A Musician’s Need For Speed

When you are practicing or playing your instrument, are you patient enough to play slowly?  In order to learn a piece of music correctly, you need to develop your timing and rhythm and many students are guilty of playing too fast without keeping a steady rhythm.

Do you have a need for speed?

Do you have a need for speed?

To exemplify, a banjo player learns many fast songs.  Some of those fast traditional tunes are what attracted them to the instrument in the first place.  Similarly, a blues guitarist in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughn may receive some gratification in playing many fast rifts up the neck of the guitar fingerboard.  Then there is the mandolin player, who sometimes forgets that there is more to the mandolin than playing a bunch of eighth notes quickly.  The student’s desire may be driven by speed.  Yet there are many benefits to learning (at least at first) how to play your instrument slowly .

As a teacher, I often tell my students that I should charge them an additional $5.00 for each time I ask them to slow down during a lesson.  Sometimes my pleas seem to fall on deaf ears.  When I say “slowly” I mean slower than what you would normally even feel comfortable doing.  I would equate “slow” in musical terms as walking toe to heel, in baby steps down the street.

If you learn a song slowly and concentrate on your timing and rhythm, you will quickly discover that your speed will develop naturally.  It is much better to be a perfectionist with your sound while practicing slowly, then to later become a fast but sloppy banjo, guitar or mandolin player down the road. Let’s also not forget some of the wonderful slow tunes that are worth learning and adding to your musical repertoire.

Are you guilty of having a need for speed?  Let us know. In the meantime, be patient and your speed will develop over time.


About fretmentor

Born in Detroit, Michigan, David F. Jakubiak has been involved in music since the age of 7, beginning as a clarinet player and then at 9 turning his attention to stringed instruments. He earned trophies in group talent competitions while a student at the University of Michigan. The instructor earned a BA degree in Organizational Psychology from the University of Michigan and a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Kansas. At college, he also studied classical music and music history. His passion is teaching music and in performing as a musician. In addition to on-stage performances, David has played in various venues from outdoor festivals to small nightclubs. He plays, performs and teaches various styles of music, including rock, pop, blues, jazz, classical, country and bluegrass styles. He performs and teaches acoustic and electric guitar, five-string banjo, and mandolin. His styles range from Scruggs, melodic, Reno and old-time style on banjo, to finger-style and flat-picking technique on guitar, to various styles of mandolin. For over 45 years, Mr. Jakubiak has taught all age groups, taking a personal interest in each student to ensure that they receive the attention and lesson plans that meet their needs and interests. His lessons and instructional materials place a strong emphasis on the practical use or music theory to ensure that the student understands the instrument and learns how to improvise to develop their own style. Mr Jakubiak teaches group and studio classes, webcam lessons over the internet, and individual private lessons to students of various ages. He has compiled and produced eight instructional books on CD as well as numerous instrumental arrangements. David has written for Banjo Newsletter, a monthly publication for the banjo enthusiast and has published an article in Issue #37 of the Fretboard Journal. He is the founder of www.fretmentor.com. To contact David Jakubiak, please feel free to e-mail him at david AT fretmentor.com (substitute the @ sign for the word AT)
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12 Responses to A Musician’s Need For Speed

  1. avatar Dave Lenef says:

    The most popular musical stars got there with the emotional connection they make to their audience through great songs and performances. In this context, speed is only necessary if that’s what it takes to communicate a particular musical thought.

    Great visual artists and designers understand the power of simplicity and white space.

    Don’t serve your ego with speed. Don’t see speed as an end in itself. Serve the song and connect with your audience. It’s as simple as that.

  2. avatar Dave Lamont says:

    Definitely guilty of this myself. I wonder when i make the mistake of playing too fast, could i hang accurately with others at that speed, and still give justice to the song. Like i’ve heard Fretmentor say before, play it with emotion, and sometimes speed doesn’t serve that function well. It takes alot of practice with a metronome at a slow pace.

  3. avatar Bobby Clyde Hickox says:

    Thanks for the tip Fretmentor, I’ll try to keep focused.

  4. avatar Brilind says:

    If you don’t listen to what comes out playing fast is very enjoyable. Unfortunately, for those that have to listen sometimes its pretty chaotic. Recording yourself can be downright embarrassing. So if you want to impress yourself while others can only grimace I endorse and practice playing much too fast for my talent.

    After I get it out of my system though, Fretmentor is correct in playing slow. My best piano practice was starting very slowly with one hand and then adding the other. Then playing with the metronome I would start impossibly slow like 52 or so and I would build up one or two click stops from there if I got it right. As soon as I would mess up, down the speed went.

    It works but its not as much fun as playing fast and thinking your getting to be just like Earl.

  5. avatar lspencerini says:

    I kind of like playing things slow, which is good since I’m not that good at playing them fast yet. One issue though is that sometimes I don’t recognize a tune I am used to hearing much faster when I play it slow. With some songs this has been a revelation and has allowed me to hear notes I didn’t know were there in the original.

  6. avatar Screendude says:

    Guilty as charged, but thanks to “Fret Mentor”, I have learned the benifits of playing slowly.

  7. avatar Tigerpaws says:

    Being new to Bluegrass I’ve turned to YouTube to hear what some of the songs are supposed to sound like. Doing this I have found some versions of Simple Gifts and Dark Hollow played really slowly and I truly enjoyed them….much more than the fast version. But it is fun to play them fast though…so I can see where we run into trouble…

  8. avatar espian says:

    When practicing our songs for class I like to play at a comfortable pace. Sometimes that’s slow, sometimes that’s fast (relative). If I’m making mistakes, I slow it down. It has to sound good to be enjoyable for me. It also depends on the song, though Old Joe Clark was played a couple weeks ago at a slower tempo than usual and it sounded really good!

  9. avatar gogogal says:

    Even though I can’t play fast by any means, I’m still very much a beginner, but I still play too fast when I’m practicing. Then I stop myself and slow down and find my concentration improves and I make fewer mistakes. Especially on songs like “Arkansas Traveler” where there are a lot of eighth notes in succession. The tendency is to want to play them fast, but I find that when I slow down I’m more accurate and I seem to remember the notes better.

  10. avatar Jim Joyce says:

    Speed is way too often overrated and particularly affects the younger, newgrass players who like to “go off” as my 35-40 year old kids say. If the melody line is too hard to pick out and you can’t hear it, hum it, “ta ta” it, whistle it, etc., there’s a good chance it was played too fast. Some great bluegrass songs were absolutely meant to be fast………perhaps the most famous, Foggy Mountain Breakdown by Earl Scruggs, is among the fastest, yet you can “ta ta” or hum it note for note. Slowing a song down that was meant to be fast pretty much ruins most of them. When performing with others, more experienced players ofetn have to slow a song down below it’s normal performance speed for newer players. This can create problems for those of us who rely mostly on learning songs by ear………it seems to be a memory problem for me when playing banjo as my right hand is fighting the urge to kick it up a notch while my ear/brain interaction is trying to slow me down. I just may be too old to relearn…

  11. avatar Andy Baumann says:

    I am guilty as charged! Trying to learn a song too fast just leads to sloppy playing. But learning it slow – even slower than you are comfortable playing it seems to do the trick. It can be hard to stay patient with it. However, I’ve recently discovered that if you learn to play it slow and play it correctly (notes and timing) that after a few weeks, when you want to play it faster, the speed is just suddenly there!

  12. avatar John Kino says:

    I am having a hard time memorizing the lead in nine pound hammer, I slowed it down to 45 beats per minute from 120 beats per minute .

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