The Metronome

The Metronome

A metronome is an apparatus used by musicians for keeping time, consisting of a pivoted pendulum driven by a simple clockwork mechanism and create a loud tick. It indicates, by means of carefully regulated beats, the precise tempo for the performance of a musical work.

The action of the metronome is based on the principle of the pendulum, as set forth by Galileo and Huygens. It consists of a short steel rod mounted on a pivot on a wooden case. A lead bob, to maintain the rod on the perpendicular, is affixed near the base of the rod. A smaller weight, to give the rod a double-pendulum effect, is attached above. This weight moves along the rod, and the greater the distance between the two weights, the slower the oscillation of the rod when it is set in motion by a spring within the case. (Some metronomes are operated electrically, affording greater precision.) A scale on the rod indicates the number of oscillations per minute. For example, if the movable weight is set at 60 on the scale, the rod will swing once each second.

The rate of the pendulum can be varied by altering the position of a weight which slides upon it. The figures marked on the scale usually indicate the number of ticks per minute (BPM, or Beats Per Minute).

Metronome Experiment 1

Metronome Experiment 2

Who invented the Metronome?

The invention of the metronome is credited to Johann Maelzel, a German mechanic. However, Dietrich Winkel of Amsterdam constructed a similar device in 1815, a year earlier than Maelzel. Winkel challenged Maelzel in court for patent rights, but, although he won the suit, Maelzel's metronome was already in production and use. In music scores, the tempo is expressed by the letters MM (for Maelzel's metronome) followed by a number—the beats per minute intended by the composer.

Since 1938, electrically operated metronomes, without pendulums, have been available.

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