Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to use a metronome, you’re probably ready for some more advanced techniques. There are lots of approaches and I like to think they fall into two main categories: speed-building techniques and groove-building techniques. This time around we’ll be looking at four popular speed-builders that are especially great for working on those burning runs, sweep picking arpeggios, and just plain fast passages! If you need a metronome to practice with, visit my Student Resources page.
Before you dive in, it bears mentioning that the methods below are designed for metronomes with the standard settings of 60,63,66,69,72 etc. If you have a digital metronome that has every possible tempo, write down or memorize the standard settings (there’s a pattern if look for it) and you’ll progress much faster.
4 Speed Building Techniques
1. The Usual Method
Typically, musicians working with a metronome begin very slowly and then gradually increase the metronome setting one notch at a time until they achieve the fastest tempo at which they can play cleanly. This method works well but may cause excessive tension. Methods 2 and 3 may be better options for steering clear of the problem of tension-related injuries and offer additional challenges as well.
2. Up 2, Down 1
I learned this technique from pianist David Budway who I studied with at Duquesne University. After each repetition of the passage you’re working on, alternate between increasing the metronome setting two notches, then decreasing it by one notch. If you’ve only been using method 1, you’ll notice that this technique teaches you to control your tempo and not just keep frantically speeding up with each change of the metronome. It’s a subtle variation but it does a nice job of adding some variety to your routine.
These next two methods were found at the website for flutist Leonard Garrison of the University of Tulsa. I’ve found them to be extremely helpful.
3. Up 3, Down 2
This variation of the “Up 2, Down 1” method is taught by clarinetist Peter Hadcock of Eastman School of Music. Play the passage in question three times beginning at at 60 BPM. Then increase the metronome setting by three notches to 69 and play once, and only once. This will feel like quite a shock. Next, decrease the metronome setting by two notches to 66. Now you can relax a little. Now play the passage three more times. Then move the metronome up three notches again to 76 and play once. Keep repeating this process until you achieve your desired tempo. Obviously, this requires much time and patience, but it really works. You may need to pause to get focused on the new tempo each time you change the metronome.
4. Half Tempo, Full Tempo
Robert Marcellus, former principal clarinetist of the Cleveland Orchestra, taught this metronome technique: He had students repeat a section several times (evidently the number varied) at half tempo followed immediately by one playing at full tempo. Try three times at half speed followed by one at full speed. Obviously this assumes you can already play the passage at tempo and just want to attend to all of the details of the passage.
It’s recommended that you use metronome methods 1, 2, and 3 to learn a passage and 4 to maintain a passage. No matter which methods you use, always start much slower than you think you need to; I find that the slower I begin, the higher the tempo I can attain. Also, be sure to write down your starting tempo and maximum tempo each day. It may take weeks to reach the desired tempo, so be patient.
Don’t forget that these methods are for more than learning rock solos. You can use these these methods with either single note or rhythm parts, or even complete solo guitar arrangements.
If you haven’t done this kind of practicing before you’ll likely find it to also find it an endurance building experience. If your hands begin to get tired, that’s perfectly natural, but don’t ever play with pain. Take a break and come back later, and always start slowly!
Because it can take a while to get through several repetitions of a phrase at all of the various tempos, be patient and allow yourself plenty of practice time for these exercises. One of my frustrations in half-hour lessons is that I simply do not have enough time to supervise this kind of workout in a lesson without using up all of the time I have with a student.
Don’t be afraid to play a bit sloppily to keep up with the with the metronome when you’ve reached your highest speed. Skilled musicians can maintain a relaxed and controlled sound even at the fastest tempos, but this doesn’t come easily. The only way to learn to play at these tempos it is to experience it. Go ahead and push through at the expense of clean, precise playing. As long as you return to controlled tempos each day, and your technique will eventually catch up to your raw speed.
Finally, always learn a passage a little faster than tempo you intend to perform it. After all, if you can play a passage at 160 BPM, then 144 BPM should be a snap!
Please feel free to share any additional techniques you’ve found useful!