Will A Metronome Help Teach Me Rhythm?

Somewhat!  A metronome is a tool that can provide the sound of a steady beat at a specific speed, but the musician must hear the beat and follow it.  It’s the following part that gets complicated, as it requires quite a bit of multitasking to play music and also pay attention to something external that is making sound.  Rhythm is something that we all feel and generate internally—we all have rhythm, but our abilities to master complex rhythms and finesse the nuances of tempo in playing music are learned skills.  That’s where the metronome comes into play.

The metronome has multiple uses.  One is to give us an external beat to work with while we learn a rhythm pattern, such as switching from duple to triple.  The metronome helps establish a specific speed for a passage of music.  Some composers indicate that a particular kind of note is equal to a specified number of beats per minute, which we can establish with the metronome to help us play the music at the intended tempo.  The metronome is also used to help play a passage of music at a steady speed.  We have a tendency to speed up when we know something well and slow down when something is difficult, so playing at a steady speed requires knowing the notes well enough to get from one place to another on time.  The metronome can increase our awareness of the places that need more practice, but we must carefully listen, work out the tricky passages, and recheck progress with the metronome.  The metronome is of no help if we completely tune it out while playing music, so use it selectively.

Where to find one of these gadgets?  Apps for smartphones and ipads are quite inexpensive.  Music stores and online sites carry small battery powered digital metronomes.  Many include a tuner for other instruments, and more expensive ones can play multiple layers of beats at the same time which is helpful.  The old fashioned kind of metronome is larger with a metal bar that physically moves back and forth, but the mechanism can be easily damaged.   Any properly functioning metronome will do the job, and the rest is up to the musician!