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Jonathan Simon '00 Develops Metronome Software to Represent all Meters: Simple to Most Complex
by Linda Shockley

Eight months ago, Jonathan Simon, double-degree senior (TIMARA/ percussion performance), began work on a software Metronome that could be used in the practice of complex rhythmic patterns. Over the summer of 1999, he created a semi-working model, which led to work with Stephen Wong, assistant professor of Computer Science.

Simon envisions the software as a particularly useful practice and performance tool for conductors and performers. He has offered demos for classes in Computer Science and at the Conservatory, and plans are in the works for the software's use in the 2000 curriculum, including instructor of music theory and aural skills William Marvin's classes and in many of Wong's classes.

"Jon demonstrated the project for me as it evolved," explains Marvin, "and he showed a version of it to the aural skills faculty at the beginning of spring semester. He recently demonstrated the Metronome for my Aural Skills IV classes, and the students were extremely enthusiastic."

Marvin adds, "The Metronome provides powerful and practical tools for practicing difficult metric problems that performers need to solve every day. I plan to pre-program practice 'grids' for the students to rehearse and improvise with for my fall 2000 classes. In addition, by programming the Metronome themselves, students will inevitably develop a more powerful understanding of metric situations and their application in real music."


"As a percussionist studying contemporary music," says Simon, "I have come across many difficult rhythmic concepts that rendered a metronome useless. Two of my teachers (Keith Aleo and Michael Rosen) swear by unusual metronomes that attempt to represent these meters. They are both very complicated as well as limited. My model takes elements of both of these metronomes as well as elements of my own design, to develop the most complete metronome available."

He continues, "I have seen two advanced metronomes that try to represent complex meter. The first is a metronome that Keith Aleo (my teacher in high school) had designed and built. It could play a tempo range of
1-999. He used it to subdivide beats and mark measures by scaling tempos. This led to very complex mathematical calculations in my snare drum method books (this is not good). Additionally, it only had one soundwhich made it impossible to do multiple functions at once.

"The second is a metronome that Michael Rosen uses here at Oberlin called the Trinome. It uses a system of gear ratios to play polyrhythms. It has a few sounds and can mark measures and do some subdivisions at the same time. It can not, however, represent such meters as compound (changing values per beat), modulation and others."

Simon adds, "My idea in developing the software is to create a metronome that can represent all meters, of any kind, and in any combination. The metronome needs to be a tool to represent any meter. My model takes elements of both of these metronomes as well as elements of my own design, to develop the most complete metronome."


"I've worked with Dr. Wong for the past six months," says Simon. "The work began with repairing the code I had written over the summer and continued as a study of Object Oriented Programming (OOP) principles and their relation to musical structures. It has led to a focused study of musical modeling principles utilizing concepts of OOP. These modeling concepts have carried over into my research for the Computer Science/ TIMARA NSF-sponsored Algorithmic Composition class as well as a host of other computer music applications I am presently working on."

Wong says of Simon's work, "Jon's program is a tremendous example of the power of the object oriented paradigm. In his model of rhythm, the building blocks of rhythm are expressed as software 'objects' that interact with each other and can be combined by the user to create any conceivable rhythmic pattern. In a deceptively simple architecture, Jon has fashioned an extremely capable, flexible and adaptable system."

Wong explains, "Such a program takes a lot of hard work to create. It took many iterations and false steps to finally produce an accurate, workable representation of rhythm. Jon completely tore apart and re-architected his program at least six times searching for the right software model. We have spent countless hours discussing the musical and philosophical ramifications of his architecture. Not only is his program capable of recreating all the 'standard' rhythmic patterns, but it is also capable of opening doors to creating new and different rhythmic sequences as well."

Wong adds, "I will be using Jon's program mainly as a tool to demonstrate the object oriented modeling process and the power of that paradigm. It will be useful in many classes, but especially the introductory CS150/151 (Principles of Computer Science) and the CS368/Timara350 (Algorithmic Approaches to Interactive Composition) courses."


  • Education - Metronomes are used to teach concepts of rhythm to students. Complex meters are currently taught without the aid of a metronome since currently available metronomes cannot represent these meters. This is where metronomes are most needed and is also where they fail. Teachers often manually produce these meters which opposes many reasons metronomes are used in the first place.
  • Practice - Often the aid of a metronome articulating meter is a helpful practice tool. When the complexity of the meter exceeds the capability of a metronome, the helpfulness is diminished if not completely removed. As a result, musicians must incorrectly represent the meter to use a metronome. This process is difficult and diminishes the metronome's effectiveness for practicing. As a result, complex meter is usually practiced without the aid of a metronome leading to incorrect performance practice. These problems are solved with the aid of the Metronome software which can accurately represent any complex meter and can then be used in practice.
  • Performance - Some contemporary music is so complex that an accurate performance is impossible without the aid of electronics. Remote metric modulations (Martino, Triple Clarinet Concerto), unusual measure grouping combinations (various Messian) and continuously changing compound meter (Reich, Tehillim) are a few examples of this complexity. My Metronome software enables these and other complex meters to be programmed into the Metronome and used as an aid in performance to achieve metric accuracy.