9

I am preparing to record a jazz instrumental piece with some friends in a few months time at a small recording studio. The sheet music for the composed section indicates the BPM, and we have agreed to follow this speed. This composed section is around two minutes long, and an enjoyable challenge to play at the agreed tempo.

I play the guitar. Each day I practise the piece in sections, and conclude by playing it in its entirety one or twice; usually with a few mistakes. I do this first at a reduced tempo; and then again at full tempo.

I would of course like to play without mistakes. Would it be beneficial to also practise at a tempo which is faster than the one we have agreed upon?

8 Answers 8

16

Actually playing faster than demanded is the standard strategy for becoming comfortable to play at the demanded (reduced compared what you exercized earlier) speed.

You do not necessarily need to play the whole section, the tricky passages may suffice.

14

Sure. Practicing at a variety of speeds can't do any harm.

As long as you're practicing it RIGHT! Paradoxically, practicing UNDER speed may be of more benefit. It shows up anything you're fluffing or faking very cruelly!

9

Yes, it is. Generally it is a good thing to not only be able to play it in tempo, but to be able to play it in tempo without strain. Without the playing affecting your breathing. When you can concentrate on other things and still get it done (because in the actual performance you’ll need to concentrate on different things than just your playing and still get it done). And for this you need to make sure you never go to your limits. Make sure you’d be able to do more than what’s required.

But at the same time it is important not to unlearn how to play it in correct tempo. Make sure that you are technically able to do it, but make sure you do not nail yourself down to the speed.

7

Yes, but only around 10% faster, and only when you're sure the passage concerned is down perfectly at the required speed.

Spending (wasting!) time in the recording studio is no good - especially if you're the one who cocks up, and the rest of the players have to wait for you to get it right. Ideally, unless it's totally improv, where you can make it up on the moment, you need have your part down pat, and if you can achieve that at a (slightly) faster tempo, it proves you know it all well enough to relax a little when you all play at the agreed tempo.

Go for it, and be able to do it on auto-pilot, so to speak. That way, you can be sure your part is perfect, and you can then concentrate on dynamics, and listening to what everyone else is playing - an important part of playing in a band, would you believe!

5

There are good answers here already, so I'll just add one word of warning: Make sure you've got the "real tempo" really solid internally. I feel like the number one thing groups disagree on is what the tempo should be (except when there's a click track, and sometimes even then!), and the number one way things go wrong in performance is being faster or slower than the group means to. If you're the one who sets the tempo, e.g. if it starts with your guitar riff, then you can bear the brunt of this blame. Even if you're not, if you're used to a slower or faster tempo you're more likely to drag or to push. So often I see a group learn a new piece and say "let's just play it through under tempo at first," but then that becomes their "first impression" and imprints on the whole group, and they never can stick to the tempo that they originally planned. So for every time you practice either over or under, also play through once at the planned tempo.

After some thought I'll edit to add: We can practice different things. Working with tempo only makes sense with certain technical challenges, mainly left hand. There are some goals that can only be practiced at the performance tempo. One is simply "feeling"—how we plan to do the little tricks of timing, dynamics, and phrasing that turn a boring monotonous riff into a piece of stagecraft. There's usually little benefit to practicing this under or over tempo. Also, you asked about guitar, but for some other instruments like bowed strings or winds, there's the amount of bow or breath you use, and for these, being under tempo can bring new challenges and being over tempo can actually make it easier than the performance tempo.

2

It's easier/better to increase the speed of something you play right, than to correct the playing of something you attempt at the right speed.

If you are playing correctly at the planned tempo, then by all means practice a little faster. This will give you some flexibility to be completely comfortable at the target tempo.

If you are struggling at the planned tempo, then play through more slowly to develop the muscle memory of the piece played correctly, before you try to speed up again.

2

I had a teacher in the past who used this analogy: if you're driving on the freeway and the speed limit is 70, would you rather be driving a car whose speedometer goes up to 90, or a car whose speedometer goes up to 140? Probably the latter, because the first car is going to be really straining to keep up with 70 miles an hour. And what if you have to speed up, to pass or something? The car with the higher top speed will do that with ease, but the car with the lower top speed won't.

His point was when you are trying to play a fast passage with fluidity, you want to be the car with a top speed of 140. You want to be confident that you could play the passage even faster than the required tempo, so when you play at the right tempo it feels effortless.

For this reason, when you practice fast you should make a conscious effort to aim for fluidity. Slow practice is where you hone your technique, figure out your fingering and picking (I don't play guitar, is that something y'all have to think about?), etc. If you practice fast, you probably won't be able to be perfect every time, but the point is just to get comfortable and play with ease.

2

I'm a classical pianist / organist, but I think practicing techniques are similar. The short answer: only AFTER you are super comfortable playing at the right tempo without mistakes.

My practice routine:

  1. First, find a tempo where you wouldn't make mistakes.
  2. Use consistent fingering from the very start, to help muscle memory.
  3. When speeding up the tempo, if you find a passage where you keep making mistakes or when you're not happy with the sound: isolate it and practice starting at the tempo where you can hear the sound you want without mistakes. Repeat that passage and gradually do it faster until you achieve the tempo for the rest of the piece.
  4. Only after #1, #2, and #3 are done, keep increasing the uniform tempo for the whole piece, until you can close your eyes and feel your fingers moving "auto-pilot" at about 10% higher than the target tempo. If you find yourself losing control or hear passages / runs sound messy, you're not ready to increase the tempo. Repeat #1-#3.

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