How To Use The Tempo Spiral


Which tempos do you choose on your metronome, and how do you choose them wisely?

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The Tempo Spiral

The tempo spiral organizes tempos into a spectrum, much like a color wheel. Tempos which are doubles of each other, like 50 bpm and 100 bpm, lie in the same zone of the spectrum – they have the same feel and are compatible within a single song.

  • Applies to:   Grooves, fills, songs, warmups, brain programming, physical improvement, timing and rhythms

  • How to apply it:   Spend time on each zone, to get comfortable with it… over time keep zones balanced

  • Works with:   ‘Volume Vs. Tempo Graph’, ‘Song List By Tempos’.

  • Free, print it out!   View downloadable PDF

    The most virtuous goal with your timing skills is to be comfortable in ANY tempo you want.
    But since it would take a lifetime to cover ALL tempos in your practicing, this technology was invented to simplify your training!


    Use it to identify your strengths and weaknesses

    If you were most comfortable playing songs at certain tempos around 60, 75, 120 and 150, would that be versatile enough?
    No. You would only have a couple areas of the overall spectrum covered, since 60 and 120 are in the same part of the spectrum and so are 75 and 150.

    The tempos you choose for practicing should be more evenly balanced around the spiral, so you get the different ‘colors’ of tempo from the spectrum.   The six zones A-F were chosen at even intervals between tempos – but you could also choose four evenly spaced zones, or eight, or five, or two, etc.

    Blind Spots
    Even when you can play a groove easily at both 70 and 90 bpm, it may not be comfortable at 80 bpm!   This is strange, but it’s natural to have these ‘blind spots’ in your range of tempo, where the material is not too fast or slow to execute – but the timing is still somehow challenging and/or unfamiliar.

    This is totally normal, and just means it’s necessary to spend extra time practicing your ‘blind areas’ of tempo so they are as comfortable as the rest of your playing.   Once you clean up your playing in uncomfortable zones, you will be more fully versatile across the entire spectrum of tempo!


    Training with the Tempo Spiral

    For training purposes, this approach can simplify / reduce the time it takes to play exercises across an entire spectrum.

    Step 1:   Choose a groove, rhythm, or other pattern to use with the tempo spiral.

    Step 2:   Play the pattern for a while in Zone A (at either 30, 60, or 120 bpm), until a result or some progress occurs.   Strive to gain relaxed control and make the pattern feel good.

    Step 3:   Play the pattern for a while in each of the other zones – B, C, D, E, and F.   Stay in the same ring of the spiral, so if you began with 120 bpm, then use 140, 160, etc.   Feel free to explore tempos up and down the spiral.

    Step 4:   Note how easy or difficult each tempo zone was for you.   If there were obvious challenges involved in any particular zone(s), revisit those tempos and practice them until they are more comfortable.


    How / Why It Was Created

    In the rhythmic world, doubling a tempo simply turns quarter notes into eighth notes at the same tempo, or eighths into sixteenths, etc.   This is why doubled tempos are compatible and belong to the same zones on the tempo spiral.

    You could even transcribe a song with an eighth note feel, and rewrite it in sixteenth notes at half the tempo – the song would be exactly the same.   For example, both these passages below are equivalent and will sound identical when played.

    (4/4 time)
    drum lessons tempo3

    Rhythmic Control
    If you play rhythms made of quarter notes, 8ths, 16ths, and 32nd notes with a song at 72 bpm, you are also practicing the ‘rhythmic control’ you need in order to play songs at 36 bpm, 144 bpm, and 288 bpm.   This is why you really only need to make sure you’re comfortable playing in each area / zone of the spectrum, not every tempo in existence.

    Variations For Building Different Tempo Spirals
    So when you line up all the ‘doubles’ of tempos, what you get is a spiral that goes from low tempos in the center to high tempos at the edge. I simply chose six zones to highlight and label A-F, but you could pick a different number of evenly-spaced zones to create more or fewer zones to use.
    For example, if you wanted to use only four zones, you could use Zone ‘A’, the white zone between B and C, Zone ‘D’, and the white zone between E and F. This would give you tempos of 60, 75, 90, 105, 120, 150, 180, and 210 bpm to use for your exercises.


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    See also the Volume Vs. Tempo Graph page

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