Thursday, October 07, 2021

Tempo and practicing

Yes, it is.
This always hung me up— the seemingly infinite tempo possibilities for any one thing you practice. It was a constantly lurking thing that I'm not doing this fast enough, and you would never feel like you completed something. I think it stole my focus from learning something really well at the tempo at which I was doing it then.   

Some guidelines, then, for thinking about tempo when practicing, for settling down and having a clear purpose about what you're doing: 

Relax about baby tempos 
You need to be able to play the slow tempos great, too, so why the rush to just play faster? Everyone wants to play things at “flow” speed, where your hands are moving in a continuous motion, but many times you just have to carefully place every single note. So practice sounding great while doing that. And having worked it out thoroughly, you'll sound better at tempos where the rate of notes has a more natural flow. 

Know the destined tempo

Tempo suggestions in drumming books may not always be totally realistic. See the absurd "half note = 120" in the hardest parts of Dahlgren & Fine. That's just an invitation by the book's author for you to feel inadequate forever. Go to your record collection and find some playing in the style of what you're practicing, and make that your goal. You mostly don't need  to do very complicated dense stuff extremely fast; sparse things that are dull at slow tempos may be designed to be played fast.    

Technical issues

Beware when you're playing a thing so fast you need to devise a special technique to do it. You may be doing the thing faster than intended. Or possibly your normal technique is needlessly complex and it's slowing you down. Check both things carefully.

Two tempos

Play the page at a moderately slow tempo, then a moderately fast tempo, and move on. A comfortable medium tempo where you can achieve some relaxation, and a faster tempo where you're pushing yourself a little bit. I like the tempos suggested in A Funky Primer: quarter note = 86, and qn = 120. I like qn = 64 if you need to add a level below that.   


It's easy to just start playing without thinking about a tempo beforehand, but don't just play your default tempo all the time. Know what tempo you're playing, and choose your tempos on purpose. 

Out of time

Some very demanding things— eg, heavy independence practice— don't need to be in time, at first. Play them slow to begin with, then take all the extra time you need to get the next note in the pattern. Just try to keep the rhythm roughly proportional to what's on the page.   


Unknown said...

Hi Todd. I found your article very helpful. It's nice to know there are other drummers who face similar uncertainty regarding the goal, or destined, tempo. When I was taking lessons, I always asked my drum teacher to provide a starting and end tempo for each assignment so I knew when to move on to new material.

Todd Bishop said...

It was always a nagging thing for me. Some teachers give unrealistic tempo goals to motivate people, but I think it's counter-productive-- it becomes a big distraction from learning it well at the tempo you can manage this week.