Music

Learn about the beginnings and evolution of the metronome

The metronome is a measuring instrument used by musicians to determine the speed of the piece of music they are playing. Perhaps it is the first time you have heard of it, but this does not mean that it is a new instrument on the market. Its history dates back centuries and is made up of various moments that defined the instrument to what it is today. 

The metronome is an instrument that arises to satisfy a specific need in musicians. This is the measurement of the existing speed between the chords of the composition to be executed, which in the fifteenth century was defined according to the palpitations of the heart. In this sense, the musician took as a reference the average pulsation of 60 beats per minute. This would be considered a standard measurement, since the body is in a state of rest.

The technique offered precision, being proof of this the great symphonies created at the time. However, some of the inventors of the time dedicated themselves to studying how to create a device capable of fulfilling this function, giving the musician greater practicality when interpreting the piece following metric guidelines.

The first metronomes

The creation of the metronome did not happen overnight, nor was it an idea that can be attributed to a single inventor. The study process was quite long and, after the culmination of what could be considered a first prototype, new elements arose to add to improve it. In this sense, we could say that the metronome since its inception has been a piece of equipment in constant evolution. Therefore, it is an invention that does not have a single precursor.

Abbas Ibn Firnas

Historians conclude that Abbas Ibn Firnas, who lived during the period from 810 to 887, was the first person who attempted to create a metronome. Unfortunately, it was just a kind of project that was not completed.

Galileo Galilei

During the late 16th century and early 17th century, Galileo Galilei surprised everyone by carrying out a detailed study of how to measure the speed of pitches by means of a pendulum, thus analyzing all the possible trajectories that it could take and which would be the appropriate one to provide us with the measurement required. The concept was developed by means of a balanced thread, which exerted isochronous movements in a fairly balanced way. This means that the duration of this process did not depend directly on the amplitude of the movement.

It is important to clarify that these oscillations obey the length of the thread, so if it is a long rope, the movement is slow and, being shorter, the movement is accelerated.

Etienne Loulie

In the year 1696, Étienne Loulié began work on a graduated-type metronome, which would be the first of its kind. The structure was robust and its format offered two meters of height, incorporating a thread with a certain length and a weight tied to it. In this way, their movement was kept at the same speed.

The person who made use of the instrument had to be careful that the position of the thread was not projected in the maximum amplitude to the right or left, since the ideal was for the string to be located vertically, in order to achieve the correct measurement of the pulse..

Among the main attributes to highlight in this mechanical type pendulum, we have that it was adjustable and did not generate any type of auditory signal, since its alert method was completely visual. In addition, no escape unit was attached to keep the pendulum in constant motion. 

 

Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel and Johann Maelzel

The Dutch Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel in the year 1814 created the mechanical musical chronometer, in his workshop located in the city of Amsterdam. The idea was copied by Johann Maelzel, who added a scale to Winkel’s idea and gave it the name “metronome”.

This word derives from the Greek “metron”, referring to “measure” and “nomos” which means “regulation”, being a quite appropriate name, since the function of the device is to measure the speed of the tunes so that the interpreter can regulate them, according to his rhythmic needs. Maelzel began the manufacture of other copies, in order to market them under the Maelzel’s Metronome patent, which became official in 1816.

Impact of the metronome in the musical world

One of the first renowned composers to make use of the metronome was Ludwig Van Beethoven, who during the classical period established certain parameters regarding the meter provided by the device. This could be seen reflected in his compositions in 1817.

The metronome fulfilled an excellent role, since both the pulley and the pendulum could be adjusted to indicate the times quickly or slowly, according to the speed requirement. However, Beethoven made it clear that this device was a real “abomination” for those who made music during the romantic period, since the tunes were much freer and the performer needed to alternate the temples of the piece to be played.

Over the decades, manufacturers began to tailor the metronome to the specific needs of each musician. Of course, without losing the essence of its operation.

Currently, you can find variety in the designs and even additional working modes, so you could question which is the best metronome .

There are string models that are adjusted manually, as well as digital equipment, which incorporate intuitive buttons to regulate volume, beat and tempo. Similarly, the structures are usually quite compact and incorporate ports for the placement of headphones and light indicators.

As if that were not enough, some manufacturers have taken on the task of developing online applications, designed to provide the interpreter with greater practicality of use. In this sense, you will only need a Wi-Fi connection to download the application on your Smartphone, Tablet or laptop. Also, if you wish, some platforms allow you to access the virtual metronome in real time.

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