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Thread: Speed

  1. #1
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Practicing

    Hi, Everyone:

    The title of this post is a tad misleading, as this post is actually intended to be about playing clean and working to build speed as opposed to simply "practicing."

    As you can imagine, I've been playing my new Collings MT2 a whole lot since getting it almost two weeks ago, and I'm noticing my playing coming around to a more stable, more dexterous state. My hands are feeling a bit stronger and I'm playing a lot cleaner than I was prior to getting my MT2, when I wasn't playing as often.

    Just yesterday, I practiced the melody to Roanoke for a half hour, playing it about 30 times. I practiced with a metronome to steady the flow of notes and spent most of the 30 minutes playing it over and over at 90bpm, which is a comfortable pace for me right now. I bumped it up to 115bpm, then scaled down by 5bpm until I got back to 90, at which point I played it a few times at 90 again.

    It was a lot of time spent on Roanoke in one session, but I am tired of flubbing my way through it and have never doe more than play it a few times a day so I could steadily get better at it. Today, I dove right back in and realized how good it felt to play it again at 90bpm. So, I simply increased to 91 bpm and played it there for a dozen or so times before upping it to 116 and then down by fives until 91. It seems I was able to increase the bpm ever so slightly and not lose any cleanliness. Theoretically, I feel like I can up it a bpm every day until my floor to 100 and my ceiling to 125, which would be a baseline to maintain.

    I know it seems like some hair-splitting, but the goal isn't so much to play extraordinarily fast. It's to play clean and be able to push the pace if needed. So, I don't tend to try for big increases at a time when I'm in a rigorous practice regiment. My question is... how do you practice? How do you work on playing clean notes and building speed? I'm fine with drills and that kind of thing. They can get wearisome, but they support the other things we can do that are more inherently creative. I just want to experiment with how I practice so I can keep growing as a player.

    Thanks!

    P.S. I'm loving the Chris Baird fundraiser. :-)
    Last edited by Kevin Briggs; Sep-09-2019 at 1:49pm.

  2. #2
    Registered User Hendrik Ahrend's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speed

    At the risk of running in open doors, to my experience, one key element is staying relaxed and working at a useful right hand technique. Won't hurt to study your favorite mandolin players' right hand(s). Holding the pick in some sort of pincer grasp may be the most comfortable (at least for many beginners), but isn't necessarily the most practical for mandolin playing. The pick needs to wobble between your fingers and shouldn't be held very tight.
    Sometimes, trying hard (weren't a lot of us taught to try hard?) while practicing keeps us from staying relaxed. I remember times about 20 years ago, when I would watch TV, have a book next to me and doodle something like Roanoke - all at the same time. I believe there is some truth to the approach of "let it happen". (see T. Gallwey: The Inner Game of Tennis.)

    Enjoy the sound of your playing!

    Hendrik

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  4. #3

    Default Re: Speed

    The whole point for me is to be able to play something a 120 bpm, then decide it is more musical at 110. Working beyond the tempo that works best gives you a nice cushion to play with phrasing. The metronome is great for that. Your method seems fine to me.

    Your post reinforces my belief you should buy an instrument that inspires you, regardless of your ability.
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  6. #4
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speed

    Thanks for the replies. :-)

    I experimented with the loose pick grip tonight and loved it. I have been looking for some techniques to loosen up and that was a great tip. I also decided to shorten my strap a bit to simulate what it’s like to play while sitting down. It’s amazing what some basic tweaks will do. Practicing tonight was a breeze compared to the part few nights. My arms didn’t get as fatigued. The fast stuff I was doing was a little quieter, but smoother and cleaner.

    I’ll add, the tone on this mandolin is really something. It has all the volume, but it’s a really fine, subtext complex tone. It plays like nothing too. The action is biter, and it is a very light instrument. Just simply a joy to play.

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  8. #5

    Default Re: Speed

    A fun exercise is to play as fast as you can as quietly as you can. Not sure it accomplishes anything, but it's fun.
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  10. #6
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speed

    At least for me, I've found that the simple repetition -- if you're playing cleanly, of course -- does as much to build speed as pushing the timing. Once the tune is in your fingers, and you can play it cleanly without thinking much about it, you can find yourself playing it faster especially when you're following someone else. And the cleaner you can play it, the more fun it is to play, and the more fun it is, the more you play it, and the more you play it, the faster you can play it. ymmv, of course
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  12. #7
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speed

    I've always used Randi's method above, just simple repetition. The speed will gradually increase at the pace my fingers "want" to do it, instead of trying to force it.

    Playing to the pace of a metronome and gradually increasing the tempo may get you there a little bit sooner, but repetition is more comfortable, more fun (for me anyway), and it avoids the risk of sloppy playing while trying to match a metronome tempo you're not ready for. A focus on clean playing and repetition has always gotten me where I wanted to be for tempo.

