We are travelers. We enjoy the outdoors. We crave adventure. Well ... maybe "crave" is too strong a word for me, but I willingly join Rouse the Spouse as he seeks to satisfy his wanderlust. It has taken me to some exotic places.
I recently realized there has been a consistent message coming through our travel experiences... one that has implications for many aspects of life and is certainly appropriate in the practice of music.
- It's the motto of the tiny island, Caye Caulker, Belize, for goodness sake!
- While on safari in Kenya and Tanzania, our crew reminded us, "Pole, pole!" - slowly, slowly in Swahili.
- Preparing to hike over two 16,000' passes on the Chimolhari trek in the Himalayas of Bhutan, we were told ... hike slow and steady, especially on the ascent ... even if you can walk faster. This to allow our bodies the time required to adjust to the the new extreme environment.
It's universal advice! And a practice strategy that serves the musician well. After all, one can play a piece of music only as fast as the most difficult part ... right?
There's a lot to put together in a piece of music before it's ready for blast off. It takes time and effort. It's a good thing many of us enjoy the challenge ... finding it to be an engrossing and gratifying process on the way to mastering the instrument.
Try this in your own practice:
- Move in slow motion, all the while being fully mindful, highly engaged, and thinking deeply in real time about what you're doing. Are you nailing every single tiny detail?
- Consider using a metronome. It will help keep everything on track, with no runaway passages.
- Don't think in bits. Think in chunks... measures / phrases as opposed to individual notes. Recognize your movement patterns. Moving in integrated gestures is required for up-tempo playing.
- Expressively shape passages. Practice accents. Play with swing. Add all the good stuff!
- Anticipate what's coming. Make note of difficult sections. Give yourself cues to overcome difficult passages.
- Record your practice. Listen and critique yourself. Make adjustments.
If you cultivate the right habits you will acquire the ease that allows speed. What to do next?
Again, I recommend you use your metronome. Begin at a comfortable speed where everything is just right. Gradually, incrementally, increase the tempo. Or ... the most fun way to practice up-to-tempo ... play with others! Practice with recorded music, attend a jam session, find a music buddy, etc.
Here's an interesting read from "The Strad" ... 10 different views on the benefits of slow practice, each one only 1-paragraph long. These are professional classical musicians speaking. Good wisdom, and they say it much better than I!