The metronome doesn’t lie

My guitar practice includes learning arpeggio exercises written by Mauro Giuliani and testing myself with a metronome. My teacher would like to see me eventually play them at 100 BPM or faster, ideally at 120 BPM, but for the past month or so I’d been stuck at 80 BPM. Each day, I’d start at a slower tempo, around 60 BPM, then gradually crank up the metronome 1 or 2 clicks, but once I got around 80 BPM, my fingers couldn’t keep up.

Like any student, I figured I simply needed to put in more effort, but after a few weeks of hitting this wall I brought the problem to my teacher. He used his metronome to test my speed, but he hid the display from me. He first set it at a slow tempo the way I normally do, but instead of increasing it gradually, he skipped around, jumping around from slow to fast to moderate and back again. All of the tempos he selected felt comfortable. After my final run, he showed me the metronome.

I’d played at 94 BPM, and it felt easy.

My teacher noted that the way I’d been trying to increase my speed, which is often taught as the “correct” way, can work, but it takes a long time and can create mental blocks. If you think something is hard, it will be. He suggested being more daring when I practice. If I make mistakes, so what? It’s better to experiment fearlessly in the practice room and let things blow up sometimes because that’s how we learn. (Funny how that also works in learning languages too — you can’t learn unless you’re willing to fail fast and often.)

Yet again, I’d let my attitude hold me back. I’m just glad I have a good teacher who believes in me when I have trouble believing in myself.