    Something that really helps with the "repetition method" is having the target tempos internalized, so you don't think about them and just head there naturally. In the Scottish/Irish trad music I play, the tempos are designed for dancing so they're generally within a certain range of beats per minute, like 110-112 bpm (counted as 2/2) for a reel. If you listen to enough music in whatever style you play, you'll internalize these tempos and gradually get there as you practice with repetition. You'll know where you need to end up, without any outside reference. It will just start to feel right when the music comes alive.

  13. #8
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speed

    Speed kills!
    Drive carefully.
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

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  15. #9

    Default Re: Speed

    Clean, steady tremolo first, think in fours -it’ll smooth out string changes, good luck.

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  17. #10
    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speed

    Quote Originally Posted by atsunrise View Post
    Clean, steady tremolo first, think in fours -itíll smooth out string changes, good luck.
    That video may be useful for some styles of music, but I absolutely disagree with what she's saying here in the introduction:

    "Tremolos are important in a whole bunch of mandolin styles but even if you don't play in a lot of styles that use tremolo, the tremolo technique that you use, is really essential to be able to play at faster speeds."

    No, I disagree. That may be useful for Bluegrass but it has no application to the music I play -- Scottish and Irish trad. Or maybe some other styles like Blues, Jazz, or many other "ethnic" styles that aren't based on Americana string band music.

    That kind of steady alternate picking is anathema to expression once you start throwing in pull-offs, hammer-ons, and "treble" ornaments so you sound like you're playing something like Irish and Scottish trad music the way it should sound. Building speed in this style doesn't involve any kind of "tremolo" study. Especially when so much of the music isn't in straight-ahead 4/4 but other rhythms like jigs, slip jigs, hornpipes and strathspeys. And then you have to throw in ornaments on top of that, like "trebles" or brief bursts of 16th notes in a strathspey.

    It's still a good video for those working on styles that actually do use tremolo as a basis of the style, but it's not universal. We don't all play Bluegrass here.

  18. #11
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speed

    Quote Originally Posted by foldedpath View Post
    That video may be useful for some styles of music, but I absolutely disagree with what she's saying here in the introduction:

    "Tremolos are important in a whole bunch of mandolin styles but even if you don't play in a lot of styles that use tremolo, the tremolo technique that you use, is really essential to be able to play at faster speeds."
    I appreciate your comments, and agree she is making a sweeping generalization. It's also her video, so if what she's saying is her experience and she feels it's helpful, it's really her prerogative. it's ours to decide if we want to watch, lol.

    I think the point she's making is accurate, albeit quite complex. She seems to be saying it's useful to learn how to play tremolo because it will help us with speeds faster than 100bpm. Her reasoning is she changes her right hand technique when she gets above 100bpm, and the connection to tremolo seems to be the change she makes in her right hand technique at higher speeds is akin to her right hand technique during tremolo. That's what I gather, anyway. She furthers her reasoning suggesting practicing tremolo is helpful for building speed whether the style you play incorporates it or not.

    I like her reasoning. For better or worse, my core practice resource is Steve Kauffman's 4-Hour Bluegrass Workout. I know the arrangements are vanilla. I know it's a little hokey, but he offers simple melodies and jam tracks on 50 fiddle tunes, and I can play them at slower and faster speeds. It's helped build my repertoire and helped me play clean, even if it's mind-numbing sometimes because here I go I again through his super simple "Alabama Jubilee." I also use a metronome for other songs, and I play "Roanoke" and "Big Mon" quite a bit. They are perpetually challenging for me. I don't know why. Maybe it's the shape of my hand and fingers, maybe it's the versions I'm learning, maybe I need to work on my technique, or maybe they're just hard. I also never play those songs, or, currently, any fiddle tunes when I play with friends or play gigs. I'd like to, but for now it's all just practice material that translates very well into what I'm playing when I play with others. My hands are more dexterous and strong.

    So, I think she's suggesting practicing tremolo can be like that. Even if we're not playing it in our styles of music, it can be helpful to practice and work on because it translates well into fundamental techniques we use regardless of the style we are playing.
    Last edited by Kevin Briggs; Sep-12-2019 at 9:05am. Reason: Typos like crazy!

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  20. #12

    Default Re: Speed

    With all due respect to contrary opinions expressed here, I think that atsunrise’s tremelo video is dead-on. It recognizes that we tend to increase right-hand speed not linearly but by doubling (or tripling speed) picking speed, and that using tremelo technique helps with the all-important string switching. I have come around to this view by using fast gypsy jazz chording as a way to increase my speed at playing scales. In my experience, the method she describes gets right to the heart of the hurdles we all face. I also think it is quite independent of genre—it works for jazz and Bach and bluegrass all equally well, any music that requires speed, plus it enhances finesse and expression at slower note speeds and in chording. I give it an A+. —Richard

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  22. #13
    Registered User J.C. Bryant's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speed

    Just a comment. I have noticed in myself that when I play with the most speed it catches me by surprise. That means to me, that the ability to play fast is a product of being unaware and relaxed. I believe trying harder does not enhance ones ability to play fast. I sometimes believe that I just do not have the "fast twitch" muscles. But, I really believe, it is more an issue of knowing the material, developing muscle memory and just letting it go with my concentration being on the sounds coming out of the mandolin rather that what I'm doing, how fast I'm playing. Just a thought.

