Turn Your Computer Into Dr. Beat

by nathanbontrager

I have always had a perennial problem with metronomes. I hate to shell out for expensive ones so I end up purchasing devices of poor quality which malfunction within months, if I’m that lucky. In the end, I probably have spent as much on repeatedly buying cheap metronomes as I would on the infamous and powerful Dr. Beat:

I have found, however, that with the exception of the large library of rhythm patterns built into the Dr. Beat, you can get all that you need for free on your computer.  For a basic metronome I use an online one found at this address: http://www.metronomeonline.com/.  Your BPM (beats per minute) selection is limited but I have not found this to be an issue.  One of the best elements of the Dr. Beat is that it is LOUD and can therefore be used in ensemble rehearsals.  Granted, your rehearsal would need to be near your computer, but with an online metronome you can make things as loud as necessary and there are no batteries to worry about draining.

Another big perk of the Dr. Beat is the great range of sustained pitches it can produce which is of great assistance in intonation exercises, scales, and tuning.  I have not found a satisfactory online option for this but with a little bit of creativity you can turn your computer into a powerful pitch generation machine.  You must first download Audacity, which is a very basic and open source audio editing program, here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/.  Audacity is generally laughed at by folks who do any sort of remotely real audio recording or production which I find unmerited as its purpose is for small-scale, unprofessional activities.  It is completely sufficient for the sort of use we are speaking of here.

After you have installed Audacity, follow these instructions to produce the sustained pitch of  your choice:

  1. Open the Generate menu
  2. Choose -> Tone…
  3. Go to this website: http://peabody.sapp.org/class/st2/lab/notehz/
  4. Find the pitch on the chart that you wish to have sustained (the columns refer to various octave transpositions with column 4 being the middle C octave, you will need to make note of the number to the right of the pitch letter name you wish to sustain, the number refers to frequency in Hertz)
  5. In the Tone Generator window that opened in Audacity select Sine on the Waveform drop box and insert the frequency number for the chart into the Frequency/Hz box, you do not need to adjust the Amplitude
  6. Click Generate Tone
  7. Open the Edit menu
  8. Choose -> Select -> Select All (or just hit Ctrl-A)
  9. Open the Effects menu
  10. Choose -> Repeat…
  11. The default number of repeats should be 10 which is sufficient, click OK
  12. Press play and you should have 5 minutes and 30 seconds of sustained pitch bliss!  (you can make this longer or shorter with the Repeat effect)

If you know you want to change repeatedly between sustained pitches you can generate more than one and just Solo the pitch you want to focus on (if, for example, you are doing intonation work on a piece that fluctuates between two tonal centers, etc.).  I have an Audacity file saved with all the chromatic pitches sustained and simply choose the one I need at the moment which gets rid of all the set up time.  This method can be quite useful for tuning but don’t let it take the place of developing your ability to hear if the interval of a 5th between your strings is in tune.