A Metronome is any device that produces regular, metrical ticks (beats). These ticks represent a fixed, regular aural pulse; some metronomes also include synchronized visual motion. Though the metronome was conceived as a tool for music, some musicians consider it to be a highly controversial tool in this respect, and some reject the metronome altogether.
Quotes critical of the metronome
- This series of even, perfectly quantized, 16th notes, is no more evocative of samba, than a metronome would be. In fact, this representation neglects what makes up the samba essence in the first place.
- Pedro Batista; Understanding the Samba Groove.
- The metronome has no real musical value. I repeat, the metronome has no value whatsoever as an aid to any action or performance that is musical in intention. [...] refer by analogy to the sister art of drawing. Graphic artists understand well enough the essential and generic difference that exists between mechanically-aided drawing on the one hand and freehand on the other. Similarly, musicians ought to distinguish between (1) the sort of timing that results from dull, slavish obedience to the ticking of a soulless machine, and (2) that noble swing and perfect control of pulsation which comes into our playing after years of practice in treating and training the sense of time as a free, creative human faculty.
- James Brown III; The Amateur String Quartet.
- [...] using the metronome as a constant guide to ramp up the speed or to keep the rhythm. This is one of the worst abuses of the metronome. [...] If over used, it can lead to loss of your internal rhythm, loss of musicality, and bio-physical difficulties from over-exposure to rigid repetition
- Chuan C. Chang; Fundamentals of Piano Practice.
- Liszt is distinguished for the most passionate declamation; Thalberg the most refined voluptuousness; Clara Wieck the most ardent enthusiasm; Henselt the most delicate lyrical taste: [...] Not one gives the character of a piece of music without the individual colouring of his own mind; not one plays according to the metronome.
- The Musical world, 1838.
- A good performance is so full of these minute retardations and accelerations that hardly two measures will occupy exactly the same time. It is notorious that to play with the metronome is to play mechanically - the reason being, of course, that we are then playing by the measure, or rather by the beat, instead of by the phrase. A keen musical instinct revolts at playing even a single measure with the metronome: mathematical exactitude gives us a dead body in place of the living musical organism with its ebb and flow of rhythmical energy. It may therefore be suggested, in conclusion, that the use of the metronome, even to determine the average rate of speed, is dangerous.
- Daniel Gregory Mason; The Tyranny of the Bar-Line.
- The metronome [...] a lifeless, soulless machine, cannot express the meaning, the object of inspiration, it cannot be used as a means to develop emotion - guided by a machine the performance is wholly mechanical.
- Robert Challoner; History of the science and art of music: Its origin, development, and progress (1880).
- Paderewski plays the rhapsodies like improvisations — inspirations of the moment. It is the negation of the mechanical in music, the assassination of the metronome. When ordinary pianists play a Liszt rhapsody, there is nothing in their performance that a musical stenographer could not note down just as it is played. But what Paderewski plays could not be put down on paper by any system of notation ever invented. For such subtle nuances of tempo and expression there are no signs in our musical alphabet. But it is precisely these unwritten and unwritable things that constitute the soul of music and the instinctive command of which distinguishes a genius from a mere musician. 
- Henry T. Finck; Paderewski and his art (1895).
- What is musical rhythm? Perhaps it is the difference between a performance that is stiff and metronomic in its strict adherence to the beat, and a performance that flows with elasticity and flexibility that emanates from the music itself. A rhythmically musical performance seems to take its cues from stylistic considerations, tempo, phrasing, and harmonic structure, as well as form. Sometimes we may not be exactly sure what makes a piece sound rhythmically musical, but we know it when we hear it.
It should not surprise us that some children do not know instinctively how to play musically. Many youngsters are surrounded by popular music that is rigid and inflexible in its rhythm, characterized by a relentless beat that is often synthesized or computerized. Even some CDs and MIDI disks especially designed for use with piano teaching materials can encourage students to be overly metronomic in their playing. In general, our students may not be familiar with the idea of subtle nuances of tempo, and may need help understanding this.
- Jennifer Merry.
