This clarinetist/practice expert stumped me

Over at bulletproofmusician someone suggested a book by Peter Hadcock, a former asst principal clarinetist for the Boston Symphony and pedagogue, regarding practicing. He’s just got one page on the subject, but what he suggests seems worth knowing (he calls it the Five-and-One Method) - if I could figure it out.

He’s referring to a tough lick in a famous concerto… "This passage is supposed to be played at quarter note = 72, but most of us think of it in eighth notes at about m.m. = 160… Slow down to a tempo at which you know you can play the passage… Assuming your tempo is m.m. 80, here’s what you do.

“1. Play the passage five times at m.m. = 80. 2. Play the passage one time at three clicks faster (m.m. = 92). 3. Play five times at two clicks slower (m.m. = 84). 4. Play once at three clicks faster than you’ve just played it. 5. Play five times at two clicks slower than you’ve just played it.” And so on until 160.

That’s the first stage, there’s a second stage afterwards. But before getting to that second stage - I don’t get the math here. How is a metronome click equivalent to four eighth notes in this scheme…?? What am I missing?

(I’ll fill you in on stage two later, if anyone’s interested…)

…btw, I realize this thing is a total violation of CTC’s playing with speed principle. I’d like to explore that, too - but first, I wanna just understand what he’s saying, so let’s stick to the math for now please.

I’m talking out my ass after some googling, but my understanding it that a Maelzel’s metronome indication of 160 for 8th notes means: The metronome is running at 160 clicks per minute, and the period between clicks corresponds to the duration of an 8th note instead of the duration of a quarter note. That is, in 4/4 time, you would get 8 clicks per measure (one per 8th note) instead of 4 clicks per measure (one per quarter note).

So in this scheme, when you speed up the metronome by one click per minute, you’re speeding up the music by one 8th note per minute rather than by one quarter note per minute.

It sounds like the upshot is that this lets you increment the tempo with twice as many subdivisions (i.e. more gradually).

Right. So…

“1. Play the passage five times at m.m. = 80. 2. Play the passage one time at three clicks faster (m.m. = 92)

…why doesn’t three clicks faster yield 83 (instead of 92)? (I’m afraid of just how dumb I’m gonna feel when I get this - but ‘suffer for your art’ and all that jazz;)

Only thing I can think is when he says “3 clicks faster”, he’s referring to 3 notches or demarcations on a traditional mechanical metronome. Tempos marked on a mechanical metronome don’t increase uniformly across the full range of available tempos. In fact, googling, apparently from 72bpm to 120bpm, the “marked tempos” increase by 4bpm each. So three marks faster than 80 would be 92:


I also seem to remember some clips of him explaining another method of learning fast passages which corresponds MUCH more closely with the CtC method.

Play it a couple times through so you understand and ‘know’ the passage well enough. Then from either the beginning or the end, play a single note at the desired BPM. Then two, then three, then four. Basically, you chain a bunch together until you’ve chunked out the entire thing. It’ll sound like ass while you’re doing it, but as long as you’re able to get through it at the desired speed (messy or not) you’re doing fine.

Then once you’ve got the whole thing chunked out and chained together, you drop the tempo very slightly and play it, until such time as you’ve found a more reasonable approximation of how you want it to sound. Then you go back to the OG speed, then drop it again and so on.

It seemed like an interesting concept. Although there’s a decent conceit in that it requires you have a fair bit of facility memorizing a fast passage. I for the life of me, seem to take days just to get three or four bars of ‘baby’s first bluegrass solo’ to the point where it’s even identifiable, so your mileage may vary.

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Nice method!

Indeed “try to play it fast and sloppy” is not the solution to everything. It’s just the first step we suggest for learning efficient motions. The idea behind it is that increasing bpms 1 at a time typically does not help you get rid of inefficient motions. When we decide that everything should be 100% clean before we go to that extra bpm, we are basically setting ourselves up for failure: we’ll just end up hopping forever in the low-100bpms, clean-ish but inefficient, exhausting, and unable to go further (aske me how I know).

But once you get a feel for the efficient motion, you can then use it with a variety of speeds / practice methods so that you can clean things up and - even more importantly - make things sound good and musical.

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Lol. I’m old enough that I used to have a mechanical model - but I’ve had an electronic for so long that this fact totally escaped me. So do I have this right: in the picture you see that the pendulum has a weight - so when you move or “click” that weight higher/lower, you change the aural “clicks.” I.e. Hadcock was using the word “click” two different ways…?

Also, for those who are interested in this method, Hadcock goes on (continuation of his steps #1-5):

1a. Play once at target tempo (i.e. 160), 2a. Once at 136, 3a. Five times at 144, 4a. Once at 160, 5a. Once at 136, 6a. Five times at 152, 7a. Once at 160, 8a. Once at 136, 9a. Five times at 160…

By now you’ve played the lick about 80 times, perfectly, and having “[gotten] used to a faster tempo without the loss of all the positive habits developed at the slower tempi.”

