Tip on speeding up

  1. JeffLearman
    For folks who work with a metronome, or a backing track that you can speed up (e.g., MIDI track in a DAW), here's a tip on improving your speed.

    Actually, it applies regardless of whether you're using a time base of some sort, but if you're not using a time base, then ... start using one!

    The general idea of course is to start out slow and steadily pick up the pace. Nothing new there, of course.

    Advance the speed by whatever step you find helpful (enough to notice, little enough to not freak you out.) When you reach the point that you're barely making it, KEEP SPEEDING UP, at least a bit. Then back off considerably and advance again.

    It's a bit like swinging 3 bats before stepping up to the plate. After going too fast, the slower speed feels much more manageable. But there's an important different benefit: it forces you to learn more strategic, more efficient motions! I can hardly stress this too much. If I practice too slowly too much, I'm just reinforcing inefficient fingering.

    Apologies if this is already common knowledge, or covered well enough before.

    Caveat: I'm far from a shredder, so you might take my advice with a grain of salt. But if you saw how generally uncoordinated I am, you'd be impressed with the speed I can manage, regardless of the fact that the typical guy down the block is faster.
  2. JeffLearman
    When you can't quite keep up, pay attention to how much you're moving your left hand and fingers. See if you can play the same notes but move less. Often it's not even changing the way something is fingered, it's just changing the way you move a finger from one spot to another. Or a slight adjustment to hand position.

    When you watch the really fast guys play, their hands hardly seem to move. See if you can imitate that!
  3. HonketyHank
    My left hand slows me down. I can pick a lot fast than I can fret. If I play sixteenth notes of the same pitch at different metronome speeds, I can get up pretty fast before I can't keep up. But if I just play a simple do-re-mi-fa-mi-re-do over and over at increasing speeds I fall behind at much lower speeds.

    I believe it is a function of thinking too much. IE, directing my fingers to the right place instead of letting them go to the right place. Hopefully that will improve.
  4. JeffLearman
    It's more a matter of left-right-hand coordination. It's a lot easier to get one hand to do something. When both hands have to do it together it's a lot more work for the nervous system. Even doing do-re-do-re is a lot harder than just one note.

    But yeah, it will improve! Just spend the time, and spend it wisely.
  5. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    I was going to agree with Henry, then speculate on the same coordination aspect that Jeff mentions. A little like walking and chewing gum at the same time but harder The right hand is going up and down and picking when it needs to. The left hand is moving horizontally, and the pinky is wimpy. That's a fair lot of coordination, if you stop to think about it. (And there's pluses and minuses to thinking about it too much, as Henry mentioned).
  6. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Like so many things in life, thinking too much can work against you.

    Paying really close attention is the best way to learn new things or to figure out why something is a problem, but to refine and polish a skill—like speed—you need to get out of your own way and let muscle memory take over. A friend who is a retired professional musician says he used to sit for hours playing scales while watching televised baseball with the sound off. I'm guessing that using his rational mind to keep track of the game gave his fingers and breath (wind player) the freedom to go on about their business without unneeded interference.

    For those of us who don't keep track of how many free throws from third base equal a penalty touchdown, watching sportsball may not be the way to practice but the theory is still good!
  7. BadExampleMan
    Definitely agree that thinking too hard gets in the way of fast fingering - though it's a problem because especially with my octave mando I still need to watch my fingers to get correct placement but just the act of looking can mess me up. That's less of a problem for me on the regular mandolin.

    But my left hand and right hand are in an arms race, NPI. At first and for a long time of course my left hand was the limiting factor on speed. But now I'm at a point where if I play at my top speed long enough my right hand and arm start to get tired and start to tense up and then fall out of rhythm with the left. So building up that endurance is my current task.
  8. HonketyHank
    "For those of us who don't keep track of how many free throws from third base equal a penalty touchdown, watching sportsball may not be the way to practice but the theory is still good!"

