What is a Metronome? (And why do I need one?)

A range of Wittner Piccolo Metronomes.
A range of Wittner Piccolo Metronomes.

A metronome is used to help a musician to play on the beat and keep the rhythm and speed of the piece steady and consistent. You can also use it to tell you how fast the music should be played.

There are two main types of metronome and it’s important to choose the one that will be best for you…

Traditional Metronomes:

These metronomes are normally a pyramid shape and can be made of plastic or wood. They operate on a mechanical system like a clock pendulum with a weight which you manually adjust up and down to change the speed. The Wittner branded ones tend to be more reliable like these funky coloured Wittner Taktell Piccolo Metronomes or the more traditional Maelzel Pyramid Metronome, like this mahogany coloured one. For a cheaper alternative, try the Cherub metronome range.

Great if..
You play a static instrument, like piano.
You find watching the backwards and forwards motion helps you to play in time.

Not for you if…
You want to carry your metronome with you to lessons or rehearsals.
You find the weight hard to adjust and prefer buttons!

Digital Metronomes…

Digital metronomes are much smaller than a traditional one and are normally significantly cheaper. You control the speed of the beats with buttons and they often perform other useful functions too. Make sure you hear this type of metronome before buying since the noises they make vary from a simulated ticking to beeps which can be rather annoying.

Great if…
You need it to be small and portable.
You play an instrument which requires a tuner, since many brands offer a metronome/tuner combo, like this Planet Waves Metrotuner.
You are on a tight budget.

Not for you if…
You find a visual aid useful in addition to hearing the beat.
You don’t like gadgets!

Which ukulele should I buy? (Part Two)

So you’ve read ‘Which Ukulele Should I Buy Part One’ and hopefully you have a clear idea of what size you need to buy but there are soooo many brands, finishes and price ranges out there, so here are a few of our preferred ukes for you to consider….

Things to look out for:

Friction pegs v. machine heads – Ukuleles, like most folk instruments, all had friction pegs until relatively recently and many well respected brands such as Ozark have stuck with this tradition. If you’re new to playing a stringed instrument however, we would always recommend that you look for one with machine heads (like a guitar) as friction pegs tend to slip and require some maintenance. Ask the shop to explain the difference if you’re not sure.

Laminate v. wood – There’s nothing wrong with starting out with a cheap laminate ukulele and seeing how you get along but be wary of paying too much for one. Real wood ukes are surprisingly inexpensive and sound so much better.

Accessories deals – You will need a tuner and maybe a bag or a stand for your ukulele. Ask the store if they offer any discounts or accessories bundles.

First time players and children: If you’ve never played an instrument before and you’re going to take up the ukulele, then good on you! Keep it cheap and cheerful with a Mahalo soprano ukulele package. There are loads of cheap ones around but we really rate the Mahalo brand for good value playability. If you’re confident you’ve selected the right size for you and would like a better sounding one, Mahalo also do an entry level wooden ukulele with a smart padded bag which is available in all the standard ukulele sizes. Brunswick is a slightly more expensive but better quality brand which is worth a look. They do ukuleles in a popular shade of mahogany or the more unusual blond maple version.

For guitarists: If you or the person you’re buying for already play guitar then it’s safe to say that a soprano ukulele is likely to seem too cramped and fiddly. Go straight in for a concert or tenor size. Brunswick do some beautiful real wood ukuleles at a great low price and there is also an electro-acoustic option at less than £100. This is ideal if the person already plays electric guitar and enjoys playing through an amp.

Of course, if you want to hit the ground running, the easy thing to do is choose a baritone ukulele which is tuned like a guitar. Again, the Brunswick Baritone Ukulele is a good value buy but Ashbury do a great Baritone too.

Intermediate players: As you approach the £100 – £200+ price bracket, a whole new world of ukuleles comes into consideration. When you’re ready to pay this kind of money, you’ve probably been playing for a while so the best advice is to get out there and try as many as you can. It’s also a good idea to decide whether you think an electro-acoustic ukulele would be of any use to you, rather than finding your perfect uke and having to pay someone later to fit a pick-up for gigging or just experimenting with changing the sound through an amplifier.

Regardless of the brand, the ukuleles we really love are all made from Pacific woods like Curly Mango and Koa. The trees grown in that Hawaiian region are much sought after for ukulele building and tend to carry the specific twangy tone associated with original ukuleles.

One of the best brands at an intermediate price is Kala but you may want to look at some of the big guitar names (Martin, Gibson, Gretsch) who have all been outputting some great ukuleles recently. If you fancy something that looks a bit different, try Riptide.

There are plenty of other options including the pineapple shape and also the classic ‘George Formby’ Banjo Ukulele like this one from Barnes and Mullins which is often the first thing people picture when you mention ukes. Great sound but try before you buy! They’re heavier than they look and can be a bit awkward to keep in tune.