One of the hardest things about playing in a chamber group is when you are in charge of starting a movement. You have to indicate the tempo and mood in one cue. Here are some ideas to help:
1. Memorize pieces that correspond to common tempos.
- 40 Moonlight Sonata
- 60 The Swan
- 72 Brahms Lullaby
- 80 The Shire theme from Lord of the Rings
- 100 Beethoven's Minuet in G
- 110 Star Wars Theme Song
- 120 Stars and Stripes Forever
- 140 Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 2, Mozart Rondo Alla Turca
- 160 William Tell Overture
- 180 Dance of the Hours
- 200 Blue Danube (or any good Viennese Waltz)
2. Come up with a funny phrase to help you remember the tempo.
We are currently playing Ligeti's Six Bagatelles. The third movement has a line of running 7ths underneath a beautiful slow melody. It's sometimes difficult to keep the line smooth, not too fast but also not too slow. Here is the phrase we use to remember (marked by bar lines)
| Will you pass the butter right | now?
For a line with 5s we've used:
We're playing another song the mimics the Barbie girl theme song. It helps us remember the tempo and yes, it means there are times it's hard not to laugh in a performance. We let the laughter flow in rehearsals, but we're solid on the tempos –which is the point.
3. Practice with the metronome – a lot
When we're working on a piece as a group, we will often adjust from the suggested tempo marking a few beats faster or slower, depending on what feels good for the group. We all go home and practice at the tempo so that we can feel it when we return to rehearsal. Even a few beats can make a huge difference on phrasing, breathing, technique, etc. so it's important that everyone shoots for the same goal. We also use a metronome with loud speakers in rehearsal. This helps immensely. Sometimes we sing our parts first to make sure all the rhythms are lining up – especially at really fast tempos.
Happy practicing. I hope this helps.