Do mechanical metronomes have advantages?

Edited: February 12, 2018, 8:47 AM · Hi,

I was asking myself while practicing with a mechanical metronome...
Are they better than digital metronomes?

I want to approach this question from this perspective: mechanical metronomes send you 2 types of information, visual and auditive, while digital metronomes send you only auditive information (I know some digital metronomes have a screen or LED's as well, but the mechanical metronome bar/stick is much more obvious).

I can close my eyes and concentrate on the clicks and I can practice in tempo quite easily. However, specially in excerpts that I have not interiorized yet, it happens that if I look at the metronome stick moving, I get distracted and lose the tempo easily, and I don't fail that much if I just concentrate on the clicks and don't look at the metronome.

So my point is, may be with a mechanical metronome you train as well the visual syncing that's so important when playing with other musicians, specially in chamber music like situations, when playing with just 2-3 musicians.

What do you think?

Replies (20)

February 12, 2018, 10:38 AM · For me I do better with a metronome that has a visual reference in addition to the click. I guess I don't get distracted because I don't actually pay attention to the movement, whether it be mechanical or whatever.
Edited: February 12, 2018, 10:53 AM · These days I see no reason to use anything but smartphone metronomes and tuners. If you don't have a smartphone there are digital electronic metronome tuners that can be bought for $20 or less.

I am aware of two basic types of metronomes: Mechanical and electrical/electronic (E/E). The E/E types include "digital" and what I would call electromechanical (EM). The Peterson "Bodybeat" is one that can produce sound but can also be attached to your body so it inputs a beat right on to your skin - almost like tapping your foot - but not quite as good (in my opinion after trying it on my ankle). There have been E/E metronomes that produce sound without any visual signal and others that have a line of several lights that attempt to simulate a conductor's motion. The metronomes that are digital are pretty much replaced these days by smartphone apps. The people I play with all seem to have smartphone tuner and metronome apps (I have several) so they are always with them - some are free and some cost a dollar or two. It's the way I would recommend going!

The mechanical metronomes include the ones with a visible "pendulum" that can be something like watching a conductor. I think they can be more like watching a conductor than the moving lights on an E/E metronome. But those of us who are reading music don't have enough eyes to use that very function usefully.

My own use of metronomes has usually been to get the right tempo in practice and to work myself to the right tempo on tricky passages. I think it is good to find some tempos that are natural to oneself and try to learn to hold to those tempos without aids. Some people do this very well. I don't think I am as good at it as I would like to be - my natural tempos seem to be 60, 120, and 90 bpm, "bat-outa-hell" and "just right for this Mozart Allegro." I'm really bad with tempos that I deem too slow (which can happen to me in ensemble practice sessions with others) and I will tend to rush. I don't think any metronome is going to cure me after all these years.

Edited: February 12, 2018, 11:06 AM · Smartphone metronomes can be very slightly off. They're handy for casual use, but if I am really practicing with a metronome rather than just doing a quick check of something, I will still use my physical Dr. Beat. (Also, the Dr. Beat is LOUD.)

Mechanical metronomes have the advantage of a visible tactus, but can also sometimes have accuracy issues.

February 12, 2018, 11:30 AM · I have an old wooden Seth Thomas metronome that looks really cool on my book self. It is not very reliable and is a bit of a dust magnet, so I have a digital model that works well and will fit in my violin case.
February 12, 2018, 11:44 AM · Be careful you do not hypnotize yourself with your Seth Thomas wooden metronome! One truly great thing about the smartphone metronome is the tap-tempo feature, great for prepping orchestra parts.
February 12, 2018, 2:29 PM · 1st post (so hello all) and this thread seems relevant as I'm in the market for a new metronome (one of the cats broke my old electronic ones when she knocked over the music stand it was on) and I was wondering if mechanical ones are loud enough? What I do like about my electronic one is you can easily hear it over the violin (it's loud enough to annoy my wife downstairs!!!), I do like a nice, obtrusive click when I'm learning something.
February 12, 2018, 2:40 PM · "These days I see no reason to use anything but smartphone metronomes and tuners."

The other distractions that come with smartphones are a pretty big negative, in my opinion.

February 12, 2018, 2:52 PM · Mike, it depends on the model. Since it's a mechanical metronome, the structure is designed so one piece beats (normally) the back plate of the metronome. As you may guess, there will be quite a lot of differences in terms of sound between models and brands, since they all are differently designed and use different materials, beating pieces, back plates...

When I actually look at the metronome pendulum it's when practicing things that I already know how to play without looking at the score, though not all of them are equally familiar to me.

Of course my question does not apply when sight reading.

Edited: February 12, 2018, 3:13 PM · Several metronome apps and electronic metronomes I have tried have their visual implementation of the pendulum slightly out of phase with their sound. They are also often not loud enough. My old wooden metronome will beat most of them (pun intended). It is easy to hear while playing (at least when playing alone) and looking at the pendulum I know when the click is going to come. And it never needs new batteries.....
February 12, 2018, 7:25 PM · I like my mechanical metronome - it looks nice and adds flare to my studio.

sometimes I use it for practice, but more often than not I use my tuneable app.

February 12, 2018, 9:54 PM · Volume, volume, volume! Especially the "ding" on beat 1 which is clearly audible
February 12, 2018, 10:43 PM · Oh, the battery never dies! Although it does periodically require a rewind.
February 14, 2018, 6:21 AM · I've always found electronic metronomes to be more accurate. Pendulum metronomes seem to play one side of the swing a bit early.
February 14, 2018, 8:49 AM · David, that's simply a broken or unbalanced mechanical metronome. We are talking about functional mechanical metronomes that are in good condition, just as I'm comparing them to electronic metronomes that don't have the speaker a little broken and don't make a loud sound.
February 14, 2018, 9:09 AM · A mechanical metronome which isn't sounding right probably just needs a soundpost adjustment. ;-)
Edited: February 14, 2018, 3:11 PM · It is essential with a pendulum metronome is that it sits on a surface that is perfectly horizontal with respect to the vertical plane of swing of the pendulum if you want absolutely even beats from it. For me, the pendulum metronome ticks(!) all the boxes, including longevity - mine is about 100 years old.
February 14, 2018, 4:46 PM · For those of us who sometimes have trouble with tempo, a mechanical metronome is A+, especially for etudes.
February 15, 2018, 8:44 AM · I like the visual cue in addition to the sound. I also like the different sound on beat one. That makes it much easier to find my errors. I find it easier to follow the light on an electronic metronome than the stick on a pendulum metronome. So, I prefer the electronic metronomes.
February 16, 2018, 10:23 AM · The metronome I recommend to students is the Matrix MR800. I prefer analog controls, a loud and adjustable volume, a visual component (the light) and the 3-octaves of tuning pitches for a drone in keys with lots of flats and sharps.

Mechanical metronomes are ok in a pinch (and are ok sitting permanently on a piano or furniture), as are smartphone apps. But neither is as flexible as the above.

Edited: February 16, 2018, 2:24 PM · Scott I think thats the one I have. But Ive been thinking lately that I would like something that offers smaller incréments of speed increase

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