Pyramiding: An Approach to Musical Exercise

There are many ways to approach a given exercise (e.g. trills, vibrato, etc.) and each have benefits. Some, of course, are more thorough than others. When I want to truly want to intensive on a particular area of technique I sometimes apply a concept borrowed from bodybuilding known as “pyramiding.”

In simplest terms (when applying it to music), it means starting an exercise simply, gradually increasing its difficulty until we can no longer play it, and then gradually decreasing its difficulty back to our starting point.

This concept is most easily demonstrated by looking at an exercise dealing with speed and control. Let’s look at a simple trill exercise.

Simple Trill Exercise for Bassists

We could pyramid this exercise as follows:

  1. Start at 40 bpm
  2. Playexercise three times at this speed
  3. Increase tempo by 5 bpm
  4. Play exercise three times at this speed.
  5. Repeat this process until “failure,” i.e., to the point that you are no longer able to perform the exercise.
  6. Decrease tempo by 5 bpm
  7. Play exercise three times at this speed
  8. Repeat this process until you again reach 40 bpm
  9. Play the exercise three times at this speed
  10. Success!

This practice technique involves dedicating a bit of time to an otherwise short exercise. However, dividends come rapidly.

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at and check out the Bass Coalition at

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