice matching a pitch by ear, which is incredibly valuable practice to any beginning musician.
The main flaw in this design is that it’s difficult to tune in noisy settings because the tuner uses a mic as opposed to picking up vibrations on a headstock (like what a Snark does). However, it’s just as accurate and rugged as any other tuner, and it’s also going to have a larger life span due to not utilizing watch batteries. For its price range it’s a quality option in both the features available and its durability.
Lastly, the tuner is also reported to have a longevity that surpasses that of the ever popular clip on design. There aren’t really any moving parts to be break, so you won’t have to worry it’s going to break if you throw it into a case or gig bag.
A great option for musicians looking for both a solid tuner and a powerful metronome, the Korg TM50 Instrument Tuner and Metronome is a great addition to any musicians collection of musical accessories. Just be sure to keep in mind that unlike tuners which read pitch based on vibration this tuner actually tunes via the sound outputted by your instrument, making it less ideal for noisy circumstances.
Seiko SQ50-V Quartz Metronome
Unlike a lot of companies that produce musical equipment and accessories, Seiko metronomes are a logical division of a company which has previously established itself in a different niche. The company can trace its roots back to 1881, when its founder Kintaro Hattori opened a watch and jewelry shop in Tokyo. Sometime after this he used to experience and technical knowledge he honed running the shop to launch his own line of watches, starting production in 1924. The company actually launched the first widely produced quartz watch, which had a price similar to that of a mid-range car from the period.
The companies experience with watch making leads one to believe that the metronomes they produce are going to be engineered with a base of knowledge that other companies aren’t going to have because they were established to perform a different function. Unsurprisingly, this does in fact turn out to be the case with the Seiko SQ50-V Quartz Metronome, a device which combines minimalist simplicity with a rugged exterior which makes it a great choice for musicians in a wide variety of different situations. To learn more about how it stacks up to the competition, check out the sections below.
The most important thing to keep in mind with this metronome is that it’s intended to be a practice tool that doesn’t distract the musicians using it by being overly complicated. It’s intended to get you right into practicing, with minimal adjustments and/or tweaking necessary.
The tuner has a few different options for musicians. It has an onboard volume control so that you can get auditory feedback at a variety of different volumes, as well as a visual indicator in case that happens to be your preference. For louder instruments, like banjos or violins, the metronome also comes with a headphone jack. While the headphone jack is going to be helpful in some cases, it’s going to be a blessing for those around you. Practicing with a metronome is a bit like a musician’s equivalent of eating your vegetables, but while it’s incredibly helpful for your development with your instrument it can be a bit trying for those around you to listen to.
The metronome has two different sounds available, the trademark percussive tone you generally hear in a metronome as well as a digital beep. However, do keep in mind that you cannot set the metronome to have a different tone on the downbeats.
Lastly, the unit itself is pretty petite. It measure in at roughly 5” by 2”, which is going to be a nice feature if you plan on transporting it frequently. This is going to be especially handy if you live in a dorm and spend the majority of your practice sessions inside a communal practice room. The unit is powered by a standard 9-volt battery.
The device is very functional, though it emphasizes durability and accuracy over features. Your opinion on the metronome is largely going to depend on what exactly it is your looking for. Most musicians aren’t really going to need some of the more exotic features you find on more expensive metronomes because a standard rhythmically even tone is generally well suited to just about everyone’s needs, but with that being said if that is what you’re looking for you would probably be better off looking elsewhere.
The Seiko SQ50-V Quartz Metronome is a great option for any musician looking for a bare bones metronome that they can count on and easily transport.
BOSS DB-90 Metronome
A division of the venerable Roland corporation, BOSS produces what are arguably the most widespread and sonically diverse line of pedals currently available. Their lineup combines intuitive controls, rugged durability, and affordability into a package that makes their products a viable option for just about any musician; professional or not.
Every product produced by Boss definitely benefits from the experience of its mother corporation Roland, who has produced some of the highest received digital effects ever. The company was actually spun off from Roland with the sole intention of creating guitar pedals for the average musician, and since its inception it has never compromised its ethos.
A perfect example of the functionality and durability inherent to Boss products, the BOSS DB-90 is easily one of the most advance commercially viable metronomes currently available. To learn more about this product and what it can do for you, check out the specifications below.
The important thing to know about this metronome is that it’s intended to be a platform used for a wide array of different situations as well as a platform for complex rhythmic practice. As such, because of the features and the digital components they require it’s going to be more expensive than your run of the mill metronome. Those of you just getting into playing guitar likely aren’t going to benefit from this feature set overly much, but it does have options that a more advanced musician may appreciate.
The BOSS DB-90 has four different voices for keeping time, including a vocal track. This may be helpful to some of you, because it mirrors the feeling you get when you count time on your own. In addition to this, you can also program in your own beats and samples. The utility hear is that you can create rhythmic exercises that will aid you in developing the chops to play in more obscure or technically challenging time signatures. It also includes reference tone functionality for tuning your instrument, which while the majority of you are likely going to use a digital tuner it is still a thoughtful inclusion.
For those of you attracted to the option to program your own beats, the DB-90 features 90 slots for presets. Compared to the DB-88, which only included the space for 8 presets, this is a staggering amount of available space.
The more complex features of the DB-90 can almost approximate the feeling of playing with a drummer, which is going to be incredibly helpful to a lot of you who’ve never had the opportunity to play with a band. It’s a good way to learn how to play independently of the rhythm for others, and is likely to go a long way in supporting your personal development as a musician.
Another important thing to keep in mind is this thing is built like a tank, which isn’t a surprise considering that BOSS is arguably the standard against which other pedals are judged in regards to durability. The BOSS DB-90 is easily one of the most feature rich metronomes currently available, and while it’s more expensive than many of its contemporaries the flexibility it provides results in a unit that is very reasonably priced.
