Tuesday, 26 February 2008

The Metronome

Muahaha... the Teacher's most evil and torturous apparatus is coming to get you! You watch intently as your teacher produces a triangular looking instrument from a box. You wonder at it at first, and gape with admiration akin to awe as it actually starts to produce noise!But not for long; for like many of the other students in front of you, you soon come to view this particular teacher's torture tool with disgust and hate rather than admiration and wonder. This evil apparatus is known in your music teacher's terminology as the Metronome.

The metronome is really called Maelzel's metronome, and sometimes abbreviated mm in your score. This insrument is designed to torture students like you and me help students keep a steady tempo, and feel the undercurrent of the beat right through the piece they are working on. It also allows composers and performers all over the world to have a standard speed reference point. Can you imagine the level of chaotic if everyone had their own timing system?

Here's how a conversation with Mozart and Beethoven would have gone:

Mozart: "Hey, dude! I've decided to change the speed of Rondo Alla Turka to mm=160 per crotchet beat."

Mozart demonstrates to Beethoven.
Beethoven: "What??! Nonsense, Mo, That sounds like mm=60!"

However, with the invention of the metronome, Mozart's mm=160 per crotchet beat would be Beethoven's mm=160 per crotchet beat. (By the way, Beethoven was the first well-known composer to indicate the Metronome beat in his score.)

Well, now that you know WHY the metronome was invented, I guess it's only fair to explain to you HOW it works! I remember sitting (as a little girl) at the piano, waiting centuries for the everlasting bell to chime amidst all the tick tocking of the metronome, and missing it with it finally did chime. It is not too hard to understand once you get the hang of it. :)

The Metronome marking that you see in your score (mm= whatever, per something beat- the note value is usually drawn out than stated) is actually 'whatever' many 'something' beats in a minute! For example, if you had a mm=160 per crotchet beat, it would mean that the metronome would beat for 160 crotchet beats a minute! Pretty cool eh? I wonder how Maelzel contrived to do that!

The speed can be adjusted by sliding the weight on the pendulum so that the top of the weight is in direct sync with the particular speed number on either side of it.

The bell (the one I was waiting for as a little girl) is to indicate the beginning of each bar. The chime should sound on the first beat of every bar. Each subsequent beat is sounded with a 'tick tock'. You can set this by pulling the side piece to show the required number of beats in a bar.

This metronome here indicates mm=160 in a piece with 3/4 time:

And closer up:

this is how the setting for the bell in 3/4 time should look like:

There are different types of metronome today. We have the triangular, pyramid shaped ones, as well as electronic ones. These are the manual ones, those that you have to wind up.

This picture of a digital metronome was taken from wikipedia:

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