I was thinking about your point, @tommo; if your mechanics at 80 don’t work at 160 (I’d guess that’s usually true on clarinet as with guitar, or any other instrument), this isn’t going to work. So then for whom does it work?

(And if you’ll say, a strong player like Hadcock - someone that good would have to half the tempo? Seems unlikely. Maybe I’m taking him too literally, but still, not entirely clear to me.)

In one way or another this method is fairly common.

I was taught to do something very similar but by increasing the metronome count by 5bpms rather than 3 notches up a mechanical metronome (in hindsight, it’s probably less boring doing it by 3 notches).

This seems to be very similar to what top violinists or pianists do. It helps build muscle memory to learn a passage and I think it’s complementary to the CtC method and content for guitar.

I’m still not convinced about the “slowly increasing bpms approach”.

And I am a guy that, as a kid, did it for 2-3 years, 2-3 hours a day. With the metronome I always remained stuck at 120bpm 16th notes or so.

On the other hand, I also remember doing some “procrastination” where I just switched off the metronome and played some random fast licks. Ironically, that was probably the only useful part of my practice, and the reason I developed some speed.

One very obvious problem (in hindsight), is that even if you were to reach your goal, say 180bpm 16th notes, you’d be mentally and physically exhausted by then.

For example, suppose we started at 100bpm, increased 5bpm at a time, and did 5 repetitions per tempo. That’s 80-85 repetitions of the same lick. Can one really play the same thing 80 times and remain focused on tone, rhythm, phrasing etc.? Methinks no.

My current approach is to basically work with only 3 tempos

  1. Slow for memorising the lick
  2. “Fast” or target tempo (to check that things can work at least in principle, even if initially sloppy)
  3. Medium fast: fast enough that the movements are realistic (impossible with hopping), slow enough that you have some control to try and clean things up

Random example:
Slow = no metronome, whatever works for memorization. Fast = 180bpm, Medium fast =130~150 bpms


I wonder if it makes sense to say like this: with clarinet (perhaps other horns/monophonic instruments), whether you play the lick fast or slow, the mechanics are essentially the same. It’s more an issue of coordination and relaxation to make the faster speed go. If so, then the metronome-creep method would work. (Unlike string-hopping on guitar, which is clearly a case of “largo-only mechanics” which must be abandoned)…??

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I can’t be the be-all and end-all that is purported to be but there has to be some merit to it.

I know guitar has its own mechanics but being in an orchestra is a different gig altogether. Playing to the right tempo is the difference between having a job or not, so there’s value in metronome-based training.

If complemented with another type of intuitive training just like you mention this must be very good.

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I am being provocative but I am still not convinced - this does not mean that I can’t be convinced :slight_smile:

I do concede that Peter Hadcock’s approach is potentially a little less boring and more nuanced than the “5bpm at a time” thing. Also, if I understand it correctly it involves a lot of playing at or around the target tempo, which I have the feeling is a good thing. And let’s face it, he is a much more accomplished musician than me! So I may actually give this a shot at some point :slight_smile:

Still, my basic questions are:

  • What are we actually working on when we do these long metronome sessions? What are they good / not good for?
  • If a piece is to be played at 160bpm 16th notes, what is the point of playing it at all the possible speeds between 100 and 170? In a concert I’ll play the passage once at the target tempo, not 100 times with gradually increases in tempo.

Again, this is just to be provocative and hopefully understand more about these practice methods. Are they actually good? Or do people think they are good just because of tradition, and we could learn things much better / faster with other methods?

And finally, this is all coming from a guy that did loads of metronome :slight_smile:

Sorry, just saw this after I posted :slight_smile:

Totally, tempo / rhythm is king and the metronome can be useful to learn to follow the correct tempo! I guess I am asking more about how to use the metronome. At the end of the day, we need to play the piece at 160bpm 16th notes (or whatever the goal is). We definitely want to lock-in with the beat at 160bpm, we want to play clean, we want to sound beautiful and musical. How do we get there?

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Hadcock’s is a two-part approach. The first gets you to hit the target tempo of 160 just once, and it looks like a guy scaling a climbing wall. You reach high with your hand - it’s a stretch, but you can barely do it - and now with that hand-hold you can bring your foot up higher than you would have been able to without the higher hand position. In other words, ‘grab’ a higher tempo once, and now your comfortable, lower tempo can be a little higher, too.

As for part two… So you’re there at 160 - but you made it just once. The multiple-reps-lower/once-higher thing builds you up to stability at the higher tempo.

Does that answer your question? (I’m wondering, not telling;) Yes, in concert, it’ll be once at 160 - but you need it to be a stable, guaranteed 160, and that’s what all the ‘rock climbing’ is for.

Me personally, I feel like that’s worth experimenting with.

