The Super-Awesome, Ultra-Detailed Practice Plan: Click by Click, Part 1

In this article I’m going to talk about a practice method is the one that really gets a piece of music under control by moving the metronome gradually up, click by click. Perhaps you can play through it, but you tend to pause or stumble and make mistakes. This is where the metronome becomes your best friend.

This article is a continuation in a series about using the practice planner I’ve created. If you haven’t yet, I recommend you read the two preceding articles: Preparing to Plan Your Practice and Measure by Measure.

You can download the practice planner for free by clicking the button below:

Make Practice Time Easier By Planning Ahead!

Hands playing piano keys with a metronome and pencil nearby

Learn how to plan exactly what you need to do each day to accomplish your goals. Then all you have to do at practice time is sit down and play!

The Piecewise Practice Planner will help you make meaningful progress every time you practice, even with as little as 5 minutes per practice session.

Best of all, it’s completely FREE–to opt in, click the button below!

If you are not yet good friends with your metronome, I also recommend you first read this article on making friends with your metronome.

If you’ve already completed all of those prerequisites, you’re ready to continue below with even more detail on getting the most out of your practice time!

Click By Click with Technical Exercises

Let’s say that while you’re working on learning Bach C Major Prelude (as used as an examples in the previous article of this series), you’d also like to increase your speed on the C Major scale. This is a great idea, especially if you’re at all shaky playing in the key of the piece you’re studying.

Perhaps you already know the notes of C Major scale, but you just aren’t playing it as quickly as you’d like. This is a perfect situation for metronome practice!

The following steps will help you make a plan for perfecting your technical exercise:

Step 1: Identify Your Starting Tempo

Practice planner with the top metronome marking filled out

Before you can figure out how to get to your goal, you need to know where you’re starting. Find a tempo that you are able to play easily without any pauses, mistakes, or any other kind of struggle.

This may be considerably slower than you’d like to play. That’s okay! Patience and persistence are wonderful practice allies.

Let’s say in this example that you’ve found you’re able to play C Major scale at about 8th note = 60 beats per minute (or bpm)*. That’s your starting tempo, and you can write it in on the first practice day of your Practice Planner.

(*This means that when the metronome is set to 60, that’s the speed of each 8th note you play.)

Step 2: Pick Your Pattern

You now have two options: You can either come up with a goal tempo you’d like to reach (say, 8th note = 144 bpm by May 10th, which is an arbitrary date I chose simply because it’s the last day on our example Practice Plan) or you can increase your tempo by a little bit each day and see how fast you end up getting.

Either of these options is fine, and different ones will make sense in different cases. You probably aren’t going to play C Major scale in a performance, and if you don’t have any adjudications coming up where you’ll be asked to play the scale at a specific tempo, you might as well go the gentle route and simply increase the tempo slightly each day, eventually reaching your goal of 144 bpm (or higher!) in no specific time frame.

Chances are you won’t notice much of a difference between 60 bpm and 63 bpm. Moving up gradually in this way tricks you into playing faster than you could before with hardly any work involved!

Step 3: Establish Your Daily Increase

Practice planner filled out with metronome markings

In this case, if you brought the tempo up just one metronome click* each practice day, excluding the non-practice days we identified in previous posts, you’d reach 8th note = 144 bpm by Wednesday, May 6th.

*FYI: In this context when I say “clicks” I mean how many times I need to manually adjust the metronome to the next higher tempo. I use an actual metronome and not an app or something built-in to an electronic device, which means I only have certain tempo options. For example, I can set my metronome to 90 or 92 bpm, but not 91 or 93.

If you’re using a metronome that has every number option, it would take much longer to work up from 60 bpm to 144 bpm if you go up only 1 bpm each day–64 days to be exact! In that case you might want to decide on a certain number of bpm to go up each day to reach your goal. I’ll explain how to do this in my next post on using the metronome with repertoire.

Now maybe you’re feeling ambitious and want to get quicker faster. You’ve decided you want to go up two clicks per day instead of one. In the example I’ve added a third piece/exercise called “C Scale x 2” so you can see side by side what a difference one little click per day makes.

If you increased by just two clicks per practice day, you’d be at half note = 112 bpm by the end of the practice period! That’s way faster than if you did just one click per day, and still a very gradual daily increase.

A Note on Conversions

Notice that I said the half note = 112. This means that if the metronome is set at 112, that’s the speed of each half note, meaning you would play four 8th notes per metronome click.

But we started with 8th notes right? Notice that on the Thursday of the 3rd week I had to convert from 8th notes to quarter notes because my metronome doesn’t go faster than 208. It’s a simple conversion since one quarter note = two 8th notes. Therefore 8th note = 208 is the same speed as quarter note = 104. Then I did the same conversion again on the following week, this time from quarter notes to half notes.

Sometimes it can be tricky to get used to playing with the metronome clicking half as often as before. For that reason on conversion days I like to stay at the same tempo two days in a row; The first day is the last day of the current note value (ex. eighth note = 208) and the second day is the first day at the new note value (ex. quarter note = 104).

Here’s an example of what your completed practice planner would look like after completing the above steps, continued from previous posts:

Practice planner completed with two separate columns of metronome marking examples

Step 4: Practice!

As usual, the most important part of all of this is actually doing the work!

Make sure that whatever you do is EASY from one day to the next. It’s ok if you have to play through the exercise a few times at each new tempo, but if after just a few plays you’re still having trouble, you’re increasing too much too soon. Remember: Less is more! 

The real progress in this method comes from repeatedly playing the exercise in a relaxed, controlled way, regardless of how fast or slow it is.

I hope this helps you get excited about using your metronome to revolutionize your practice. You’re now ready for the second part of this article, which applies what we learned above to repertoire.

Remember if you haven’t already to download the free practice planner so you can get started right away! And as always, I’d love to hear about your experiences with this method in the comments!

Heidi has been involved in music in one way or another for most of her life. She studied music composition in college, has taught piano, voice, composition, ear training, and guitar, and has worked as a piano tuner and technician. Before the pandemic she loved playing concerts at retirement communities, bringing the joy of music to those populations. She is currently working on learning more about the connection between music and healing.

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