This ‘Learn Music Faster’ series of posts highlights things my best students do that contributes towards their success. There are no secret formulae or magic tricks. Learning to play well still requires hard work, dedication and above all, practice. However, my students who do these things seem to improve quicker than the others.
Practice Slowly and Precisely
We all know (hopefully) that it’s best to practice slowly, carefully and accurately. But we all want to get everything up to speed as quickly as possible. So often we try to go to fast too soon and as a result it takes longer to get up to standard than it would have otherwise.
I have definitely noticed that the students who start out playing slowly are the ones who make the most consistent progress. Those who take the time to place every finger deliberately and carefully in the right place, who strum each string of a chord individually listening for the quality of each note, these are the ones who become competent players.
I see the opposite all too often, particularly in young boys between 9 and 13. Students flailing away at half formed chords, scrappy and out of time, maybe sounding a bit like the song they’re attempting, but only just. These guys may be having a great time, but in a few months time they’ll still be playing those chords just as badly as they always have. They don’t magically get better just because you play them a lot. They only get better when you slow down and play them *well*.
As Justin Sandercoe says, practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. Practice something badly and you will keep playing it badly.
There’s a slight caveat to this. You do have to push yourself a bit. If you only ever practice slowly you won’t get quicker. You have to stretch yourself a little bit. Now and again attempt a speed just a little bit beyond what is currently comfortable.
Exactly how far and how often you should push your ability this way is something you will learn about yourself over time. As a rough guide I would say you should push yourself to a point where you have to concentrate pretty hard, but after 5-10 minutes you are getting whatever you are working on right more often than not at this new speed. I recommend doing this after you’ve spent a few minutes practicing whatever it is slowly and precisely to get it in to your fingers.
I include this caveat because I’ve seen a few students hold themselves back by being too fastidious and never pushing themselves. They’re waiting for the new technique to be totally comfortable at a slow speed. That point never seems to come and they stay at the same speed for months. If they challenged themselves a little bit the speed would come and those movements at the original, slower tempo would seem even easier. They have all the foundations for it because they have done so much slow, precise practice, they just need to make that leap.
It’s a difficult balance. You can’t go so fast that you are “practicing in” mistakes, but you can’t stay in your comfort zone all the time either. Part of learning an instrument is figuring out exactly how much you can push yourself, and how much you need to be slow and precise. Think about this as much as you think about the actual chords, notes and rhythms you are playing.
Previously on Learn Music Faster – Finish Pieces to a Performance Standard