I've been trying to build up speed with my tremolo exercises, and the demon I keep fighting is a sort of negative feedback loop fed by worrying about deviations from the tempo, increasing attention on finger motion, and then it gets harder and harder (literally) to keep up with that rampaging tempo (only 1 click faster than a tempo at which I can play with no difficulty).

I've had some success by trying to control my attention. If I keep my focus on the larger phrases and just the downbeats of the rhythm, I seem to be able to keep up. But then I can't critique my performance (or even really enjoy the sound) because I wasn't paying close attention! Ach!

Has anyone else encountered and overcome (or heard of same) this hurdle?

  • One trick I've discovered that seems to be helping is to turn the amplifier up a lot. Then I'm forced to play more lightly to keep the volume down. Also, adding a Fuzz effect (with a very low Drive setting) so I'm forced to play more lightly to keep it clean. Commented Feb 1, 2021 at 19:11

3 Answers 3


My experience is strictly from playing the piano, but despite the difference in the specific motion required, the approach to building speed is the same.

The short answer to your question is, "Don't do it".

It's tempting to use the metronome to push yourself faster, but this strategy doesn't work largely for the same reason that this strategy doesn't work while lifting weights. If your muscles can't handle it, they can't handle it. Pushing yourself at the limit of what your muscles can handle is a recipe for introducing bad habits into your technique.

I would advise you to not push yourself like that. I'm not saying to never explore your limits--if you don't push yourself with the metronome every once in a while, you'll never know where that limit is. I'm arguing that your normal tremolo practice should happen at a challenging tempo a few notches down from your absolute limit. You will build up speed over time, even if you're not playing at the bleeding edge of your ability.

I personally hate practicing like this, because I am impatient and this method both obscures and slows the rate of improvement. However, because when I was younger I pushed my tremolo tempo without regard to technique (because I really wanted to play this.....I can hit all the notes, but fall short of making music), I picked up the bad habit of retaining tension in my forearms. After years of practice, I still haven't kicked that habit. Be safe. Do it right the first time. And good luck!

  • I do not have this experience on the piano. It is about practice, but you cannot go fast on it. Nobody was born with fingers playing large hundreads of notes in a minute and still the best musicians can do it if they practice really hard.
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 14:37

I have adopted Babu's suggestions. And I now make use of the metronome for two things:

  • Checking that my playing has an even time.
  • Discovering the tempo I'm playing at.

Mostly, I'm just trying to make sure that I'm following (or working towards following) the tempo indication on the sheet music.

The best increases in speed that I've made have been by zooming-out with my attention, and counting larger rhythmic figures. Sometimes this requires a little push in tempo, just so there's room on the metronome dial to divide the bpm in half.

Another thing I've discovered that helps (although perhaps obvious to some) is trying to play very quietly. We want smaller, lighter, faster finger motions. Soft dynamics helps support lightness.

Another less obvious thing I've discovered is trimming the fingernails super short. Like barely even there. At fast tremolo speeds, you really don't need to pluck very hard because the string is already singing. It just needs a little articulation and a little influx of energy. More like tonguing on a reed instrument.

Having very short nails lets me dial-in how much attack to use by adjusting the angle that the fingertips strike the strings.


Can you find some other way to break the problem into simpler steps other than by starting slow and gradually speeding up?

For example, go straight for your target tempo, but practice shorter fragments?

Also, have you taken a step back and looked at your technique? Maybe it would be worth experimenting with different fingerings or hand positions? A teacher who can watch you play might have some ideas.

Also seconding Babu's advice that this may just take more time (rest time as well as practice time), and that it's important to stay relaxed.

The one-metronome-notch-at-a-time practice technique is oversold, in my opinion. I've hit the same sort of wall before, and it's completely normal: sometimes playing faster requires a fundamentally different technique (if it's possible at all), so you can't just keep doing the same thing 1% faster.

(But I'm just another amateur pianist, so take my advice with a grain of salt.)

  • +1 Useful ideas that speak to the question that I posted. I'm always trying to attack problems from multiple angles. ... For my actual goal, I have partly done this already and I've broken down the piece into several simplified versions, and even developed a new technique I can play the synchronous version a tempo (1/8=120bpm), the triplet version at 100bpm, the sextuplet version at 80bpm, and the full dodecatuplet at 60. Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 5:43
  • But, I fear the full version a tempo may not actually be humanly possible. It works out to 24 notes per second, and left-hand changes have to happen in that 1/24th-second interval between the last note and the first one of the next figure. .... It may take another 10 years, but it's gonna be amazing once I nail it. :) I imagine that it may even produce a subharmonic effect. Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 5:47

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