Tempo Markings and Notation

In the digital world tempos can be set with unbelievable precision down to multiple decimal places. This is great when “reverse engineering” a tempo marking from an audio file or setting a sequencer or DAW to follow every nuance of a humanized performance, but not so good when it comes to notation. I am a big believer in rounding to the nearest standard metronome mark when indicating tempo in notated parts. I am also a big believer in using actual metronome values rather than “fuzzy” tempo expressions such as andante, allegro, largo, et al. Let’s be honest my allegro & your allegro are very likely different. It’s really best to simply tell me what you had in mind.

For a refresher, here are the standard tempo markings on a typical metronome: 40, 42, 44, 46,48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 63, 66, 69, 72, 76, 80, 84, 88, 92, 96, 100, 104, 108, 112, 116, 120, 126, 132, 138, 144, 152, 160, 168, 176, 184, 192, 200 & 208.

Using these for your notated music will simplify life for those that have to read it & get your point across much more clearly than “molto poco moderato”.

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The Metronome Trick

When my students stumble over chord fingerings in a lessons I often fall back on a trick I learned while at Berklee College of Music. It’s a simple method for training your muscles to get into and out of a chord form smoothly and quickly.

You set a metronome on the slow side (54-60 bpm) and let it begin counting off the time. Now, since most chords are not played in a musical vacuum you will want to approach your trouble chord with another chord, preferably the one that precedes it in the piece you are playing. So, if you were struggling with an Emi7(b5), for instance, and the preceding chord was a G7 you would use those 2 chords for this exercise.

So, with your metronome happily clacking away get yourself ready for the approach chord (in our case the G7) and count off 4 beats to get you to your first measure. On beat 1 of that measure play the G7 chord, and then immediately release your fingers and use beats 2, 3 & 4 to set up the next chord (the Emi7(b5) in our example). On beat 1 of the next measure you will play that Emi7(b5) and then immediately release it, using beats 2, 3 & 4 to get back to your starting chord.

You would go back and forth between these chords, hitting them only on beat 1 of the measure and using beats 2, 3 & 4 to position your hand for the next chord. After a couple of minutes you will feel your hand finding its way without much effort. At this point bump up your tempo a notch or 2 and continue until it’s smooth at that tempo and keep going and bumping up the tempo until you are at the tempo you will actually be playing those chords.

If you aren’t using a metronome in your practice routine, here is one more reason to go buy one. The simply help you become a better musician.

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