    PS I also like the video. But, with it all, being relaxed matters the most ( I think)

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  24. #14
    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speed

    I agree with that statement, I always play best when I'm almost asleep. I can play reasonably fast, and it's always surprising when I play super fast and as soon as I notice, frequently it slows me down. I personally do not believe in "fast twitch muscles". I know they exist, I apparently have them, I can do a drum roll with my thumb and pinky on one hand, but they do nothing to help you play mandolin (or any other instrument except maybe drums or vibrato) that's cuz your picking hand has to move farther than "fast twitch" muscles can go. If you fast twitch your picking hand, you won't hit any strings.
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  25. #15
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speed

    I appreciate all the input and love this discussion. :-)

    I agree that relaxing is key to playing fast and loose. The opposite is to be all wound up and rigid, like concrete or something. However, I do think practicing for clarity and speed is possible, especially clarity. Right now, I'm doing well with "Roanoke' at 92-97 bpm, sometimes pretty well a little over 100, and typically feeling great below 90. So, I'll push it up to 117 or so, which seems to be my absolutely ceiling (today) before things fall apart. I'll pay it there about two times, then scale down to 112, 107, 102, 97, and then 92, playing it about two times everywhere except for 92. I play it about 20 times there. It takes a while for sure! What I notice is the faster speeds get easier, and I am gliding right through the slower speeds. So, I'm inching up the faster speeds by barely 1 bpm per day. It's like working out, you can see improvements if you work at it.

    Now, with all of this said, that regiment is when I am alone, usually playing to a metronome. Lately, with new mandolin high, I've been doing about and hour and a half of that kind of playing each day, and then I just jam the rest of the time, playing whatever. it's usually slow stuff, not "songs," where I'm exploring the tone of my instrument, especially after a good 90 minutes or so of some heavy duty picking. It's a lot more fun than what I do prior, which are essentially glorified drills. Tomorrow night, I'll play with some friends, and it's reggae/rock music, in which the mandolin has a role. That's all completely different. There's no speed involved, but it's where all the practicing pays off. I hope to be able to work my way around the mandolin fairly easily thanks to all of the heavy lifting I've been doing while practicing.

  26. #16

    Default Re: Speed

    A while back I saw her vid and worked non stop of tremolo. I used ear plugs.
    It was tremolo on scales, tremolo on arpeggios, FFcP tremolo, double stop tremolos, chord tremolos, tremolo for breakfast, lunch and in my sleep. Four days.

    Very hard work. In the evenings it was gentle tremolo (neighbors).

    Anyway.
    On the morning of the four day I was a bit sick of doing tremolos.
    So I played a couple of Irish tunes and found that I could sort of see 4 and six note patterns before I was going to play them. Even at speed I wasn’t in a rush because I only had to think about the beginning of each group of notes. I was playing VERY clean (for me) but not that much faster.


    Then I went back to tremolo and over about an hour I got it. Speed on the tunes went up 20% just like that! ...well, after all the work. Four days. Just like that.
    And playing was a LOT more fun too, a lot of the fun came from having enough thinking space to put in accents, emphasis on the third beat etc. Also, because it’s horribly metronome-intensive your sense of timing dramatically improves.

    I think the tremolo helps you to learn how to start a series of notes (cf. or Google: ‘chunking’) and then leave your fingers to finish while you think of the next series.
    Another big one is having finger placement DIRECTLY over the frets, no wasting time thinking, ‘do I move the pinky across a bit?’ etc.

    Here’s another vid, there’s another good one too, but I cant find it at the moment. And finally don't forget, EVERYONE can get there.

  27. #17

    Default Re: Speed

    Check out "Cracking the Code" (https://troygrady.com/) for some really good right hand tips. It's mostly guitar stuff, but he does have a mando video. What I learned from this site is that just gradually speeding up bad technique doesn't work. Picking fast is a problem in physics and physiology--it has to be approached methodically.

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  29. #18
    Registered User Kevin Briggs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Speed

    Ooooo. That looks pretty dang sweet. Can't wait to check it out.

    More on the journey today... Using "Roanoke" as my independent variable, I altered the dependent variables in the experiment:

    93 bpm... 10x
    118 bpm... 2x
    113 bpm... 2x
    108 bpm... 2x
    103 bpm... 3x
    98 bpm... 5x
    93 bpm... 10x

    I then put the mandolin down, did some things around the house, and picked it back up to play "Roanoke" without a metronome. I played it quite slow, quite naturally, and it was a joy. Both my left and right hands felt great. I've also noticed I'm starting to do this thing where I'll move my arm and wrist around a bit to play different strings. It's easing things up, and has developed spontaneously. It's helpful for sure and is not something I did prior to all of this recent practicing.

    Tonight, I get to play music with some friends ad am really looking forward to getting out of my basement to play with other humans.

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