Working on Difficult Rapid Patterns #1

I purposely titled this section "Difficult Rapid Patterns," because not all rapid patterns fall into the difficult category. Some rapid patterns merely fall readily under ones' fingers, and will differ from one player to another. For the patterns that don't "play themselves" and go beyond "this one's gonna take some work," there are different approaches to making these passages more playable. The following suggestions are not original, but they work for me. First, play the pattern at the tempo marked. Is the entire passage impossible or just specific areas? Make a mental note of these spots or circle them with a pencil. Would an alternate fingering make this pattern easier? Once you have chosen fingerings, I recommend using a metronome to keep a steady beat. (One that includes subdivisions of beats, is highly recommended.) For example, you have a technical passage of running sixteenth notes for four beats. Set the metronome about 5-10 clicks below the marked tempo and play the entire measure. You should play the measure correctly with dynamics, articulations, full tone & air support, and with accurate, even sixteenths. If you cannot, set the metronome slower and zero in on the bump or bumps along the way. Look for ways to narrow down the trouble spots. Rather than doing many repetitions of the entire measure, try smaller cells. Perhaps the first two beats, or only the first five notes if that is where the problem lies. Keep working on small cells as well as the entire pattern at slower speeds to get your fingers and ear more familiar with it before gradually increasing the metronome marking. Play the pattern reliably at a slower tempo, then move the metronome up one notch, etc., until you are able to comfortably play it at the marked tempo. Remember, it is especially important to keep the air support full and embouchure steady as you increase the tempo. Avoid tensing up or choking off the air. Poor air supply will cause notes to respond late and will throw off the coordination between your fingers and articulations. Try to stay relaxed. The "Ankle Weight" Exercises This technique doesn't involve ankle weights, but if you've ever run track, you have experienced this effect. You wear five pound ankle weights for a half hour to and hour and do your normal activities. It isolates the leg muscles. When you take them off, your feet feel absolutely feather light. I know sprinters who did this before races. It worked for them! We can simulate this effect by taking this pattern and attaching rhythmic "ankle weights" to it, thereby isolating different beats and intervals. Ankle Weight Exercise #1 Take the troublesome sixteenth note pattern and make it a dotted rhythm pattern. Ex. 1 Dotted 16th followed by 32nd The weight of the dotted notes, causes the note following (ex. 2nd to 3rd, 4th to 5th) to have to move faster (and hopefully cleaner), helping you to focus or isolate it. Reverse the dotted note "weights" and you will now focus attention on the 1st to 2nd, 3rd to fourth notes and so on. Ankle Weight Exercise #2 Ex. 2 32nd followed by dotted 16th After you have worked this pattern with weights and a metronome, remove the weights! Hopefully you will sprint through the pattern with more ease and confidence, always with air support and full sound. Finally, be patient through this process and be willing to return to square one at any time. You may be able to play a particular difficult passage after a certain amount of work, but don't be discouraged if you are unable to play that pattern a day later, or even a few hours later. Remember, these difficult rapid patterns need to be reinforced, and patience and diligent work will make them feel reliable and natural to the fingers. Good luck. —Harry Fackelman