The Tempo vs. Volume Graph


This is a useful guide to help you increase the versatility of your sound as a drummer…
I like this visual for its simplicity in explaining all the potential sonic territory you can cover with your musical vocabulary.

During lessons, I have often found myself explaining to a student that they should use “LOTS OF DIFFERENT TEMPO AND VOLUME COMBINATIONS” for whatever they’re working on  [i.e. singles, doubles, rhythms, grooves, fills, etc…], to ensure that their skill will be versatile enough for any musical situation.

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The Problem
Often drummers can play a groove really well- in a small range of tempo combined with a medium or loud volume.   (On the graph this would look like a splotch in the upper middle area.)   Ask them to change tempo, play quietly, or use a crecendo, however, and the groove might lose some of its expressive quality.

The Solution
When playing gets sloppy or less ‘alive’, it indicates that the drummer is trying to play outside of their CONTROL zone.   This is a bad idea during any performance.   If one’s ‘control zone’ is too small, one simply needs rehearsal at more tempo and volume combinations.

To employ this tool in your practicing, use two steps:


1. Determine the location of your current ‘control zone’ for a pattern you’re playing

Start near the extremes- the ‘corners’- to test these areas first, where tempos and volumes are high / low enough to be challenging for you.   Your goal is to figure out where on the map you have control and where you don’t.   First answer these questions:

WHILE MAINTAINING COMPLETE CONTROL (volume and rhythm should be exactly consistent / steady):

          A – How quietly can you play the pattern at an extremely slow tempo?
          B – How loud can you play the pattern at an extremely slow tempo?
          C – How fast can you play your pattern at its quietest volume?
          D – How fast can you play your pattern at its loudest volume?

You will know you’re playing inside your control zone when you have easy endurance and consistency- your playing should sound great and you should be able to keep it up for at least a minute or two with no problem or strain.
It’s OK if your honest answers to this test are disappointing, just make sure to be honest with yourself about when you’re in complete control.   Only then will you be able to expand your control zone rapidly!

2. Expand your control zone for the pattern

Once you determine where some of the boundaries are, all you have to do to push them further is to spend time playing ‘just barely’ inside your control zone, with a slight challenge, for extended periods.   By doing this the challenge goes away, and you are still maintaining total control but with less effort.

Then you can repeat this process as many times as desired to get the improvement and versatility you want!


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See also the Tempo Spiral page

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