Repetitions on autopilot!

Today I want to share a new discovery about putting repetitions on autopilot. No, not the mindless wash-rinse-spin-repeat sort of repetition, but a way of polishing a bracketed section of a piece to build evenness and velocity. The example I’ll give is relevant to the violin repertoire but the practice technique is broadly applicable.

Pro Metronome setup for accelerating tempo

In the two Vivaldi movements in Book 4, there are some bits with tricky bowings, string crossings and some fast shifts. One of the challenges that we’ve worked on in practice is developing more metrical accuracy in these passages. The solution, of course, starts with being able to play these passages slowly with metrical evenness. But I’m frequently reminded that slow practice is apparently boring… So we discovered a feature on our metronome (Pro Metronome on iOS) that lets you loop a practice spot with accelerating tempo. This little change - having the metronome itself drive the practice bracket - makes a huge difference in my daughter’s interest level in doing them.

To use this feature, you setup the length of the practice spot to repeat. I usually add an extra measure to give some time to get back to the beginning without feeling rushed. Say the phrase to practice is 6 measures long; I’ll set the metronome to increase tempo every 7 measures. Next you decide how much faster each repetition should be in beats per minute (BPM.) Small increases mean more repetitions are required to get to the target tempo but large increases of over 5-10 BPM can be somewhat jarring. Increases of 4 BPM for each repetition are noticeable without being unmanageable so that’s what we shoot for. Finally, decide on the starting and ending tempo. We start much slower than she can actually play the passage so that she can devote most of her focus to making the passage even with clear articulation. The target tempo should also be manageable or just at the cusp of where she can currently play the passage well.

What I’ve found over the course of a few weeks using this feature of the metronome is that it makes repetitions of practice spots less rote, while actually accomplishing something productive. And using the metronome at a slower tempo to start makes the whole process much less intimidating than beginning to use it only when trying to get the piece up to performance tempo.

Other app-based metronomes also have this “autopilot” feature but Pro Metronome has the most intuitive interface a more pleasing sound than many of the others I’ve evaluated. Whatever technique you use, may you have happy, productive practice sessions!

(N.B. Although I’m an active musician, I don’t teach. If anything I say conflicts with what your teacher wants you to do, by all means, do what the teacher says.)