Advanced Tempo Exercises

These exercises will be useful for intermediate and advanced musicians. If you are a beginner, I would recommend skipping to the next chapter before trying the advanced exercises.

Tempo Exercise 3: Being Precise

It’s important to be precise with the timing of musical notes. Being precise allows you to accurately communicate your rhythmic message, and is essential when playing music in groups.

Set your metronome to a tempo of your choosing, it might be easiest to start at around 100bpm. Find a way to make a noise that sounds similar to the metronome, like hitting two sticks together. Try to play along with the metronome so that each time the metronome makes a sound, you make a sound too. Try to time it so that you make the sound exactly when the metronome does. You’ll notice that sometimes you might be a little late, and sometimes you might be a little early. Work on being so precise that it becomes impossible to distinguish between the sound you are making and the sound the metronome is making.

Now try turning the metronome down in volume (if you can). If you are very precise, and you play louder than the metronome, you won’t be able to hear the metronome, because your sound will cover it up. It will just sound like you are making your noise by yourself. This effect will not last forever, and at some point, you will lose your precision and notice a quiet metronome sound before or after your sound. Try this at many different tempos.

Tempo Exercise 4: Keeping Steady Time

Choosing a specific tempo sends a message to the listeners or the dancers. You must pick a tempo and stick to it for the entire song for the message to be received (unless you choose to speed up or slow down during a song, but that will send a very different message). This is harder than it sounds. If you already know how to play a song, and you are fairly good at playing at different tempos, try this exercise.

Pick a song you can play, and pick an appropriate tempo. Use the metronome to get the tempo into your head, but turn the metronome off when you start the song. When you finish the song, turn the metronome back on to see if you are still playing at roughly the same tempo as you started with. If the metronome seems slow, that means you may have sped up during the song. If it seems fast, you have probably slowed down. The goal is to hold the same tempo for the whole song.

Tempo Exercise 5: Combining Steadiness and Precision

Set the tempo of your metronome to 120bpm. Find something simple that you can play at this tempo. It could be a rhythm, groove, song, or just clapping your hands on the beat. Try to play so that you are aligned as precisely as possible with the metronome. At 120bpm, the metronome is marking each beat.

Now, set the metronome to 60bpm (half of 120) so that it marks every other beat as you continue to play at the 120bpm tempo. This is more difficult. You have to be precise with each beat, and steady throughout two beats. It is even more difficult if you set the metronome to 30bpm (half of 60), so the metronome marks every fourth beat. At 15bpm, it marks one in every eight beats. If you can play at 120bpm with the metronome at 15bpm marking one in eight beats, and stay precisely aligned with the metronome, this is very good.

The same concept works at different tempos. Just take the original tempo, and divide it in half, and in half again, until it is too hard to play along or your metronome doesn’t go any slower.