Do you need a metronome for piano practice? What does a metronome do? How can it help you to practice and will it make things easier, or more difficult?
There are a lot of questions a newbie might have. People who first start to learn how to play piano may not even be totally aware of what a metronome is when they first start out. A metronome isn’t always 100% essential, but for those who want to get used to playing along with other musicians, it might be a good idea to have a go at playing in time.
It can feel like you have enough on your plate when you are starting to learn how to play piano, and that having to worry about the tick-tock of a metronome is an extra hassle, but if you want to build the right habits as a musician then it makes sense to play in time.
What is a Metronome?
Metronomes are devices that tick along in time with the music. Instead of counting 1, 2, 3, 4 in your head throughout the song, the metronome will do it for you. Plus, the metronome does it perfectly. This means that with a metronome for piano you get used to playing along with the rhythm and, in theory, play perfectly in time.
Metronomes are not new devices, but in the modern age, we have digital metronomes whereas historically we’d have been stuck with just mechanical ones. Wind up metronomes can be traced back to 1815!
Think of your metronome as like having a drummer playing a very simple rhythm alongside your piano practice. You can make sure the melodies and chord changes are in time with the track, so that when the time comes to play with other musicians in the room, you are ready.
Finding the Tempo
If you can read music, or you plan to learn how to read music, finding the tempo will be as simple as a numeric value on the sheet music, measured in BPM. This stands for “beats per minute”.
If you don’t know the tempo of the piece of music, or want to slow it down to play in your own time and get your knowledge pegged before playing more quickly, then you can use “tap” tempo. A tap tempo function means what you would expect. You tap in the first few measures and the metronome will continue to play a rhythm with the same tempo.
For example, take this version of “You Are My Sunshine“. It is in a simple 4/4 time signature. Once you have learned the notes and chords, you can practice playing in the right time. Set the BPM to 72 first, or tap it to a speed you feel you can comfortably keep up with.
A more obscure song can sometimes be found with a simple google search. Search for the song title + BPM and you may find information about the track. If this can’t be found, tap tempo features become your best friend, as you can tap along with the original song.
Should I Buy a Metronome or Use an App?
There is a decision to make once you have set your sights on using a metronome. You can buy a metronome, which can be used as a standalone product, or you can use a metronome app. An app is cheaper, but it is very annoying if you’re in the middle of playing and the battery dies, or you get a message alert!
A standalone metronome for piano doesn’t have to be expensive, and buying one can free up your phone or tablet for other things.