- [...] nothing in general can be more disagreeable than this species of brilliant accompaniment, where the voice is only considered as an accessory and where the accompanier, without regarding the taste, feeling, compass, or style of the singer, the pathos of the air, or sense of the words, either mechanically runs though the prescribed solemnity of the adagio, with the one two three precision of the metronome, or rattles away without mercy though the allegro whenever an occasion presents itself for the luxuriant ad libitum introduction of turns, variations, and embellishments.
- Charles White; Almack's revisited: or, Herbert Milton (1828).
- How any musician could ever play with a metronome, passes my humble understanding. It is not only an inartistic, but a downright antiartistic instrument.
- Constantin von Sternberg; Ethics and aesthetics of piano playing.
- There is an immense amount of metrical playing and singing in the world [...] : there is too little rhythmic reality. And if you habitually play or sing thousands of metrical phrases without transmuting them into your own rhythms, you will become a metronomical musician.
- Walford Daviesm, Harvery Grace; Music Worship (1935).
- [...]one of the most stubborn modern misconceptions concerning baroque music is that a metronomic regularity was intended.
- It is generally much better to be guided by the taste and feelings of a true artist than by any mechanical clock-work indications. A strict following of the metronome in the performance of a piece of musical art, would exclude all light and shade — in fact, all that makes it a true work of art. We would advise all who can not be sufficiently guided by the usual indications, allegro, adagio, etc., and their own feelings as to what is right and wrong, to leave this to the decisions of an artist or a good musician [...]
- New York weekly review, Volume 9 (1858).
- The metronome itself must not be used "with closed eyes," as we should say it in Russia. The player must use discretion. I do not approve of continual practice with the metronome. The metronome is designed to set the time, and if not abused is a very faithful servant. However, it should only be used for this purpose. The most mechanical playing imaginable can proceed from those who make themselves slaves to this little musical clock, which was never intended to stand like a ruler over every minute of the student's practice time.
- James Francis Cooke; Great Pianists on Piano Playing.
- Many pianists to this day play Bartók with metronomic rigidity and an icy glitter. Nothing could be further from Bartók's own warmly inflected, rhythmically expansive yet always precisely articulated style.
- Peter G. Davis; New York Magazine (1982).
- The opposite of parlando rubato in Bartok's folk music nomenclature is tempo guisto but in his performance even that type is far from being metronomic and contains many fine modifications of the notated rhythm..
- Amanda Bayley (2001); The Cambridge companion to Bartók.
- This slovenly way of playing Beethoven unfortunately continued long after him, and in place of his rubato the conductors adopted a mechanical metronomic manner of interpretation, until Wagner's example and his essay "On Conducting" showed the way to the proper and poetic manner of playing Beethoven. [...] His own principle of interpretation consisted in constantly searching for the melody in an orchestral movement and modifying the tempo in accordance with the momentary character of the melody. Of course, the conservatives raised a great outcry against this violation of the metronomic "classical traditions" (which never existed except in their own shallow minds) [...]
- Arthur Elson; Volume 2 of University Musical Encyclopedia - A History of Music.
- Do not sing Mozart in metronome rhythm. With his music you may well think of the best, repressed Italian music. Never divest word and note of their soulful accents of emotion so as to condemn them to a monotony which some would designate as classical [...]
- Lilli Lehmann; How To Sing - Meine Gesangskunst (1952).
- Duke Ellington disdained the "soulless" quality and "continual churning" of certain rhythm sections. Uninspired metronomic time-keeping caused "apathy in the section[s]," he wrote in 1931, and a loss of interest among the musicians whose "performance becomes stodgy and mechanical."
- Joel Dinerstein; Swinging the machine (2003).
- That a conductor or performer may lose sight of the expression of a piece and be unconscious that he is so doing, is a commonplace. This may arise not so much from lack of artistic perception as from his giving undue attention to some particular aspect or apects of the work in hand - correctness of music, rigid regard to tempo, literal performance of the p's and f's of the copy - so that it or they crowd out the poetic element of expression, and instead of his being an emotional artist he is merely a human metronome.
- Henry Coward; Choral technique and interpretation.
- Actual performance timings involve complex ratios that neither add nor multiply in any simple fashion.
