Thursday, December 17, 2015

On reaching goal tempos with 'tempo ramping'.

Wow, an actual post where we discuss pedagogy. Who knew?

    One of the things that I'm slowly learning during my journey is how to practice. There are some people in the practice room who have a naturally high level of organization and their methodology seems to make sense from day one. This isn't me. I traditionally have the practice room organization and attention span of a ferret on meth. Recognizing this, I've been working on ways to make sure my practicing is as organized and efficient as possible.
     Something that has long plagued the young (or even older) musician is how to best reach a goal tempo on a scale, etude, or passage of music. To often the practice room occupant is reduced to figuratively (or literally) banging their head against the wall. As I'm too old to bang my head against the wall without incurring permanent damage, I decided to find better and more efficient routes to effective, goal-oriented practicing.
      Something many people don't know about me is I have a background in exercise science (I don't look like it anymore. I need to work on that!). In the past, were I to train someone to, say, achieve a 200lb bench press, I wouldn't just continually slap weight on the bar and expect the trainee to simply be able to continually progress. Instead, the training would be cycled with a series of 'running starts' to allow the body to adapt and develop. The same concept can be extended to the practice room.
       Let's say you're trying to get an eight measure passage from an etude up to a goal tempo of 120 BPM. Instead of continuing to just crank up the metronome (you are using a metronome, RIGHT?) try something like this. Say you start at half the goal tempo; 60BPM. From there, after 5 perfect runs at 60, increase it to 65...5 perfect runs, 70, and so on. Let's say that once you get to 75 it starts getting difficult to get five times in a row. Ok, no problem. Take the metronome and back it down to 65. Ok, this time you get 65-70-75...all the way up to 90 before you just hit a wall. Fine. Take it back down to 80 and take another run at it.
     What this technique does is a couple things. First, when we hit really difficult passages our tendency is to tense up and actually make it worse. Periodically dialing back the tempo allows us to relax. Second, when we are 'locked in mortal combat' with a phrase it doesn't allow us to concentrate on technique and HOW to play the phrase. When you dial things back it allows you to start really concentrating on technique and learning the movement patterns necessary to properly play the phrase.
       I refer to this technique as 'tempo ramping'. You can do it all in one session or spread it out over several sessions. I've had real success since implementing this in the practice room. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

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