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But is he actually advocating the entire progression in one session, or is it a progression to pursue over the course of several sessions, based on degree of satisfaction with the previous session? That is, is he actually advocating starting at square one every session, or does the starting point change after mastery of the lower tempos is achieved? You could even revisit the lower tempos on a schedule that doesn’t require you to do so every day. For example, you could allow for a new start point every time a certain level of self-assessment is satisfied, but still plan a “soup to nuts” review once every week, or 30 days, or 90 days, or what have you.

If you’re not forced to start at square one every session, I can certainly see how there would be benefit in refining accuracy, timing, dynamics etc. through a progression of tempos assuming an efficient technique has already been discovered (“start with speed”) and informs any lower tempo practice.

But if you instead do start at square one every session, I imagine that might cause you to lose focus and become fatigued (physically, mentally, or both) before you arrive at the tempos you have yet to master.

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Interesting, thanks for sharing your three basic steps. Is this the basic structure of your learning process as a whole or how you structure the single practice session?
According to your three steps, my way has always been 1.) - 3.) -> working up (in 5 bpm steps, try to play it five times in a row perfectly) to 2.)

Your explanations make a lot of sense though. I practice that one solo with unusual fingering to reach 220 in triplets. My step 2.) starts at 170, so if I would nail every level first take (which basically never happens), I’ve played a chunk 45 times before I even hit 220… multiplied by infinity to cover all chunks and all the mistakes in between.

I think I’ll try to switch to your approach for some time. But gazillion hours of shred instructional material I’ve consumed in the last 20 years make it really hard to overcome the “work your way up”-strategy.

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Nothing wrong with being thought-provoking!

I’ve had time to think. And cheat. I’ve reached out to friends who have some level music education and play different instruments and they have shed some light on this for me.

  1. In general, rigorous discipline is part of classical music training. For better or worse, the metronome is an extension of that discipline with its unforgiving beat.
  2. “I don’t use the metronome for speed-building” -says one-. I can already play fast. If I use the metronome to learn a passage will be to build aural memory and become familiar with the section, but not to develop my skills.
  3. “You’re missing the point” -says another-. If I can’t play semi-quavers at 160bpm at all (not that it requires memorising), there’s no point in building up my speed with a metronome.

This caught my attention. “If it’s beyond my skills, I need to work on it very slowly on the metronome for rhythmic purposes but I’ll have to jump back and forth between real tempo and slow tempo to absorb the piece, and even then, I might need months to develop those skills”.

But here comes the good part. “When I endlessly work on slower speed is to improve my articulation and dynamics. Slowing down a paced section allows me the luxury of zooming in on details that I can’t possibly work on while playing fast”.

He was unambiguous: “By the time we work with the metronome, we can already play at the target tempo. It’s the accents, dynamics and articulation we work on”.

The guy who plays guitar says he does the “increase-by-5” quite often, even though he can play Steve Vai songs. Why? He wasn’t as eloquent but he reckoned “it just helps me nail it”.

So, @tommo, I’m like you. I’m actually worse. I’m a bedroom player, I don’t have that background and I find metronome-trining as mind-numbing as it gets. But others see the point of it.

Ultimately, it’s not about the speed according to them, but that’s only 3 people sharing their thoughts with a friend about their own unique experience.


This is where I think there may be a distinction between electric guitar and classical music. The latter musicians spend a LOT of time on the finer details of musicality (intonation, dynamics, articulation, etc.). Not to say these things mean nothing in rock/other popular music, but its seems that a guy in a rock band taking these things as far as, say, a violinist in your local orchestra would border on obsessive.

Are dudes with Strats using metronomes to make their music beautiful? Not saying that would be wrong or crazy. But it doesn’t strike me as a popular approach.

Is that why



If you are learning (say) clarinet your mechanics will be perfect because your conservatory-trained teacher will be pounding you on the head if they’re not. From what I can tell there is every other instrument (teacher), and then there is guitar, that’s self-taught, with all of the associated catastrophes. (Well, I’m sure that the Spaniards are great at teaching flamenco and classical guitar.) Being self-taught is perfectly fine for some types of music (punk, etc.), but it’s tough for anything really demanding, but at least we have the beautiful light of plectrum-based guitar, CtC.

The interesting question is if students at GIT or Berklee can get reliably get turned into shredders over a few years, I don’t know.

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Concert pianist Ruth Slenczynska had a special-order mechanical metronome that moved 1bpm, if I recall. Today we are spoiled rotten with metronome apps on iPhones, but great pianists often do bump 1bpm. I believe that their practice is indeed extremely boring. I recall attending a master class with John Nakamatsu and he was explaining his practice regimen, it was something like, “I move my hand around for a few minutes and decide exactly how I want it for when I hit the chord, then I get up and walk around my piano a few times, then I sit down and…” Of course this goes on all day. I would not have the attention span to be a concert pianist, that is for sure.

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