- Justin London
- a letter I got recently from a seventeen-year-old reader [... who wrote]: "At once I was struck by the detached lack of warmth... Mr. Heifetz and his colleagues played perfectly in tune, and at an impressively swift pace. But the beat seemed metronomical; there was no coloring, no warmth... Yet, Jascha Heifetz and other musicians with his approach are extremely popular with the public. It upsets me to see such widespread lack of musical sensitivity. I have a [...] recording of this piece [with] Pablo Casals. Sometimes the musicians are not together and they are not always perfectly in tune. But the performance is musical... whereas the Heifetz performance was merely a shallow display of virtuosity".
[...] Today's young audiences simply know too much about music, from constant exposure and from their schooling, to accept the kind of performances that put men like Heifetz on the map, when the emphasis was less on the music than on how its technical problems could be solved. The rock age has destroyed much of the technique-worship that used to be an important part of the musical experience.
[...] The future audience for serious music is, at the present time, wise and suspicious. Since they have discovered other and better values than those of audiences who live on memories of having heard Heifetz, they don't accept the necessity of dressing up like those audiences. They want music, and they want it for what they have learned it can be - a communication of a spiritual state that existed in the composer, expounded by a performer who is capable of dealing with that spirit. Nobody is going to reach this audience until he understands that basic fact and learns to respect its immense knowledgeability.
- Alan Rich; New York Magazine (21 Aug. 1972).
- They constantly embrace music only to stifle it. They dissect it, unaware of their preliminary murder of it, and without understanding that the work they have pulled to pieces lacks only one thing, but the most important: life.
[...] They found schools in which the art of writing a sonata or the manner of treating a symphony is taught in twenty lessons. They known all the recipes, which they have classified in their musical cookery-books.
[...] They teach how to develop an idea mathematically[...]
[...] For what do they care about feeling, grace, charm, emotion, or all that form first to last goes to make the unrivalled power of music. [...] They possess the art of making everything they touch intolerably boring.
[...] They have thus taken possession of certain masters, and, in the first place, Bach, the supreme genius who assumes every aspect. Of this eighteenth-century man, who possesses the secret of meditating and of smiling, who knows, according to the moment, how to be grave or joyous, how to compel or to charm, they have made an old college prefect, an ill-humoured censor, a musical-box, a metronome: boredom in order, and order in boredom.
- G. Jean-Aubry; French Music of Today.
- To be emotional in musical interpretation, yet obedient to the initial tempo and true to the metronome, means about as much as being sentimental in engineering. Mechanical execution and emotion are incompatible. To play Chopin's G major Nocturne with rhythmic rigidity and pious respect for the indicated rate of movement would be as intolerably monotonous, as absurdly pedantic, as to recite Gray's famous Elegy to the beating of a metronome.
- The musician who relies on metronomic markings has divorced himself from the inner life (which is a rhythmic life) of the music. He is no longer living out the drama from within, or singing the melody with his heart; he is immune to the 'sortilège'.
[...] rhythm as something organic and unpredictable [...]. But there is no doubt that it persists. It lies behind the notorious complaint, heard even from very skillful players, that the metronome 'sounds wrong'.
- Louis Wirth Marvick; Waking the face that no one is, p. 12.
- This does not mean, however, that the conductor shall be a mere time-beater; that time shall be rigidly hammered out according to the metronome marks. The machine could do that without the man, and more exactly. The degree of freedom and individual greatness of personality within [sic] these limitations determines the conductor as distinguished from the time-beater. The mechanical is never art; the metronome must never thake the place of the guiding brain and understanding heart. Brahms is reported to have said: "I am of the opinion that metronome marks go for nothing. As far as I know, all composers have, as I, retracted their metronome marks in later years."
- Clarence Dickinson; Choral music and choir direction (Essentials of Music - Volume I).
- A metronomical performance is certainly tiresome and nonsensical; time and rhythm must be adapted to and identified with the melody, the harmony, the accent and the poetry…
- Franz Liszt; Letter to Siegmund Lebert (10 Jan. 1870).
- My works do not belong to the category of "absolute music" where you can find your way about with the aid of musical signs and a metronome. These aids are not enough for my compositions. All my work has sprung from the inner moods of my soul, and the musician who is to play my work well must have a complete knowledge of it if he is to put the listener in the same frame of mind.
- Then, too, if a pianist plays as if a metronome were at his side, the time may be faultless, but there will not be much scope for expression. [...] We have occasionally had an artist in this country who had much in him of the really good style, but unfortunately, they have all become discouraged, from the feeling that they were not appreciated or they have settled down into hard workers in lesson giving, and are rarely heard in public.
