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Mechanical metronome
Audio sample of a classic metronome (96 beats per minute)

A metronome (from the Greek metron , measure '+ nomos , regulating') is a mechanical or electronic device that uses acoustic impulses to set a constant tempo at regular time intervals . The metronome function can also be integrated in electronic musical instruments (e.g. keyboards , electric pianos ) or simulated by software (in particular mobile apps ).

The number that is set on the metronome indicates the beats per minute, in other words, in the unit of measurementbeats per minute ” (bpm). In classical music this is abbreviated as M.M. (= Mälzel's metronome). If you set the metronome to 60, the time interval (for example half a note) from one to the next beat lasts exactly one second.


Chronomètre des Étienne Loulié 1696


The earliest known device, which served the purpose of a uniform tempo specification , comes from the Andalusian inventor Abbas ibn Firnas (810-887). To maintain a steady pace, a thread pendulum was first proposed by Thomas Mace in 1676. Presumably because of this suggestion, Étienne Loulié published a description of a thread pendulum metronome with a lead ball attached to the thread in 1696 . A number of different timepieces were invented between 1800 and 1820. The terms “metronome”, “clock”, “musical timepiece”, “chronometer”, “rhythmometer” or “metrometer” were common.

Mälzel metronome

The name "metronome" was used for the first time in 1815 in the form built by the instrument maker and designer of mechanical automatons Johann Nepomuk Mälzel in Paris and patented in England, which is still considered formative today. The request to build such a machine came from several well-known musicians. Also Ludwig van Beethoven wished, as he writes later, a more precise tempo definition , than the previous (Adagio, Allegro, Presto, etc.) specified. A music chronometer was made in 1814 by the German mechanic and organ builder Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel , who lived in Amsterdam , after Johann Nepomuk Mälzel had sought advice from him. Mälzel's London patent for a device called "Metronome or Musical Time-keeper" dates from December 5, 1815. Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel only found out about it after large-scale production had started and claimed the invention for himself. In 1820, the actual invention of the metronome was finally awarded to Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel in a legal dispute; Many contemporaries took the position that Mälzel was the legitimate inventor of the metronome. Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel designed the first metronome for Mälzel after Mälzel's idea, Mälzel expanded this metronome by a scale and finally manufactured it in large numbers in its own factories in Paris and London and sold it to America. The metronome made in Vienna by Leonhard Mälzel is described very differently. The word “metronome” was first used masculine, later only in the neuter.

Other models

The mechanical metronome, made in London and Paris, has a spring wound that keeps a pendulum swinging via a releasing escapement , similar to the mechanism in a clock. The frequency of the metronome can be adjusted using a scale using a movable weight on the pendulum. With some metronomes, a bell can also be activated, which sounds at the first beat, adjustable for two, three, four or six-count bars. With the electronic metronome, the clock signal is generated electronically. Its size can range from that of a mechanical metronome to credit card size . A comparison of the tempo markings on the scales of the metronomes shown reveals some considerable differences and shows that such information is not always reliable.

Metronome numbers and interpretation

Metronome numbers given by the composer with reference to a certain note value such as “half”, “quarter” or “eighth” are valuable for the performer as a guideline for the tempo to be chosen by him. Metronome indications from editors or from anonymous origin, on the other hand, can only serve as a guideline without an authentic claim to correctness. The tempo indications on the scale of the Mälzel metronome (such as “Andante - walking 76-108”) do not refer to specific note values. When choosing the tempo, the present time signature must be taken into account: An "Andante 38 " is used in classical music, for example. B. faster than an "Andante  34 ", and this in turn faster than an "Andante  44 ". It is the same with the time signature 22 , 24 and 28 .

Classical music before Beethoven did not yet need a metronome. She used a tempo system from the “natural tempos of the time signature”, which are derived, for example, from dances whose tradition was known to the musicians; Andante, for example, is based on the movement of walking, which has individual gradations. Regional differences were also possible, and the musicians were also able to vary the tempo as required according to the size of the performance space (church, hall, room), the current number of members, etc. In addition, the rule was to use the smallest possible note values ​​as a guide: the beat of a piece (metronome) was e.g. B. taken more slowly if it contained thirty-second notes than if it consisted mostly of only sixteenths or even eighths. The Italian tempo indications then helped as additional information. Despite his enthusiasm for the metronome that Mälzel had finally made usable in practice, Beethoven only “metronomized” 25 of his 400 works, ie. H. provided with tempo indications according to the Mälzel scale.


