Music teachers are always trying to get students to slow down. Maybe they should tell them playing extremely slow is the Jedi-knight secret to playing fast.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but if you practice slowly and carefully, you’ll be able to play tunes faster and learn them in less time.
But don’t let speed be your goal. Focus instead on good sound, timing, and listening.
Challenge yourself to see how slow you can play something with a beat. Use a metronome to work on tunes, scales and exercises at different speeds. It’s easiest to start at a medium speed. Then progressively slow it down. At a certain point, this becomes very difficult!
By playing something at an extremely slow tempo with a beat, you give your fingers a chance to map out the tune. You’ll have a much better mental picture of that tune and will be able to play it faster. This strong mental picture of the tune also means that you will memorize it sooner and that you are more likely to remember it later.
Playing slowly brings out a whole different emotional quality. Just listen to the difference between Swallowtail Jig played slow and then fast…
I’m not saying to never play things fast, for that has some benefits too, especially if you work right at your edge. If you play something faster, it’s a good way to see the whole picture. Playing faster will also show you what’s hard for you, what you need to work on. Then you can focus on those hard parts, slow them down until you can do them easily and then speed them back up again.
Another way to apply The Magical Art of Slowing Down: don’t learn too many tunes too fast. Otherwise, learning tunes can become like cramming for a test: the information doesn’t stick and it makes you anxious. If you learn a tune (or anything) thoroughly then it will be easier to learn the next tune because you’ll have a better understanding of how the process works. You will also figure out technical problems that wouldn’t get worked out if you moved on from the tune too quickly.
I’d suggest learning no more than one new tune a week. You may think you’ve got it after a day or too, but there’s so much more you can do with it. Let the tune take you on a journey. Let it show you where you are weak and where you are strong. If you’re in a hurry to move on, you may not be able to hear what the tune is trying to tell you…