How slow is slow?
We want to be able to obey the cardinal rules, playing embellishments accurately and evenly, when we practice. We might discover that tempo by working with an instructor. We might arrive at it through some experimentation.
We can also look to the voice of experience to arrive at some concrete guidelines in order to determine the tempo at which we should practice slowly in order to develop accuracy and evenness.
The Dojo’s Next Level Blueprint provides excellent suggestions not only for tempos at which we should use to learn a tune, but it also provides a plan for bringing the tune up to performance speed.
The starting point is determining the target tempo. How fast should you plan to perform the tune when all is said and done? In the Next Level Blueprint, Andrew presents the following guidelines for 2/4 Marches, Strathspeys, Reels, and Jigs:
Even if you don’t compete, these are good guidelines for performance tempos. If you are an intermediate piper, for example, you would want to target 65 BPM for a 2/4 March.
In order to practice a tune so that you can reach the target tempo over a six-month period, the BluePrint outlines a plan, using suggested target tempos for each month, which moves you up the ladder gradually. The blocks and suggested target tempos are:
- Block 1: Learning Phase (first month): 45% to 55% of max tempo.
- Block 2: “Weakness Building” Phase (second month): 55% to 70% of max tempo.
- Block 3: “Weakness-2-Memory” Phase (third month): 60% to 75% of max tempo.
- Block 4: “Painfully-Open-Embellishments” Phase (fourth month): 65% to 80% of max tempo.
- Block 5: “Late-On-Purpose” Phase (fifth month): 70% to 85% of max tempo.
- Block 6: The “It’s Go-Time” Phase (six month): 80% to 95% of max tempo.
During the “Learning Phase,” the first month, we would practice our 2/4 March at 45% to 50% of the target tempo. If we were intermediate pipers, our target tempo would be 65 BPM. Thus, in each of the blocks, we would practice at the following minimum and maximum tempos:
- Block 1: 29 BPM to 35 BPM.
- Block 2: 35 BPM to 45 BPM.
- Block 3: 39 BPM to 48 BPM.
- Block 4: 42 BPM to 52 BPM.
- Block 5: 45 BPM to 55 BPM.
- Block 6: 52 BPM to 61 BPM.
No to be overly wonkish, but I’ve truncated the decimal portion of each percentage. If one were to round up the percentages, one would get a max tempo of 62, for example, in Block 6. The more important point is that the BluePrint is a suggested plan; you can tailor it to suit your needs. More importantly, though, we now have concrete guidelines for how slowly we should practice and how we should build a tune up for performance.
Always keep in mind, though, that as you increase the tempo, you must continue to obey the cardinal rules:
If you increase the tempo and find that you are not playing accurately and evenly, slow the tempo back down.