- Musical world, 1855.
- 100 according to Maelzel, but this must be held applicable to only the first measures, for feeling also has its tempo and this cannot entirely be expressed in this figure.
- I do not mean to say that it is necessary to imitate the mathematical regularity of the metronome, which would give the music thus executed an icy frigidity; I even doubt whether it would be possible to maintain this rigid uniformity for more than a few bars.
- Hector Berlioz; A treatise upon modern instrumentation and orchestration.
- The habitual use of the metronome is also to be rejected, since by this kind of use, even the beginnings of any rubato, based on an imaginative impulse, will be smothered, and the playing will wind up having a mechanical cast. There is a good reason to think of the term: "He plays like a metronome", as a condemnation.
- Carl Flesch, Eric Rosenblith, Anne-Sophie Mutter; The art of violin playing.
- Now for the idea that strict metronomic pulsation is the normal basis of music. Nobody could persuade me that this is true. If I believed it I would give up music tomorrow. Also, if it is true, then Time, which is quite half of music, is not artistic material, for why pretend we are shaping something when it is already made (by machinery)?
- The Musical times and singing-class circular (1927).
- Many pianists, in especial, fail to realize the rhythmic beat through the mistaken habit of relying on the metronome, or on the audible count of the teacher. [...]
How shall a discriminating sense of rhythm and a correct regard for time-keeping be cultivated? Certainly not by the continuous use of the metronome. The click of this little mechanical time-keeper serves admirably to mark the tempo, but if slavishly depended on will make a slave of mechanism rather than a musician. Nor can the desired result be gained through continual counting alout by either teacher or pupil. What may justly be called the fatal and pernicious count-habit leaves in the mind a more enduring impression of the counting than of the tonal or rhythmic plan [...].
- Aubertine Woodward Moore; For my musical friend (1900).
- Hence, also, you realize the folly of imagining that a Metronome can serve as a Time-teacher. You see, the pupil has to learn to play to a pulse-throb of his own making all the while, it is therefore of very little use indeed learning to pay obedience to an outside, machine-made Pulse-throb. And in any case, a Metronome is apt to kill the finer Time-sense implied by Rubato.
- Tobias Matthay (1858-1945); Musical interpretation : its laws and principles, and their application in teaching and performing (c. 1913).
- [...] early nineteenth century [...]. There was little interest in using the metronome to tick all the way through a piece of music. But this is how the device is used by conservatory students today.
- James R. Heintze; Reflections on American music: the twentieth century and the new millennium : a collection of essays presented in honor of the College Music Society (Pendragon Press, 2000).
- In general, we think it a great mistake to attempt any metrical adaption of the plain-chant; it shows that the adapter scarcely recognises the difference between the rhythm of oratory and the rhythm of music. Declamation cannot be measured by the beats of a metronome, or by the sequences of accents in a bar; it depends on the sense or the articulate sound of the words or syllables. The plain-chant seems intended to preserve this declamatory rhythm; and therefore any metrical arrangement goes far to destroy its distinctive character.
- The Rambler, Volumes 3-4, 1860.
- Two main ideas - both in out judgment the result of superficial thinking about unhappy experiences - are in the field against reform ; and they have to be conquered. The first holds that unanimous congregational chanting is impossible without agreed metrical design, not to say a musical metre of agreed rigidity. This has proved itself untrue, for the very good reason that natural accents of fervent utterance always will mean more to an inspired crowd than a metronome ever could mean, and when hearty enough such natural accents will teach them unanimity. The second idea is that singing in harmony is impossible without adding metrical design - that harmony, in fact, is inseparable from ideas of metre and accent. Here, again, the truth (proved in practice over and over again) is otherwise. Chanting in chords can be as beautifully and serviceably flexible as chanting in unison, though it is admittedly less easy..
- Walford Davies, Harvery Grace; Music Worship (1935).
