I have a metronome that cost $100. I bought it in 2005, in the last semester of my master’s degree. It’s a Seiko SQ 100-88 digital quartz metronome. I bought it because it’s loud.
I’m sure you all know what metronomes are, but I won’t let it be said I talked over anyone’s head, so in case you don’t: a metronome is a device that clicks at a stead speed which you set. We measure speed in beats per minute. 60 means one beat each second. 120 means two beats each second. 40 means really slow.
(Imagine the father from My Big, Fat Greek Wedding now.) It come… from the Greek! Metro, it mean “measure.” Nome, it mean “little guy who sits in your yard clicking loudly.”
Metronomes are a basic musician tool, but perhaps more important for conductors than other musicians. Others set tempos for practicing, to hear the tick to help force them to stay in time. Conductors also use it to experiment with tempi, so that we can choose one and hopefully be consistent with performing at the right one. (I have problems with that–I tend to go faster in performance than I do in rehearsal. Nerves and things make the heart beat faster, endocrine system go nuts, tends to make people move faster. Gotta get over that.)
So, my metronome is damn fancy. You can set the beat speed, then select if you want it to click subdivisions: none, dupets, only the second duplet (the “ands” of beats), triplets, triplets with the middle one missing (“1 rest uh” instead of “one and uh”, quadruplets, or quadruplets with the middle two missing (“one rest rest uh” instead of “one i and uh”). Then you can set how many beats in the meter, and it will click a higher pitch for beat 1 of every measure.
In addition to all those options, it has a whole second metronome built in! There is a button you can push to get to a second group of settings. So if a piece changes tempo or meter, you can store both and get from one to the other with just a single button. Or, in rehearsal, I am using the metronome for two different pieces, I can set it beforehand and not waste time fiddling with it on the podium. FANCY!
It also has a built-in tuner set automatically to A 440, but you can play any pitch from C2 to B6, tuned to A 415 (a common early music tuning) or 438-446 (in case you’re tuning to an instrument like a piano or organ that is tuned slightly sharp or flat). I never use this feature–if I need a pitch, I use a tuning fork because acoustical pitch is easier to hear than an electronic one–but it does lead me to the volume.
My metronome has a port for a 1/4 inch phone jack. I could use headphones or even plug in speakers. But the speaker on my metronome is pretty dang loud. Which is, as I said, why I bought it.
Robert Shaw used to hang a pendulum in rehearsal in order to maximize entrainment among the singers. I wrote about entrainment in the “Thoughtful Gestures” article upon which most of this blog is based, and I will write about it here separately soon (which is one of the reasons I’m writing this metronome post now). Suffice it to say, I sometimes play my metronome at my choir. They don’t like it because it’s a loud electronic beep and/or click, but it works.
Other conductors have metronome apps on their iPhones. You can also find metronomes online for free, in case you have your laptop in the practice room. I have a loud, Greek, clicking gnome. A little clunky, but I’m fond of it.
Did I mention it had a kick stand in the back so you can stand it up?