By Patrick Pfeiffer

A metronome is a device that helps bass guitarists and other musicians develop good rhythm. Metronomes come in many shapes and colors, but they all have one thing in common: They give you a steady clicking sound on which to base your timing. Like a very loud clock tick, the metronome produces a steady beat. You can adjust the speed of the click to suit your needs.

The old-fashioned acoustic metronomes have a small weight that swings back and forth. They need to be used on a level surface and must be wound up periodically. Electric metronomes need to be plugged into a wall outlet. The small battery-powered metronomes are the most common and the most user-friendly.

Just in case you don’t have a metronome handy, but you have a computer hooked up to the Internet, you can find plenty of free metronomes online. There goes any excuse you may have for not using one.

Set the metronome

The face of the metronome has a sequence of numbers (usually from 40 to 208). These numbers tell you how many clicks per minute you hear when you set the dial to a particular number. In other words, if you set your metronome to 162, you hear 162 clicks per minute at regular intervals.

Play along

Don’t be surprised if it takes some practice to regulate your playing to the ticking of the metronome. It’s a challenge at first to get in sync with the clicks and not to rush or drag during the space between each one. The slower the tempo on the metronome, the farther apart the clicks are from each other and the more difficult it is for you to keep exact time.

Here’s an exercise that may help you get used to playing with a metronome: Set the metronome to 80 and play a repeated note on your bass, matching the click of the metronome exactly.

Check this out to hear a bass playing precisely to the click of a metronome set at 80.

Playing with a metronome enables you to keep a steady rhythm not only at tempo 80 but at any tempo. Set your metronome at different tempos and try playing along.