- Another thing that becomes clear ..., is how much the listener's perception of rhythm differs from the reality of the metronome. While Feuermann's performances seemed to provide the clearest "feel" of the beat — meaning that to a listener, the rhythm and tempo seemed the most clear and compelling — when trying to set a metronome, one found a slightly changing tempo throughout almost every measure — a constant rhythmic "push and pull" — making metronome indications sometimes recordable only as a range between two or three adjacent markings or as an average. At the same time, other performers ... whose performances did not yield to the ear as strong a sense of tempo or rhythm, fit more easily within a specific metronome marking. From this, it is clear that the feeling and perception of rhythm are conveyed much more by the performers choice of emphasis or "pulse" than by strict adherence to any absolute metronomic rhythm.
- [...] critics have explained why metronome marks are more problematic than early-music enthusiasts used to acknowledge. Composers, to begin with, often take their own music faster or slower than the speeds they imagined when setting numbers to the page. Changes of mood can lead anyone (including a composer) to different tempos at different times. Besides, what sounds right inside the composer's head often needs adjustment to work with real instruments in real places.
[...] Insisting that there is something essential about following a metronome mark imposes a meaningless limit on performance.
- Bernard D. Sherman; Period Recordings Have Won the Right to Be Routine; NY Times; August 29, 1999.
- And many recent recordings of pop music demonstrate how music is killed by a metronome for they are as square as a draftsman's T. For the convenience of recording engineers, each player has to record their part on a separate track while listening to a click track — a metronome — and the clicks are then used to synchronize the tracks while the technicians adjust them to their taste and mix them. I know talented young musicians who can't do it; we can understand why. Nothing compares with a recording of a live performance in which the players provide each other with the time-framework.[...] if you want to kill a musical performance, give the player a click track! 
- James Beament; How we hear music: the relationship between music and the hearing mechanism.
- As a seasoned clubgoer raised on a healthy diet of DJs who reveled in variations (think mood, tempo, emotion, and rhythm) in the course of one evening, I find most nights out now numbingly boring. I've never been fond of DJs whose sets rely on relentless, dare I say monotonous beats. [...] metronome-like tracks.
- Michael Paoletta; Billboard Sep 22, 2001.
- "An inelastic time-measurer, can never give us characteristic Bach or Beethoven, Mozart or Wagner. Metronome marks are never more than approximate at best."
- David Ffrangcon-Davies; The singing of the future.
- "Never play with a metronome [...] the keeping of absolutely strict time is thoroughly unmusical and deadlike"
- Josef Hofmann; Piano playing : with Piano questions answered.
- [...] This suggests that listeners who are steeped in a particular musical culture will have a repertoire metrical “templates” which allow them to readily grasp such patterns, both as the music starts and as it changes as it goes on.
- Justin London
- The uneven beats in African and North Indian Rhythms are no more complex (no less regular) than the patterns of expressive timing that occur in western music.
- Justin London
- Maelzel will be especially remembered [...] by the Metronome. [...]
As a man, Maelzel seems to have been quarrelsome, extravagant, and unscrupulous. [...] Had he possessed a larger amount of culture and of conscience, he might have done service to high Art.
- The Year-book of facts in science and art (1856).
Quotes in favour of the metronome
- Because its beat is perfectly steady, the metronome is an excellent practice tool for musicians. Practicing with a metronome is extremely useful for developing and maintaining rhythmic precision, for learning to keep consistent tempos, for countering tendencies to slow down or speed up in specific passages, and for developing evenness and accuracy in rapid passages. Most music teachers consider the metronome indispensable, and most professional musicians, in fact, continue to practice with a metronome throughout their careers.
- Miles Hoffman; The NPR Classical Music Companion: An Essential Guide for Enlightened Listening (2005).
- Correct time is considered indispensable; then why not use the Metronome. Hummel has recommended it in the strongest terms. My regard for it is such, that for twenty-five years or more I never taught a pupil without it. [...] The beginner must only use the mechanical touch, for at least a couple of years. The music chosen for lessons and studies must be free from features, which require or admit expression. No crescendo, diminuendo, accelerando, ritardando, irregular accentuation, ff. pp. sfz. is admissible.
- Franz Petersilea (ca. 1860)
- Often, the metronome by itself may not be enough to learn complex rhythms. However, its importance for all types of practicing and all genres cannot be understated. The infallibility of the machine is a blessing since it removes guesswork; thus, the player can use the metronome to learn to play evenly and to resist the temptation to take extra time when playing a difficult passage. The player must begin with the premise that the metronome is mathematically perfect and categorically correct. From there, s/he must make a personal commitment to play exactly together with this perfect "chamber music partner."