    Well if Who's on first ...
  9. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore”
  10. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    I'm starting to believe that overthinking slows down learning a tune by ear as well. Too much "now what fret is that?" vs hearing the sound and the fingers knowing where to go to make it. I think I need to figure out how to bypass the left side of my brain some.
  11. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    .. double post
  12. JeffLearman
    I'm a big believer in overthinking, but I bet that's obvious from my posts.
  13. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    Well, Jeff, definitely your mandolin building posts. But, IMHO, that's a left brained engineering job for sure
    (BTW, I really like how the color came out.)
  14. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Sue, what you said above about learning a tune holds true for reading too, both standard notation and chords from a lead sheet. If you have to look at it, identify each note, and translate it to where the fingers go it's pretty hard to make music. Once you get proficient enough to not have to think about it, life will be much easier.
  15. Swimbob
    I think what Jeff is talking about even has a name. It's called economy of motion. If your fingers are already in position you won't have to move them as far and you will play faster.

    We all started the same way. We'd hit a note and open our hand, lifting our fingers way off the strings. While it may seem that it takes no time at all to place them back down there in reality it does. I have been struggling with this for four years now. We need to be practicing keeping our fingers close enough to the fretboard, without dampening strings, that they are in position at all times.

    Back to the struggle...
  16. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    Here's another recent observation. I'm an okay reader, but am trying really hard to dispense with the written music for the Matt Flinner class. Up til now, trying to learn a tune by ear, I used the music as kind of a crutch to get through the tricky parts. Now I'm just running that bit of the video over and over (and over and over - it doesn't sink in as quick as it did in younger years).

    Mostly I practice in the evening and then go to bed with the music running through my head. In the morning, as much I can still "play" all the way through in my head, note for note, I'll be able to play on my mandolin. After the whole thing is in my head, I can start working on speeding up. Anyway, it seems to me that if I cheat and look at the music, I don't get it as thoroughly as quickly.

    It's a pretty slow process at this point, similar in some ways but slower than how I studied in college years ago. I expect that if I keep at it, I'll be able to pick it up faster. In a way, it's a concrete example of why learning something new as you get older is good for your brain.

    (Ha ha, here's me analyzing how to get to a point of not analyzing)
  17. JeffLearman
    Bingo, Swimbob: "economy of motion." That's the point of practicing too fast (but of course, not for very long.) On guitar, one trick for that is the "one finger one fret" rule. Actually, just a guideline, which means there are times to break it but first learn to follow the rule by instinct. It'll be interesting to see how it works out on mando since, well, I don't have 6 fingers, at least, not the last time I looked. Another way to do it is to finger a chord and only move the fingers (mostly) on and off the string, using open strings a lot. I see Tony Rice do that (on guitar of course) and his hands barely move while he plays a pretty serious melody line. That probably doesn't work as well on Mando.

    Sue, I can't get anywhere unless it's in my head, and yeah, I go to sleep playing it on WJHR and wake up with it still playing. (W-Jeff's-Head-Radio, it's ALWAYS on, even though often it's only repeating the same 4 bars from some dumb song I don't even know. I think it shuts down when I sleep, but who knows.)

    Kudos for using both methods (reading and by ear.) I strongly urge you to keep doing that, and OK if you go through phases where you're focusing on just one.) I sure wish I could sight read! Maybe after I retire.

    In either case, it gets easier the more you do it, just like anything else that's not impossible, like Louise said. The sad part is that progress slows down after a while. I remember a college roommate's bandmate who was 25. I thought he was a decent guitarist but at the rate I'd been improving between 16 and 20 I figured by 25 I'd be way past him. I'm 64 and I never got there, probably not even half way there. Oh well! But the point is to enjoy it, and I have that part down. My excuse is that I'm really a piano player, right?
  18. SOMorris
    I totally agree Jeff, the the point is to enjoy it. I don't know about you and the other folks here, but I am not working towards a professional music career. I have already had a career, and am retired now. So, if it ain't fun, it ain't worth it!
  19. JeffLearman
    If I was a professional musician I wouldn't be able to afford my instruments. Heck, I couldn't afford to eat! A mediocre engineer can do a lot better than a mediocre musician.
  20. NDO
    A good way to make a small fortune playing music…

    Start with a large fortune, and quit your day job
  21. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    Not many 60+ y/o newbies are looking for a music career . For me, I just want to be play well enough to have fun not only by myself (the lone picker, Brad Laird calls us) but also with other folks at some point (in the not too distant future). Other than a few lapses of frustration and impatience, I have fun virtually every time I open a case. Once in awhile I have to repeat to myself that mantra "to sound like you've been playing ten years takes about 120 months".
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