Like many great lines of products, KLIQ was born out of the market not meeting the needs of musicians. In particular, in KLIQ’s case a band of NYC musicians found themselves growing dissatisfied with the accuracy of your run of the mill clip on tuner. Now for most applications a clip on tuner is going to be very serviceable (for example, they’re a pretty popular component in a substantial amount of gigging musician’s rigs as shown by Premier Guitar’s Rig Rundown series) but they do have a +/-5 cent (the system which measures pitch) variance in most cases. This isn’t going to be readily apparent in most live applications (non-musicians generally don’t start to hear a tone as out of pitch until it’s +/-20 cents off) but it can be incredibly distracting in the studio.
To alleviate this concern, KLIQ set out to create a line of cheap instrument accessories (tuners in addition to other products) which would be affordable for most gigging musicians while still being durable enough to hold up to the rigors of touring and regular performance.
A great example of KLIQ’s ethos is the KLIQ MetroPitch, a metronome and tuner hybrid which offers a pretty substantial amount of features and utility for the majority of musicians. To learn more about how it compares to the competition, check out the specifications below.
The key thing to note about this tuner is that it has an accuracy of +/- 1 cent, making it a great fit for situations where an accurate pitch is required. This is why it’s more expensive than say a Snark, because it requires extra power and a more careful design in order to guarantee this level of accuracy.
The tuning range of the product is between A0 and C8, which ensures that just about any instrument will be recognized with the tuner. It also comes with a “flat” tuning mode, allowing you to tune a guitar to a non-concert tuning. It also comes with four different tuning modes: Guitar, bass, violin, ukulele, and chromatic. The chromatic mode covers every instrument that doesn’t have a mode listed above, so while brass, woodwind, and different string instruments don’t have their own exclusive settings they can still be accurately tuned with this device.
The onboard metronome is also relatively flexible for a device of this price, allowing for fifteen different time signatures. The unit houses a built in speaker and an onboard volume control. The only thing to note in regards to the metronome is that it doesn’t have polyrhythm functionality, so you can only play one rhythm simultaneously.
Considering the features and price point there isn’t anything lacking with this tuner/metronome unit. Judging by the features it is a great value, combining a quality tuner and metronome for a price where it would be difficult to find a good example of either product (let alone one that combines great examples of both into one unit).
Lastly, this tuner also has a three year guarantee from the manufacturer. This is really impressive for an electronic in this price range, because it does a lot to show their faith in the accessories that they produce. Just keep in mind that the standard warranty limitations apply, so while it's covered for manufacturer error it’ll still be on you to replace should you choose to modify any of its components.
The KLIQ MetroPitch is a great bargain for any musician who needs both a reliable tuner and a powerful metronome. For the price you definitely can’t go wrong if accuracy is a primary concern, however for anyone who spends the majority of their time playing at home or jamming with friends there’s not going to be a huge difference in performance between this tuner and a cheaper Snark or Korg headstock tuner.
Cherub Metronome WSM-330
A company with humble roots, Cherub has gone on to become one of the most notable names in musical accessories currently operating. Cherub is actually the brainchild of two engineers with a strong work ethic and a powerful entrepreneurial spirit who, after founding the company in 1998, have gone on to produce a staggering array of different products. The first device they launched was a digital tuner, though they’ve quickly gone on the market accessories included but not limited to: metronomes, tuners, metro-tuners, tone generators, pickups, sustain pedals, digital drums pads, and pedal effects.
The company also has a very wide reach, serving more than 100 countries all around the world. Unlike companies who’ve had decades to establish themselves, Cherub understands that in order to compete in today’s marketplace they have to focus on providing quality products and always making sure to listen to their customers.
A perfect example of the company’s ethos is the Cherub WSM-330 Mechanical Metronome, which is both affordable and provides a great throwback to the mechanical metronomes of yesteryear.
The first thing to keep in mind with this metronome is that it’s all mechanical, and as such isn’t going to have the features you’d find in a digital product such as polyrhythms or an array of different beats or voices. While this isn’t necessarily a flaw it does mean that those of you who require more advanced functionality with a metronome are likely going to be better off looking elsewhere.
With that being said, this metronome is just as useable to the average musician as any. It’s available tempos span from 40-208 bpm, giving a range that’s wide enough for just about any application. To put this in perspective, the world’s fastest guitar player tops out at around 300 bpm. So assuming you’re using this to practice odds are you’re not really going to need to go any higher than the unit’s cap of 208 bpm.
The unit also has a traditional demonstration of beat in the form of a wood block chip, which gives the traditional percussive click the metronome is known for. Because it’s mechanical it also doesn’t require a battery, which will be a plus for those of you looking for a no-fuss metronome. It’s powered through winding the mechanism, much like a pre-battery watch.
The Cherub bills itself as having a top-grade metal mechanism, which while this can mean a variety of different things because the terminology used is a bit vague you can rest assured that the unit is made of durable enough materials that you won’t have to worry about it quickly breaking down from regular use. The tempo tolerance is also stated to be within 1%, which essentially means that the beat to beat variation is never going to exceed 1% in either direction (fast or slow). This is such an imperceptible difference that the majority of you will be very unlikely to notice it whatsoever.
While it’s not as feature rich as a digital metronome it does function well for its intended purpose and has an aesthetic appeal that’s lacking in digital units. It’s both a functional accessory and a great display piece for a musical household, which while this isn’t going to make a difference to the majority of you is still a nice feature to be included.
The only thing you really need to be aware of is that because it’s a mechanical device you to have to be more careful with it than you would with a digital metronome in a plastic chassis. The Cherub WSM-330 Metronome is a great value for the musician looking for a solid metronome with a distinct aesthetic appeal.