On the Beat: Analog v Digital Metronomes

Jul 5, 2017

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking a lot about timing. Music is all about timing. And the best way to keep your timing accurate while you’re practicing is with a simple tool called a metronome. Usually a fairly simple device that creates an audible beat that can be set at different beats per minutes (BPM), the metronome has been around for a very long time. In fact, the first attempt at creating one came way back between 810 AD and 887 AD. They’ve come quite a long way since then.

Today, there are many different kinds of metronomes available, but they can generally be broken down into two main categories: digital and analog.

This week we’re going to take a look at a few of the different kinds of metronomes out there, as well as the pros and cons of the two big types. But first…

Why Use a Metronome?

Of course, before we even get started, you might be thinking to yourself, do I even need a metronome? The short, simple answer is: yes.

It’s always recommended that everyone use some sort of time-keeping device while practicing. Unfortunately, as human beings, we’re pretty terrible at knowing when our rhythm is out of sync. In fact, it’s often easier for us to tell when someone else is off the beat then notice our own timing issues.

Until you start practicing with a metronome, that is.

So, without further ado, let’s get to the metronomes!

Analog (AKA Mechanical)Analog Metronome

The classic metronome we all picture, with a pendulum clicking back and forth, is the analog, or mechanical, version. They tend to be simple, wind-up machines, and don’t need any kind of battery or electricity. They also come in a variety of sizes and shapes to suit your needs.

Most of this style of metronome have a few different settings and speeds, and usually the only thing you have to do to adjust it is move the weight on the pendulum either up or down.

Analog Pros & Cons

Here are some of the pros and cons of using a mechanical metronome:

Pros:

– No battery.

– Stays accurate on a level surface.

– Simple to use.

– Quick and easy tempo adjustments.

– Pleasing and easily noticeable sound.

– They have a lovely, classic look that is usually more appealing than digital metronomes.

Cons:

– No extra functionality.

– Only works properly on a level surface.

– Stuck with the clicking sound.

– No accented beats.

– No real visual cues.

– They can be hard to hear in certain spaces.

Digital

Digital metronomes have a few advantages that their analog cousins simply can’t match. For example, many digital metronomes allow you to accent certain beats, they sometimes use visual cues in addition to the sound they make to help you stay on the beat, and you even often have different options for the sound they make. Sometimes you just can’t hear the clicking of an analog metronome, and you need something a little more distinctive. Additionally, you can usually use headphones with digital metronomes, to better hear whichever sound you select.

There is a huge variety of digital metronomes to choose from, some of which combine their functions with other devices, like a tuner. Let’s take a look at some of the most common digital metronomes.

Dial

Electronic MetronomeA dial metronome looks just like it sounds: it has a dial on the front, sort of like an egg timer. These work similarly to mechanical metronomes, in that you move the dial around to set your beat speed. It’s a very simple device. That being said they are digital, and therefore require batteries. The electricity often also powers a flashing light to add a small but helpful visual cue.

Unfortunately, dial metronomes don’t usually come with many extra features or functions, but they do usually have a headphone jack, to make hearing the clicks that much easier.

Clip On

Clip On MetronomesClip on metronomes are a category all unto themselves, with a variety of different kinds. The most common type is usually just clipped onto your clothing or your music stand, or whatever, and are pretty simple digital metronomes. Tempo selection is usually done digitally, with a screen and buttons.

Another kind of clip on metronome is specifically designed to be attached to the headstock of your guitar (or other stringed instrument). These tend to have a little bit more functionality, often doubling as tuners.

Credit Card

If you travel a lot, or just need a really compact metronome, there Credit Card Metronomeare some digital ones that are about the size of a credit card! Small and easy to transport, these are perfect for the musician who is always on the go, or has a limited amount of space in their practice area.

The downside is that, to maintain its small, sleek frame, it has to use watch batteries, which can be hard to find to buy, and difficult to replace. Additionally, this kind can be hard to use because its buttons are also very small.

In-Ear

The last digital metronome we’ll cover today is the in-ear variety. in-ear metronomeThese are tiny, and as the name suggests, sit directly in your ear. The idea behind this design is to completely remove the issue of not being able to hear the metronome while playing.

There are a few downsides, however. First and foremost, the functionality of this kind of digital metronome is severely limited. Due to their size, they can’t really do much else other than act as a metronome. Also thanks to their small size, the control buttons are awkwardly tiny, and it can be difficult to change the tempo quickly.

Digital Pros & Cons

Let’s take a look at some of the general pros and cons for digital metronomes.

Pros:

– Extra functions and settings.

– Headphones make it much easier to hear over playing.

– Volume settings.

– Sound options.

– Beat accents.

– Often part of a multi-function device, i.e. when combined with a tuner or pedal.

– Usually much smaller and more easily transportable than analog versions.

Cons:

– They need batteries that you’ll eventually have to replace.

– Many models and types can be difficult to use.

– Sometimes it’s a long, slow process to change your tempo.

Remember, this is only comparing digital to analog; each individual digital metronome would have its own pros and cons when compared to other digital devices. Unfortunately, that’s a whole other article all to itself.

It’s always a good idea to practice with a metronome, and the more you do, the better your timing will be. Which metronome is best for you is a decision best made through a little internet research, and a discussion with your music teacher. Good luck!