Practice tempo question

Hi there,

I was wondering what’s the “best” tempo to practice. Or perhaps what’s the “best approach to tempo” as there might not be one of course.
Sounds a silly question I know but I can’t wrap my head around it.

My understanding is that there is a somewhat counter-intuitive relationship between tempo, perceived precision and actual precision.

Rationale being: if you are 3ms off the grid on a 70bpm beat and also 3ms off on a 100bpm beat, you are mathematically more accurate at 70bpm than 100bpm.

The slower the tempo, the easier it is to be precise against the grid somehow. At least when it comes to maths. But the slower the tempo is, the more obvious the timing errors to the auditor are musically speaking.
With faster tempo it is actually more difficult to be very accurate but the sloppiness in play is less “outrageous” than with slower tempi because of our human perception I believe.

So in the end, it feels easier to play on faster tempi (to a certain extent of course) and there is also this natural bias we have to accelerate when our internal clock is still not great (like mine).

So I figured that I would use 70bpm as basic tempo for my daily practice in order to “force me” to be more accurate musically speaking.
But just tapping a 8th note hat along with metronome at 70bpm feels more difficult. Probably because I perceive less my errors at higher tempo, but also because the “time space” between 2 beat being longer, my internal clock struggles to keep a good timely count.
I even started my practice at 65bpm but I struggled a lot and got stuck on rather simple beats whereas they where going through wuthout pain at 75.

It’s improving slowly but I’m wondering if I have the good approach here…
Should I force myself to go even slower to train better the “musical precision” or should I keep my 70bpm or actually increase it ? Is it actually a good thing to practice at a single tempo?

Idea being that I don’t want to fool my brain and please my ears, I want to be accurate

Side note: once sufficiently capable of playing live some decent drums beat with my pad controller, I will play at least 80% of the time around 88bpm, because I want to play my own tunes and beats and I compose mostly around 88bpm. I also compose around 130bpm but it feels too much of a challenge at this stage so I discarded this tempo from my live play expectations for now.

Any thoughts?
thanks !

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Hey this is a super interesting question and something I’ve been dealing with for years now.

For me, slowing things down works very well. All the things that you describe happen. It does get more difficult. Also, the energy off a song disappears if you slow it down which gives you this urge to rush in order to bring some of that energy back. BUT

Slowing down to me also feels like im zooming in on the beat. Stretching out the space between the notes and giving my brain the space to really understand what is going on. If I then, despite all those difficulties, make my beat groove to the best of my ability, and try and place every note in its correct place, I do notice an immediate improvement in the faster tempos.

In my playalong library (do you have access to it?) you can see this in practice. I always play each song in the original tempo, slowed down, and super slowed down. That’s how I learned them myself.

  • I would first come up with the beat, then create these 3 tempo’s and then for 3 days, just play the super slow version a couple of times (maybe 15 minutes tops).
  • Then on day four, I play the super slow a couple of times and then the slow one (again in total 15 minutes or so).
  • Then on day five I would start with the super slow one, play it twice (or sometimes more if I totally messed it up), then the slow one twice and then the main tempo twice.

And then do that for another 3 to 5 days. Never too long each day, but really using the magic of practicing and sleeping in between.

I notice my drum parts really come together this way. For me it’s a combination of slowing down, but also regular short practice sessions with sleep in between.


Ok, that said, there are other ways to practice, like the salami slice method, where you learn the pattern of a beat or fill, in tempo, and then you just play the first note. Then pause. Then the first 2 notes, pause, then the first 3 notes, pause etc. And you just do that in tempo… one step at a time. That’s how you can sometimes learn to play difficult things in the correct tempo. But for groove… I think slowing down and then speeding up just works if you take the time.

Oh and a specific tempo is not really something I recommend. It depends on the song. And if you use quarter notes, 8th notes, 16th notes. For me it’s always the original tempo, something that feels clearly slower but still acceptable in terms of musicality, and then a tempo that’s very slow, on the border of not being fun anymore, but fast enough to still hear music and not just a blurry mess :slight_smile:

Hi Rob,
Many thanks for your answer, that’s very helpful.
I take away to vary the tempo used for practice rather than keep my 70 bpm all the time. I’ll try to adjust on the tempo of the lesson (not sure I’ve seen it displayed / mentioned in the video though? Or did I miss it?).
I undertand it’s more like a reference point that you slow down rather than an absolute value tempo reference.

I actually apply your advice about sleep, that’s something I’ve been doing and is proving extremely powerful indeed (not only for music btw, also for any sort of learning).
Like the “fill” video of the free course: first time I did it I really struggled to get it correctly. I was getting the order of finger moves and could reproduce at a snail-speed tempo (perhaps 40bpm?) but couldn’t make it happen even at 70bpm.
I gave up after 30mn and called it a day. Slept.
Got it directly at 1st try the day after :slight_smile:

The salami slice method is interesting too! I’ll give it a try. :slight_smile:

One last point, just to be sure:
If I get a beat / fill correct at the normal song tempo after a few tries (we can also have good surprises sometimes I guess!), would you still recommend to give it a try at slower tempo or I can just move on?

I do give tempo suggestions in future lessons. Almost always. In the beginner lessons it’s not about a tempo, just about “slow” :slight_smile: which for absolute beginners is more than enough. Most of them don’t even know what a metronome is.

Yeah it depends on what your goal is. But if you ever wonder why your drumming still does not sound like the drumming of the pro’s, it’s partially because of the accuracy of the placement of your hits. Slowing down and trying to get it right there and then speeding up just makes the groove sound better in my experience.

So it’s not necessary, you can just move on and get to more interesting lessons, but you probably will want to do it at some point because you’re not satisfied with the “quality” of your grooves and you want to get even more in the pocket.

OK thanks Rob, that clears out my concerns :slight_smile:
Between my original post and now I reached the grooving and improving lessons with click tracks and they were pretty useful on that regard to figure out what is easier / where are the weaknesses.
It was easier at slow and medium tempi.
Very slow was a slightly more difficult and required a bit more focus / getting into this very slow groove but worked out too. I had perhaps a few early hits but massive improvement vs the first lessons where all my hits were off :slight_smile:
With fast my timing was kind of OK (I think) but I did many more fingers placement mistakes / missed shots.
So it’s clearly not the same kind of problems I’m facing at various tempi and it completely corroborates what you said! It’s good to vary tempi and not stay stuck only at 1 tempo otherwise we don’t test ourselves on the full technical spectrum.

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When I’m learning a new pattern or something new in the lessons, I usually read the “notation” and play along without any metronome until I’ve internalized it.

Once a bit of muscle memory is there, I’ll practice it to a metronome usually around 75-85bpm. I find that’s slow enough to feel the space, yet not lose the ‘feel’ of the pattern/rhythm. I can also count subdivisions at that speed “1-y-an-a-2…”. Any faster and I find subdivisions impossible to count and hit at the same time.

After this, I’ll play at the original bpm. Or gradually move up.

One thing I’ve found I have to do every session, before even looking at a lesson or new pattern, is 5-6 minutes of drumming 16ths L-R-L-R to a metronome. It kind of calibrates my brain and weak hand.

I also like the salami approach. Or vocalizing the rhythm as the metronome plays.

Hope all this makes sense.

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