This list has some uncommon(but really important) reasons why you should SLOW DOWN when you practice. To expedite the process of becoming the master musician you want to be, you gotta take it easy. Enjoy!
The master musician has complete control over his/her instrument. Simply put, in their body the heart(emotions/feeling) is communicating with the mind(logic/motor control), which is communicating with the muscles to create music. If the mind is more developed than the muscles, you'll hear things and not be able play them clearly on your instrument. If the opposite is happening, your muscles will be controlling what you play, not your heart and mind, and you'll sound more mechanical than emotional. When you slow down your practice, you're allowing your mind and muscles to communicate at a rate that works for both of them. Ideally, you should be hearing things in your \"inner ear\", and your muscles should be effortlessly executing what you're hearing. Experiment with different tempos and chord progressions to see/feel what needs work. You can also record yourself to hear spots where your playing lacks effortlessness.
Banjo players are used to playing really fast, relying on set note patterns and licks to get through songs. A goal for me is to \"hear\" every note before I play it. Even on extremely fast tempos, I want to be able to \"shape\" each note based on how I hear it. Shaping notes is something saxophone players like Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordan, and John Coltrane are masters at. Every note I play should be played with intention, and there should be absolutely no mindless or heartless playing. This is a goal I set for myself, and I urge you to consider it as well.
Slow things down and work on your awareness in a song. For banjo players, you could pick a standard banjo tune or singing song, play for only one minute(slowly), and completely concentrate on every note you're playing. This short period of time will allow you to give each note everything you've got. Mess around with other tempos and chord progressions. Yea, we banjo pickers play a lot of notes, but why can't all of them mean something and contribute to the sound and feeling of the song?
So many musicians overlook this in the crucial stages of their development. Having good time, rhythm, and groove is probably the most important part of becoming a great musician. You can have the coolest melodies, but if you don't groove or play them with rhythm, they'll sound awful. To practice rhythm slowly, I recommend practicing subdivisions of the beat - so setting the metronome slow(around 60 or 70), and clapping quarter notes, eighth notes, eighth note triplets, and sixteenth notes. Do this methodically until it feels easy to switch between the subdivisions. The more challenging transitions are from eighth notes to eighth note triplets, and from triplets to sixteenth, and back. Once you feel good about that, check out these two books - Rhythmic Training by Robert Starer and Polyrhythms by Ari Hoenig. To successfully and fully feel/internalize rhythm and groove when you are playing, you need to feel it in your body, and work up from a slow pace, so your mind and body can understand what's going on at a deep level.
Do you hold your breath when you play? This can hinder you from having flowing, rhythmic melodies. What you are playing is a completely genuine reflection of your body and consciousness, and if you have choppy breathing, chances are your playing is going to sound that way as well. Take time in your routine to see how you're breathing when playing a tune melody, when comping(playing back-up), and when you're improvising. You may be surprised after trying this. If you're gasping or making noises after phrases, you probably aren't breathing fluidly. If you want your playing to sound fluid, slow down and feel the air going in and out of your lungs. You'll notice it actually feels good to breathe :).
Do you feel like you can never quite get the tune your learning under your fingers? Sometimes you feel like you're \"BSing\" the melody, and you're not sure why it's not coming out the way you want. Maybe you need to slow it down, and really let your body and mind catch up with each other. When you slow a song down and play it through, the troublesome spots are going to become obvious. Make a mental note of these spots, isolate, and slow them down even more, until they are easy to play. Make sure you aren't speeding up or slowing down at certain sections of the song. Patience, and respecting the groove is important to working up a song to a level where it flows and sounds good.
"Tension is the enemy of movement" - Eric Franklin. This is one of my favorite quotes, and it completely applies to learning an instrument. By slowing down your practice, you're allowing your muscles to form and get used to doing the movement required of them. As you gradually speed the tempo up, notice if there is any tension in your body. You may notice it in your hands, or it could be in your feet, or shoulders. Any tension in your body will affect how you play. Once you notice it, relax and mentally revisit that area while you practice to see if anything has changed.
This has to do with patience. See if you can play a song super slow, without getting impatient or distracted the entire time. If you can't, this is something to work on. Try to enjoy every note you play. Bathe in the sound that you're creating, and listen intently to what you're playing. Once you start speeding the tempo up, you'll see that fast tempos will be easier to play because you're focus is more developed. Concentration is a huge part of playing in time, and with other people. In learning an instrument, there are so many things your mind needs to focus on, and by slowing things down, you are allowing your mind to be there with your body throughout the process. Take the time to develop your focus, and your musicianship will increase tremendously.
Thanks for reading this article, and please leave a comment if you enjoyed it. If you're interested in taking private banjo or guitar lessons, click here and sign up for a free 30 minute trial lesson.
Ready to learn from me immediately? I've released my Practice Strategy Checklist for Bluegrass Banjo! If you want to take your banjo playing to the next level, get unstuck from looking at tabs, and start sounding like a pro, this checklist is perfect for you.
Thursday, December 26, 2013 @10:24:52 AM
Hey this is great stuff- I've been playing teaching in the Kansas City area for over 40 years, and I'm always looking for succinct, well organized ways to communicate this kind of stuff. Mind if I refer my students to it or reprint for them? With credit of course. Again terrific, thanks!
Wednesday, January 1, 2014 @12:05:16 PM
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