Metronome in music, originally pyramid-shaped clockwork mechanism to indicate the exact tempo in which a work is to be performed. It has a double pendulum whose pace can be altered by sliding the upper weight up or down. The sliding bob indicates the rate of oscillation by means of calibrations on the pendulum. A number to indicate the rate at which the metronome is to be set and a note whose value is to equal one beat of the metronome are often given on a piece of music, preceded by the initials MM, for Mälzel's Metronome-Johann Mälzel (1772-1838) having made in 1816 the type of metronome in general use today. Beethoven and Schumann left such tempo indications for many of their compositions, but for earlier music and often for later music such indications are those of the editor. A pocket-watch type of metronome was developed in the 1940s; a boxlike electric metronome has also become popular, as well as digital metronomes.
An apparatus for establishing musical tempo: more specifically the clockwork-driven double-pendulum device perhaps invented about 1812 by D. N. Winkel but refined and patented by J. N. Maelzel in 1815. Its distinct main purposes are to establish an appropriate tempo for a piece and to establish consistency of tempo through a work or an exercise. In the 20th century, synchronization in commercial music has brought the need for more sophisticated mechanisms. The metronome appears as a musical instrument in its own right in works by Ravel, Villa-Lobos and Ligeti.
Etienne Loulié's chronomètre (1696) was the first device for defining tempo. Its calibrated pendulum mechanism was further refined throughout the 18th century and by the 1780s clockwork machines were being developed. Maelzel's metronome, which aroused the interest of Beethoven and Salieri, calculated tempo in beats per minute, ranging from 48 to 160. Within a few years several major composers had issued Maelzel metronome (M. M.) numbers for their works. Attempted refinements have been few and short-lived; modern metronomes differ little from his final model. Electronic devices have however been developed during the 20th century for teaching purposes and to cope with the rhythmic complexities of avant-garde scores.
Through the analyses of treatises, scores, letters, and technologies spanning four centuries, this multidisciplinary history of rhythm charts the various, shifting meanings in musical time and movement as pedagogies and performance practices became increasingly influenced by clockwork machines—-and Johann Maelzel’s metronome most conspicuously—-over the course of the modern age. Depicting how “musical time” constitutes an ever-changing belief system in what “time” means, this study charts the ascendance of a new musical-temporal ontology brought about by Western performance-culture’s increasing reliance on metronomes.
This history explains how scientific methodologies and machines—-promoting metronomic time above all else—-were first actively applied to musicians and their performances in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. The influential work of online metronome modern scientists, pedagogues, and only later composers—-with their precision-oriented beliefs in metronomic time and rhythm—-eventually helped to create a new performance-practice tradition, a new musical culture in which mechanical objectivity became a prevailing aesthetic in the twentieth century. Highlighting the writings of philosophers such as Mersenne, Diderot, and Rousseau; musicians such as Quantz, Beethoven, and Stravinsky; scientists such as Wundt, Scripture, and Seashore; and pedagogues such as A. B. Marx, Christiani, and Jaques-Dalcroze, the narrative explicates how and why this temporal revision occurred, and what outcomes followed when scientific modes of metronomic action were imposed upon past, subjective musical practices.
As this history of musical time, metronomes, and musicality uncovers, the very meanings and cultural values underlying “rhythm” and “tempo” have palpably changed since the twentieth century due to a heretofore-unacknowledged paradigm shift: a metronomic turn in which the once-innate musical “beat” became both conceptually and audibly mechanized.
There is a lot more to using the metronome than simply sampling a few bars to get the tempo of a song. In fact, the metronome is quite essential to all musical activities these days. You can thank artist/guitarist extraordinaire/inventor Les Paul for elevating the status of the metronome from a mere device for providing tempos to the indispensable live and studio tool that it is today. You may have heard that he is the creator of multitracking, which is the process of recording one track at a time and then mixing them together afterwards. Before the advent of multitracking, bands would all get in a soundproof room, place a microphone in the center of them, and record a few good takes to choose from. Multitracking allowed each instrument to be recorded separately for the first time. This approach had a number of advantages, but it also meant that there had to be a steady pulse for everyone to follow. The multi tracking process is used to produce the vast majority of CDs today.