- Aaron M. Farrell; A Practical Guide To Twentieth-Century Violin Etudes With Performance And Theoretical Analysis. Doctoral thesis (2004).
- Before a student can be persuaded to use a metronome, he or she has to know why it is important. The most obvious answer is to help keep rhythms even and clean. Another reason is to keep the meter consistent, placing beats in their proper positions in the music. Metronomes can also help a student to find and fix problems. [...] The metronome quickly alerts the player to these problems by suddenly not clicking in time with the player’s beats.
- Professor Dr. Steven Mauk; "Make the Metronome Your Friend".
- The objection, sometimes heard, that using a metronome tends to make a player mechanical, is not founded on facts. Indeed, the students who play the most artistically are those who have been the most faithful in the use of their metronome when learning their pieces.
- Josephine Menuez, Etude, April, 1932
Numerous other quotations in favour of the metronome, can be found in the book Metronome Techniques: Potpourri of quotations.
- The Amateur String Quartet by James Brown III; The Musical Times, Vol. 68, No. 1014 (Aug. 1, 1927)
- Fundamentals of Piano Practice - Page 20 (pdf-page 22)
- The Musical world, 1838
- Source from The Tyranny of the Bar-Line by Daniel Gregory Mason; The New music review and church music review, vol 9 (American Guild of Organists); 1909
- History of the science and art of music: Its origin, development, and progress (1880) by Robert Challoner
- Paderewski and his art (1895) by Henry T. Finck
- How do you teach the difference between counting rhythm and musical rhythm?
- Almack's revisited: or, Herbert Milton, Volumes 1-2, 1828
- Ethics and aesthetics of piano playing by Constantin von Sternberg
- Music Worship (1935) by Walford Davies; Harvery Grace
- New York weekly review, Volume 9; 1858
- Great Pianists on Piano Playing by James Francis Cooke
- New York Magazine Jan 25, 1982
- How To Sing - Meine Gesangskunst (1952); Lilli Lehmann
- Choral technique and interpretation; Henry Coward
- How to Talk About Musical Metre. Justin London, 2006.
- New York Magazine 21. Aug. 1972
- French Music of Today by G. Jean-Aubry
- Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Tempo Rubato. Polish Music Journal, Vol. 4; No. 1; Summer 2001. ISSN 1521 - 6039.
- La Mara. Letters Of Franz Liszt - Ii (1894).,
- The world of great composers; David Ewen
- Musical world, 1855
- Erich Leinsdorf, The Composer’s Advocate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981, 165.
- A treatise upon modern instrumentation and orchestration by Louis Hector Berlioz
- For my musical friend (1900) by Aubertine Woodward Moore
- Musical interpretation : its laws and principles, and their application in teaching and performing (c1913); Tobias Matthay (1858-1945)
- The Rambler, Volumes 3-4, 1860
- Music Worship (1935) by Walford Davies; Harvery Grace
- Smith, Brinton (1998). "The physical and interpretive technique of Emanuel Feuermann". Retrieved on 2008-07-29.
- Period Recordings Have Won the Right to Be Routine; Bernard D. Sherman; NY Times; August 29, 1999
- How we hear music: the relationship between music and the hearing mechanism by James Beament; p. 146
- Michael Paoletta; Billboard Sep 22, 2001
- The singing of the future by David Ffrangcon-Davies
- Piano playing : with Piano questions answered by Josef Hofmann
- The Year-book of facts in science and art; 1856
- The NPR Classical Music Companion: An Essential Guide for Enlightened Listening (2005); by Miles Hoffman; published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; ISBN 0618619453
- Franz Petersilea "On rudimental instruction on the piano"; translated from Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Vol. 50, No. 3, 11, 16 by G. A. Schmitt
- A Practical Guide To Twentieth-Century Violin Etudes With Performance And Theoretical Analysis; by Aaron M. Farrell
- Make the Metronome Your Friend by Professor Dr. Steven Mauk (ref)
- Metronome Techniques
- The Metronomic Performance Practice: A History of Rhythm, Metronomes, and the Mechanization of Musicality (pdf); PhD Thesis by Alexander Evan Bonus