Building Up Speed
March 20, 2018
We can’t be playing blistering fast licks and chops in every gig, but it’s good to have the ability, just in case. This is not going to be about musicality, balance, personal taste or anything other than being able to play fast. So, fasten your seatbelt because I’m about to tell you what you need to know to be like Hermes behind the set.

The Most Common Approach
The most widespread approach to developing speed is to set a metronome at a high tempo and play whatever you need until it becomes comfortable. This is what I’ve heard drummers of all levels say for decades. Some of my drummer friends told me that, and since they were able to play fast, I believed it almost blindly for a long time. It may make sense on the surface, but if you take a deeper look you’ll start to notice the flaws, and ultimately realize that it’s not the best way to get those fast chops mastered.

The Problem
Repeating an exercise numerous times will make you really good at that exercise. Once you assimilate the pattern, it starts to become more and more natural to play it, which in turn allows you to play it faster, then even a  little faster, and so on. That process will cap out at some point and you will hit a plateau where you keep repeating the exercise but you don’t get any faster.

Once you hit that point, it’s over. You can practice the same exercise for hours, you will only get slightly quicker than you were before, and the quicker you get, the slower the process gets. For example, you start practicing a chop at 60bmp, and in 2 weeks you can play it at 100bpm, 2 more weeks you can play it at 110bpm, 2 more weeks and you can play it at 115bpm. At some point, you will be practicing for weeks and not be able to play it faster at all.

That happens because, by practicing the exercise for extended periods of time, you are developing your stamina, not your speed. You may end up developing speed as a collateral effect, but the pace of development will be far from optimal.

The Sprinter Approach
The way sprinters train for a race is very different from the way marathonists train for a marathon. In both sports, the athletes are required to get to the finish line as fast as possible, but the distance between the start and the finish lines is vastly different for both. If you want to play fast, you have to practice like a sprinter. If you want to be able to play fast for extended periods of time, you need to practice as a sprinter first, develop the ability to play fast, and then practice as a marathonist to develop the required stamina to keep it up for long.

You develop speed by doing short bursts at a high tempo. Set the metronome at a tempo that is slightly beyond your comfort zone, practice the chop or exercise for about 15 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and repeat. Do that cycle 10 times. Always working at your limit.

Once that becomes easy, increase the working time to 20 seconds and keep the resting periods at 10 seconds. Once that becomes easy, increase the working time to 25 seconds, then 30 seconds, and so on. Once you are able to do 10 cycles of 1-minute work and 10 seconds rest, it’s time to turn the tempo up and start the process all over again. Generally speaking, if you are physically capable of playing something for more than 1 minute straight, you are no longer developing speed, you are developing stamina.

As everything else, developing speed takes a lot of time and dedication, due to that, other aspects of your playing may be neglected while you seek those blistering chops. Find a balance within your practice session, work on all the essentials and continue to make solid progress.
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