More Notes on Practicing

More material taken from my long-ago interview with my student Brian O’Neill. This discusses a practice technique called:

One Lick for Two Hours

Now, when you’re trying to build up speed and technical fluency the following exercise is very useful:

Compose a line (preferably in your head) 2 or 3 notes at a time… and keep building it up until you have something that covers the range that you want to cover and includes whatever kind of technical things you want to address (scalar segments, intervallic jumps, whatever).

Switch the metronome on (at around 60 bpm) and do the line in half notes, keeping the metronome not on the downbeats, but on the upbeats (2 & 4). That is, your sung articulations and the metronome’s strokes aren’t happening at the same time.

Go through the whole line in sargam, in neutral syllables, and in open vowels. If you’re an instrumentalist, go through the line using individual articulations on each note, then with a legato approach.

At which point you double the speed, so that the same line is now sung in quarter-notes, one note per pulse. The metronome needs to stay on the offbeats! Again, do it in sargam, neutral syllables and one or two open vowels.

Then go back to the original tempo and revisit that for a few iterations.

Now move the metronome up a click. If you have a digital metronome, go up by three or four beats per minute.

Repeat the process exactly as before, and when you’re done, move the metronome up another few bpm.

Eventually you’ll get up to mm 120, which is exactly double your starting tempo. Do the same exercise at that tempo…and then shift the metronome back to 60.

Only this time, maintain the same sung/played speed you had at mm 120 — with the metronome at the slower tempo. Now you’ll be singing the line in quarter and eighth notes relative to the speed of the metronome.

Repeat the alternation of “single” and “double” speed, with the metronome still on 2 and 4. (For extra credit, why does this practice work better when the metronome’s on the offbeats?). Keep going up by a few bpm at a time.

Eventually you’ll reach a point where you can go no further; a point where your technique is on the edge of failure.

Don’t stop the practice just yet. Instead, back down by a notch or two, repeat the material, then back down again. Do this eight or nine times, so that when you finally conclude the practice, you’re midway between your maximum speed and mm 60.


Go take a walk or something. That’s enough of that practice for the day.

This is not a ten minute practice, this is a two hour practice. Two hours on one lick. The important thing is to keep that process going, all the way up and then retreat, incrementally, back down to about halfway from your original starting point.

This gradual up and down incrementation turns out to be very useful for building a solid technique at all levels of speed. It’s boring as hell, but it works a treat.

I remember sitting down to practice in my apartment in Pune. I was practicing Yaman, I sat down to practice, and I practiced one line for about an hour and forty-five minutes — using this metronome technique. Then I finished, I turned off the sruti box, and immediately my doorbell rang. And I went over and it was Atul, the sitarist in my ensemble. And he said, “That was incredible!” I said, “You were listening to the practice? How long were you there?” He said, laughing, “Oh, I arrived just before you began!” So he had been outside my door for an hour and forty five minutes listening to me go over the same thing and he was completely thrilled to have heard this practice. That was very interesting to me. Not everybody would find that interesting, but Atul did.

Madhuri – thanks for these words. It means a lot to know that these posts are turning out to be useful.

23 Mar 2014, 1:29pm
by Madhuri Kulkarni

I second what Eric said. It so happens that I know what is the destination, but it’s usually hard to reach there without these exercises. You have perfectly captured the exercise in this post. Thanks for sharing it.
Madhuri Kulakrni

Thanks for your note, Eric. The most recent posting on practice methods is about rhythmic variations inside a bandish. I hope you find it useful.


Just came across your blog when my Khayal teacher sent me a link to your eulogy of Bhimsen-ji. This is beautiful stuff. It can be easy to get stuck in practice sessions without solid exercises to work from. This kind of stuff is gold for the aspiring student of Hindustani Classical Music. Thanks so much for sharing.

Warm regards,
Eric Dawe


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