Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blind Tempos Up Close and Personal

I'm not sure of the tune or even the context, but I recently sucked whilst playing. And in public too! The good news is that most people didn't notice. But I sure did, and I’m sure the band did as well. It felt just awful, and I was both frustrated and embarrassed.

The problem was a ‘blind tempo’ -- a tempo that neither my training nor my body were prepared for. I had the rhythm and sticking more or less correct. I even had the tempo under control. What I did not have was the feel. Technically what I was playing was correct, but it didn't contribute positively to the music and it didn’t ‘lock in’ because the tempo just didn’t feel natural to me.

I can't really tell you how to fix this if it happens to you. I can't even say precisely how I fixed it. All I did was stop thinking and just listen. I also simplified my playing to almost quarter notes until it fell into place. Once it began to feel ‘right’ I added back the rhythmic elements, and both the tune and the band took off.

To avoid a repeat of this fiasco, I headed back to the practice room and got out my metronome. My objective is to play every tempo using every rhythmic style. Tall order? Not really. I began by setting the Metronome to 40 bpm and played the basic rhythm for 5 minutes. I can cover most of the basic music styles in 30 minutes or so. The next day I moved to 42 bpm and did it all again. This way I will eventually cover every tempo all the way to 208 bpm. And because I'm starting at a slow grind, I'll have a better chance of developing control and an appropriate feel.

So in just 39 sessions (the number of settings on my metronome; to go higher still, go back to 104 bpm and play double time), I should be able to say goodbye to the 'blind tempo blues'.

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