Very Fast Tempos

Question by Laurent

Hi from France and thanks for sharing.

I’ve been playing as a professional musician for 20 years now and it’s still very hard for me to play up tempos in relaxed way. I’m working with the metronome on 2 and 4 at 240 BPM and more… I’m stuck and I don’t know how to get it right …


Bonjour Laurent,

This is an excellent question because up tempos are hard for everyone… even experienced musicians like you.

There’s always a struggle with fast tempos (tempi) : we’re trying to play the same kind of stuff we usually play much slower, thinking “if I can do this @ 120, why not at 300?”.

So, we go for it, musically speaking, and botch a few good lines then somehow we tense up and that’s when things start to go wrong…

…so, here’s my first advice : Relax!

Stay loose and let it flow. Breath well and keep good posture; we’re often unaware of our bodies as we play faster and faster. Remember that speed and accuracy comes from a still and peaceful place.

Try just this at first : set the metronome on 2&4, pick the guitar up and try to stay relaxed! Then play a few notes and watch what happens. Only when you can play fast tempos while remaining with a loose body and a calm mind, is the time to start practicing very fast music.

And that is my second piece of advice : practice up-tempos!

It won’t come naturally that’s for sure. I believe it’s because faster songs are just not “in our ears” so much. I’m just speculating here but 90% of music is probably in the 100-200 BPM zone. Up tempos songs are the exception, not the rule.

So, you have to dedicate some time and practice very fast music. Please do work on up-tempos as a whole “topic of study” in itself.

This kind of patience and dedication will make you realize that you can (and should) play very differently when confronted with this situation.

It becomes clear that you simply cannot “blow” the same kind of material at faster tempos. Don’t expect to improvise on Bb blues one day and “crank it up” slowly, playing all the same lines and licks @ 80, 120… or 400 by the end of the day. It doesn’t work like that!

Your phrasing along with your rhythmic and melodic ideas need to adopt to a different type of pacing. For example : I’d bet the faster it gets, the more quarter notes you play in your solos (and the less 16ths and triplets lines come out righteously!) Same phenomenon happens when performing a ballad, or a waltz : your musical vocabulary has to adjust to the situation!

Simply remember that fast tempos are just a different “reality” in themselves; you have to work on “it” in order to get “it”.

Here’s more food for thoughts…

Listen to the Masters Doing IT

There’s nothing like having a solid reference of good music. Listening to great classic FAST albums is priceless. Observe carefully and try to understand how the musicians “felt the time” in order to keep the up tempos groovy and light.

Some listening suggestions:

Try to “walk in their shoes”: how do you think Miles Davis felt the time when he soloed or counted the tune in? Try to feel the levels of subdivisions (the quarter note pulse, the half-notes, the whole-notes, 2-bars, etc.)

I believe jazz master have a very deep connection with all rhythmic levels, that’s why up-tempos can sound so good!

It won’t be obvious but you have to try and expand your perception of time when listening to fast tunes. The more options you have (perceptions) of the same thing, the easier it’s going to get (and the freer you will become)…

Reflecting about this as I’m writing these lines : in general it’s probably more about subdivisions than anything.(ie with what kind of “feel” we subdividing chunks of time passing by when we play music.)

Speaking of which…

Metronome for Fast Tempos

Working with the metronome is a good habit in general for working stuff out (for me, anyways.) “Two and four” may simply not be appropriate for everything though… It may put you in a corner and “box you in” too much to hear the other rhythmic possibilities.

As we reflected upon earlier, (and as jazz history teaches us) we have to perceive the time passing by in a different way in order to free ourselves up.

Let’s create many options to work from. Some will be harder than others, in the end, you’ll want to use what works best for you.

How about the metronome as clicking only “once-a-bar”? Let it be beat “one” of every bar : thus outlining the whole notes, a very important “rhythmic gradient”.

As you do this, remember that a metronome set at 50 BPM means a “real” tempo of 200 BPM. You have to subdivide carefully throughout (hence optimizing your perception of “time”.)

Then you may start thinking of setting the metronome on ANY eighth-note in the bar : you have 8 possibilities if the metronome is still clicking only “once-a-bar”.

It can be on beat “one”, or it can be on the “and of one”, or it can be on beat “two”, or it can be on (etc.)

Get it?

The easier beats to work with are the strong ones (such as “one” and “three”). Start with that. All other beats (including the “and”s) will be much harder to control. Be patient. After working on all of this at fast tempos, I’m sure your perception and time/feel will greatly improve.

Only after using the click “once-a-bar” can you try to use the metronome as clicking “twice-a-bar”. You were already doing it with the good old “2 & 4”, now you can even set it at 4 different “locations” in the bar. (repeat the process used 3 paragraphs ago!)

Wrap Up

It’s probably just a coincidence but I’ve also been dwelling into up tempos much much more recently.

At a weekly trio gig that I play in a restaurant (a french bistro in fact!), we try to play at least one, more often two VERY up tunes per set.

… and I’m talking about 300 and up!

We all struggle a little bit but we learn from the experience each time. By the way, it works well as the last short tune at the end of a set (often blues or rhythm changes type of tunes).

So, in the end, the more you do it the easier it becomes! (a simple but effective practice strategy for almost everything in life.)

I hope it helps,


To summarize all of this :

  • First and foremost: RELAX. (most important advice on this page!)
  • Then: Work on up tempos as a different “topic” a bit everyday.
  • Also: listen to great fast recordings, work with metronome creatively.
  • Obviously: Do lots of fast playing to be prepared for gigs.

Old Comments for Very Fast Tempos

Apr 17, 2010
Another Idea
by: Marc-A (webmaster)

I know it’s already part of the answer up there, but I wanted to add this thing I’ve been practicing a lot recently.

When setting the metronome to click “once-a-bar”, my favorite, logical and most comfortable choice is beat 3 :

  • It’s “quarter time”
  • It’s the “backbeat” of each bar of 4/4
  • It’s the “2&4” of the half time tempo.
  • Allows me to phrase in “swinging half time”

So, if I want to practice blues @ 400 BPM I set the the metronome at 100, count myself in and perceive this as being 2&4.

Then, I just have to feel everything passing by twice as fast in my head. (6 bar blues anyone?!).

I like the liberty of phrasing the setting gives me.

Here’s the video where I practice like this…



Mar 23, 2010
whouaa ! what a cool answer
by: Laurent

I was not waiting for such a cool well done
i m was very happy to find your web site
i had in mind to do the same here but time in running so fast (lol)
preparing for gigs lessons and house-life.

– i have been working on the relax thing for a few month now and i find that i m less and less play with stress !!

and ideas are coming with less effort at up tempos
i m playing be bop and also swing ” à la django”
and there s a lot of up tempos in this style.

practicing metronome is the thing i do every day
with all formulas .

thanks again for help advices

keepin in touch

all the bast

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