The humble metronome could be excused for feeling a little hard done by. In this world where musicians will scrutinise everything down to the brand of string, plectrum, cable and connector they use, very little is written about the choice of metronome. In a modest attempt to address this I’m going to review my favourite free metronome app – Metronome Beats by Stonekick.
The metronome is a tool which any serious musician will use every day. The joy of smartphones means that you can download an app and then never be without one. No more remembering to pack it when you rehearse or travel. It’s always there – unless you’ve run out of battery or lost your phone.
My very favourite feature of metronome apps is also their simplest. You can turn the volume down. This is not unique to Metronome Beats, they all do it (if you have one that doesn’t, get a different one).
I remember the days of my old standalone electric metronome where I used to have to shove blu-tack in the speaker and then put it under a pillow so that it didn’t drive my housemates to distraction. No such worries any more, I can just adjust the volume or if it’s really late plug in a set of earphones and listen to it through one ear. It’s revolutionised late night practice for me.
Metronome Beats Overview
On to the app itself. Metronome Beats is only available on Android. Yes, I’m sorry iPhone folks, but you get all the cool stuff like iRig and Amplitube so let us have our little victories. If you want a metronome app I recommend Tempo by Frozen Ape. Yeah, you have to pay for it. What did you expect when you went Apple?
The Metronome Beats interface is split across two screens, as pictured.
You’ll probably spend most of your time on the Practice Screen. I particularly like the following:
- It’s easy to change tempo via the +/-1 and 5 buttons or by scrolling the wheel.
- The tempo slider bar – really useful for big tempo jumps. Tap the right area on the bar then fine tune with the +/- buttons.
- Easy to switch ‘Emphasise first beat’ off and on – something I do a lot.
- Clear beat display, including an animated dot sliding between beats as a visual cue, a bit like the swing of a mechanical metronome. However I prefer to listen to a metronome rather than watch it so I don’t look at this too much.
On the Settings screen you can set the beats per bar, clicks per beat, and tap in the tempo if you want. These features aren’t unique to this app, but they’re handy.
Both screens feature a ‘Mute’ button. I’ve often wondered why you would want to mute an electronic metronome when you could just stop it and start it again. If you have any ideas I’d be interested to hear in the comments.
In the Preferences menu you can tweak the sound for the click. However I always stuck with the preset sound which is a kind of electronic beep / click.
The reason for this, and my favourite thing about the whole app, is that the beep is very loud. Louder than any other metronome app I’ve used. This is very useful when practicing drums or in situations where you might need to crank the volume on your instrument. When practicing drums I still have to use headphones but most other metronomes get swamped even then. This is why Metronome Beats is still installed on my phone even though I now have a paid for app which I prefer for day to day use.
The app overrides screen locking while the metronome is running. I’ve come across a few that don’t and it’s incredibly annoying to have your screen lock while the click is going, then have to unlock it in order to stop it or adjust the tempo. If you’ve got one of those, get Metronome Beats instead.
I’ve done a couple of quick tests at 60bpm and 120bpm and it seems to keep good time, which is a common complaint about free metronome apps, so I’ve got no concerns there.
The only mild annoyance is that it opens on the Settings Screen when you really use the Practice Screen far more often, so it would be better to open on that one. This really is a very minor thing, but time spent fiddling with your metronome is time not spent practicing so it’s important that whatever you use is quick and easy to work with. The benefits of the app far outweigh this issue though.
If you’re using this app on an Android Tablet it has a ‘Tablet Mode’ which displays both screens at once. This is a nice feature and gets round the Settings Screen issue. However, I’ve always used it on my phone.
This is a great app. It got me through all the music grades I’ve taken to date. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a free metronome. You really don’t need much more than this. Admittedly I now use Tempo by Frozen Ape for my daily practice, but this is paid for (albeit only £0.65). I’ll review that in future. However, Metronome Beats is still on my phone and it won’t be coming off any time soon. If you don’t have a metronome app, go get it.
I’d be really interested to hear if you have any free metronome apps you recommend. I haven’t done an exhaustive test of them. I was lucky enough to stumble across Metronome Beats as one of the first few I tried. So if you have a particular favourite, let me know in the comments below.