The set-up, in three sentences.
My time could be better, so I planned 39 days of work on it, one hour each day, different tempo each day. The exercise I used I dubbed Cartoon Gravity: playing over a disappearing-reappearing click that’s either 3 bars on-1 bar off, 2 bars on-2 bars off, or 1 bar on-3 bars off. Read more set-up talk here.
And how’d it go?
Mostly great, and the things that didn’t go well were great learning experiences. You can read the full log here. Playing very slow is indeed very difficult. The tempos in the middle (I started in the middle and moved outward into faster & slower tempos) were more appropriate for my skill level. They were challenging but do-able.
Any useful failures?
Yes. I missed some days on account of injury, running a marathon, and going on a short vacation. But more useful failures were:
- Trying to do each of the tempos on the face of the metronome isn’t ideal. At the extremes, they’re too challenging to be helpful (for me, right now), and the jumps between fast tempos are too big: 176 was tough, 184 was counterproductive.
- Because of that, I called the experiment off early. No sense in spending my practice time getting worse.
- If the goal is to practice what’s just barely possible, the 1 on-3 off starts to break down below 60 bpm (again, for me, right now). By 46 bpm, I gave up and worked instead on what my friend Pat calls the superclick: one click per measure. That may be the way forward, both for slow tempos where it’s hard to stay with the beat and fast tempos where it’s too easy to maintain tempo through the silent beats, (and where a click on every beat is damned annoying).
- The last day I gave up trying to play eighths at 184 because I was too sloppy (and picking 11,040 notes in thirty minutes probably isn’t very healthy). I instead used 92 bpm (half that tempo) as my two and four.
- There was also a fair amount of domain dependence, meaning that the ability to play one thing with great time doesn’t necessarily transfer reliably. For instance, I’d be doing great with something and then have it fall apart when adding minor changes.
Should you be doing this exercise?
It’s not a question of whether or not this exercise is useful, but rather of whether or not it’s going to deliver maximal usefulness to you right now. I’m hyper-sensitive about sequencing the things you learn, and this may be more difficult than you need. It was more difficult than I needed.
I spent the last couple of days practicing with the “superclick” and so far I think it’s a little better for building good time, if only because it gives me more opportunities to fail or succeed. Once I get to a point where the superclick isn’t producing enough failure, I’ll probably return to Cartoon Gravity.