By Dr. Owen Lovell
Last year, my favorite holiday gift came in the mail from my brother and sister-in-law: a Korg KDM-3 metronome. Piano students have a longstanding and complicated relationship with the metronome, the ubiquitous timekeeping device that their teachers often prescribe. In my studio at the college, I might use my metronome twice a week. Its use in support of my pedagogy ranges from the familiar task of gradually nudging rapid passages of music up to speed, to experiments that demonstrate whether a pianist can hold the tempo steady with varying multiples of beats or bars of impulses—it’s not unusual, for example, to see my metronome at extremely slow speeds, clicking only once every two bars.
As the market has shifted from mechanical to digital metronomes, the forms they’ve taken have been many: built-in versions on digital pianos, highly portable card metronomes, bulkier devices capable of multiple timekeeping functions, smartphone apps, and the most common: a rectangular version similar in size to a pack of cigarettes, with a fold-out kickstand. This is the type I’d been using by default at home and at work. Frankly, most of the metronome types listed above are terrible. Some aren’t loud enough, others are too loud, some aren’t adjustable enough or can’t go slower than 40 beats per minute (bpm), and most really full-featured models don’t fit on a piano’s music desk without getting in the way of everything.
With a street price, as of this writing, of $59.99, the battery-powered Korg KDM-3 is a better metronome than those described above because it combines more of the features a pianist wants, it works intuitively, and it’s attractively designed. At roughly 4.45″ high by 2.36″ wide by 2.87″ deep, the Korg resembles the familiar pyramidal shape of a small mechanical metronome, but without a swinging pendulum. The front face of the metronome has a simple LCD display and is finished in your choice of shiny piano black, bright white, or, recently released, a natural wood finish. The rest of the device is in a matte black or white finish. Control interfaces are on the front, top, and right sides, with a speaker grille on top.
Other than looking good, why is the Korg KDM-3 better? Let’s start with the Tap button. This lets you tap the tempo you want without having to scroll around trying to find exactly the right speed. This improves efficiency and reduces frustration during intense practice sessions or lessons, and piano teachers who frequently use metronomes will want to buy the Korg for this feature alone. The types of click sounds and their dynamics are adjustable through a wider range of voices and volumes than with any phone app or physical metronome, short of the bulkiest standalone units. Tempo can be adjusted in increments as small as 1 bpm, with an exceptionally wide range of possible speeds: 30–252 bpm. You can set the KDM-3 to broadcast a time signature up to nine beats long (or no beats at all), represented sonically (with different pitches) and/or visually (with green and red LEDs that flash the Start/Stop button). Used as a pitch standard for tuning, it will play notes anywhere between C4 and C5, adjustable in 1Hz increments and/or chromatic half steps. Although I don’t know if I’ll ever use it, the KDM-3 also has a timer that will stop the sound after a set period has elapsed. As with other metronomes, you have the option of muting its speaker and broadcasting its clicks via a ⅛” headphone jack. I can think of only one circumstance in which the KDM-3 wouldn’t be the best option: Its shape and size won’t easily fit into a briefcase or music bag, if portability is a high priority.
Unlike with many of the metronomes built into digital pianos, I found Korg’s control interface intuitive, and was able to accomplish all but the most advanced function or two without opening the half-page owner’s manual. Korg claims a 120-hour battery life at maximum volume—a setting loud enough that you’ll probably never use it—from the four supplied AAA batteries. No more digging around in drawers for less-popular 9V batteries or CR2032 watch batteries, as we’ve all had to do with the rectangular or card-type metronomes.
If you want to bring joy to a pianist who uses a metronome often, the superior Korg KDM-3 is sure to please.
Dr. Owen Lovell (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Piano Buyer’s Piano Review Editor, and Assistant Professor of Music at Georgia College.