A metronome is a device that helps musicians stay on beat by mechanically setting the tempo. Some may feel they have a good enough natural rhythm and don’t need a metronome for their recordings. But is not using a metronome when recording your music okay?
You should record your music with a metronome or a click track. Doing so is especially important when recording an entire band or more than one instrument simultaneously. The metronome serves as the set rhythm. It’s much harder to fall off beat when using a metronome.
In the paragraphs below, I’ll go into more detail about what a metronome is and why you should always use a metronome or a click track to help you stay in rhythm when recording. I’ll also discuss the few situations when it’s okay not to use a metronome. Keep reading.
Table of Contents
- Should You Record with a Metronome
- A Metronome Helps You Stay on Beat
- Musicians Could Still Fall off Rhythm With a Metronome
- When Is It Okay To Record Music Without A Metronome?
- Final Thoughts on Recording Music with a Metronome
Should You Record with a Metronome
Let’s talk about using a metronome and its impacts on the sound engineer, playing guitar, a live performance, midi tracks, and the final mix, among other things.
A Metronome Helps You Stay on Beat
You should record music with a metronome because it helps you create more sonically accurate recordings.
You set it to a certain number of beats per minute, and it will not stray from that number. A human may wander one or two beats per minute off rhythm when playing without a metronome.
You may think a guitarist lagging one or two beats per minute behind the rest of the band isn’t a big deal. Still, it will be noticeable in the recording. And if the whole band is recording together, it will be nearly impossible to fix just the guitarist being offbeat.
Being offbeat is contagious as well.
Especially if the drummer is one or two beats per minute fast or slow on the drum tracks, this can make an entire song sound different. That’s why live music played without a metronome often sounds different than recorded music.
Professional Musicians Also Use a Metronome (Click Track) When Playing Live
Even when playing live, most of the top drummers in the world still play with a metronome to keep everything tight and accurate.
Most of them use click tracks, though, just a digital version of a metronome. You set it at a certain number of beats per minute, and it clicks at that rate and does not deviate.
A metronome or a click track is essential when recording more than one instrument at a time.
Suppose you’re recording just vocals, or even just vocals and one instrument. In that case, you can get away with not using a metronome, but that leaves you reliant on the musician’s natural sense of rhythm rather than having the beats per minute ensured by a metronome or click track.
You Can Improve Your Natural Rhythm Using a Metronome
Recording with a metronome constantly will also help improve your natural rhythm.
You’ll notice yourself realizing how many beats per minute a particular song is just by ear, and it will stand out to you more when a performer is off rhythm. Using a metronome regularly will sharpen your ear for music.
More Time Is Saved When Everyone Plays on Tempo
Metronomes reduce recording time by ensuring that all band members are on the same tempo.
It will save you a lot of time because you won’t be repeating takes over and over trying to get one member of the rock band to play on tempo.
The fact that a metronome can save you time makes them an invaluable tool if you’re paying for studio time instead of recording in your own home. Studio time is expensive, so you want to be as efficient as possible once you get in there, and a metronome can help you tremendously.
Musicians Could Still Fall off Rhythm With a Metronome
There are very few drawbacks to using a metronome.
While yes, a listener could hear an old-school metronome on the recording, the more modern click track is impossible to hear on the recording. Only the musicians listen to it in their headphones.
Some claim that not using metronome gives the music a more natural feel, but this is entirely subjective and not based on anything real.
Some drummers prefer only to use a metronome at the beginning of the song and then turn it off once everyone gets together at the correct tempo.
The problem with starting the track with a metronome and then turning it off is that some songs have breakdowns and pauses that give every musician in the recording boot an ample opportunity to fall off rhythm and bring everyone else with them.
When Is It Okay To Record Music Without A Metronome?
If you are recording just vocals or even vocals and one instrument, it is acceptable not to use a metronome if the artist does not want to.
It is much easier to fix the vocals and make them fit the tempo in post-production if it is just the vocals by themselves.
Not Just the Drummer Playing Music
The more instruments you start to add that are simultaneously recording, the more you need a metronome to provide a uniform number of beats per minute for everyone to stick to.
You could theoretically record each instrument individually without a metronome and then artificially make all the instruments fit the same tempo map in post-production.
This Frankenstein method of recording and building a track is not only time-consuming but would probably sound terrible unless the producer is very skilled. It’s going way out of your way to avoid using a metronome.
Vocals alone are the only recording type where a metronome is genuinely unnecessary.
Its extremely easy to tell when vocals are off tempo, so it’s easy to stop the vocal performer and have them speed up or slow down
It’s also easier to get on and stay on tempo with vocals alone. Think about it; there is no chord to play, reed to blow into, or cymbal to crash. The only timing involved is starting to vocalize at the right time.
Most rappers don’t use metronomes. Every producer that makes rap beats probably has a metronome in their studio but only for making beats, not recording vocals.
Final Thoughts on Recording Music with a Metronome
If you’re an accomplished musician, you may start to think your sense of rhythm is so highly developed that you don’t need a metronome when recording your music. But this is far from the truth.
A metronome isn’t a crutch used only by those without natural rhythm. It is a tool used by professional, touring musicians both live and in studio recordings.
If you’re recording more than one instrument at a time, you need to use a metronome or a click track.
It will keep everyone on the same tempo.
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