In 1840 the British military had a large metronome built to measure or dictate the marching speed of its troops. The "Army Preceptor" had a three-stage scale: slow (slow; 75 bpm.); quick (brisk; 110 bpm.) and double-quick (running step; 150 bpm.). The metronome is rarely used as an instrument: Ravel's The Spanish Hour begins with a clockwork simulated by metronomes. In pop music, the metronome is sometimes used instead of percussion. In the song Stranger things have happened by the Foo Fighters , guitar and vocals are only accompanied by a metronome. Even Paul McCartney sat in Distractions the metronome as a separate percussive element. György Ligeti wrote Poème symphonique, a piece that is played by 100 metronomes. During the Leningrad blockade during World War II, the metronome was used as a signal for an intact radio connection and amplified with loudspeakers in the city. It thus became the acoustic symbol of the siege period.


See also

Individual evidence

  1. Jump up ↑ Lynn Townsend White : Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition. In: Technology and Culture 2, 1961, pp. 97-111
  2. Helmut KH Lange: This is how I play and teach Chopin. Analyzes and interpretations . Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-515-05772-2 , p. 50 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  3. Gottfried Weber: Art. Chronometer . In: Johann Samuelersch, JG Gruber (Hrsg.): General Encyclopedia of Sciences and Arts in alphabetical order. 21st part. Gleditsch, Leipzig 1830, pp. 204–209, here p. 208 ( digitized in the Google book search).
  4. ^ Gottfried Weber: Theory of the Art of Tonsetting, 2nd edition, Mainz 1824, p. 83
  5. Specification of the Patent granted to John Maelzel. In: The Repertory of patent inventions: and other discoveries and improvements in arts, manufactures, and agriculture ..., Volume 33, Seir 2. Wyatt, London 1818, pp. 7-13 ( digitized in the Google book search)
  6. ^ Wilhelm Binder (Ed.): General Realencyclopadie or Conversationslexicon for Catholic Germany. Volume 9. Georg Joseph Manz, Regensburg 1848, p. 1059 f. ( Digitized in the Google book search).
  7. ^ Mälzel's metronome. In: Allgemeine Musikische Zeitung, Volume 19, 1817, Col. 417-422 ( digitized in the Google book search).
  8. Cf. Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon
  9. Gottfried Wilhelm Fink: Der Musikische Hauslehrer: or theoretical-practical instructions for everyone who wants to train themselves in the art of music, namely in pianoforte, singing and harmony. Haendel, Leipzig 1847, p. 56 ( digitized in the Google book search)
  10. “It consists of a vertical rod or pole, from the upper end of which a small horizontal arm protrudes like a gallows. From the end of this arm […] a ball hangs on a cord […], the rear end of the cord runs down the pole again, so that the deeper you pull this end down, the higher the ball hanging at the other end is drawn up, and consequently the shorter the pendulum becomes. A scale is attached to the pole, which shows how many oscillations the pendulum makes within a minute, […] It is manufactured in Vienna by Leonhard Mälzel, […]. ”Stephan von Keess (Ed.): Representation of the factory and Trade in its present condition: excellent in technical, mercantilian and statistical relation. Second volume. Mörschner and Wiesner, Vienna 1824, pp. 176–181 ( digitized in the Google book search).
  11. Clemens von Gleich: "The metronome and its interpretation", in: Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 12/147, 1986, p. 23.
  12. The New Monthly Magazine, Volume 9, 1818, p. 521 ( digitized in the Google book search).
  13. From practical to extremely bizarre - exhibition on the metronome in Basel
  14. Metronome - Trivia ( Memento of the original from March 13, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  15. György Ligeti: Poème symphonique, for 100 metronomes, 10 performers & 1 conductor at Allmusic (English)
  16. The ticking of the metronome. Retrieved June 30, 2020 .

Web links

Commons : Metronome  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Metronome  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations