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Thread: gaining speed advice

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    Default gaining speed advice

    I have been finding it very frustrating trying to increase my speed on my repertoire tunes. Unlike learning a new tune where I can see very significant progress after a few practice sessions, its very discouraging putting lots of hours into increasing the speed of my playing with small, incremental results. I have been using the approach of using a metronome and increasing my speed 2 bpm for every pass. I keep going until I start making mistakes. Should I try to press on beyond that? Looking for advice on making faster progress

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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    You’ll get as many opinions as you do replies so here’s mine. I do several things…playing folded scales (g,a,b,g…a,b,c,a…etc) advancing the metronome a beat or two, cranking it up 10 beats and trying to hang on, taking a familiar song and playing it fast, taking an unfamiliar song and playing it fast all with varying results.

    I hope to get back to playing with others as that pushes me out of my comfort zone, until then the one thing that has helped me the most is to play along with an album…I get practice figuring out the key, listening to chord changes, and trying a break myself - which usually is pretty disastrous but fun anyway. It’s always faster than I can handle.

    In the moment it’s pretty frustrating and seems hopeless but when i look back I see that over time I have sped up considerably.
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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    This video by fiddle player Kevin Burke has helpful tips on building speed - while he plays irish trad music the advice would be applicable to any genre of music that you wish to build speed in. The key thing he touches on is that the playing mechanics used to play fast differ from the ones we've developed when playing slowly/moderately and if we aren't aware of that and don't consciously alter them then things like incrementally increasing the speed of the metronome won't help. I've applied his advice to my mandolin, tenor banjo and tenor guitar playing and find it very effective. It also resonated with me because it's very similar to what my drum instructor used to tell me when I was taking jazz drumming lessons years ago - namely that to play faster you need to eliminate excess motion, minimising your movements because any excess motion when lifting a finger off the string and moving to the next note means it'll take that wee bit longer to fret that next note. Similarly excess pick travel when you hit a string on a downstroke means that it'll take that wee bit longer to move back and hit the upstroke. Anyways, I found this advice helpful:

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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    scales and classical music,

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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    for me, it's time on task and playing consistently with better players than I am. You really need to put in the time to learn a tune so thoroughly your fingers do all the work and you can disengage your mind. I only wish there were shortcuts!
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    For me it's playing time. Lots of it. If a tune is giving me a problem, I put it aside, and come back later. The more you "try" the harder it gets. You gotta be relaxed and have complete knowledge of the tune you want to do fast. Then you'll have some fun.

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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    Try chunking, 4,6 or 8 note patterns played very fast but ten second gap between each pattern. (Flamenco style, aggressive, explosive movements. See Sierra Hull).
    Post a vid here of your right hand and then left hand, each one needs work, and it’s often not intuitive.
    Try pushing and pulling the pick instead of swinging it. Really fine movements, tremolo with the pick very near the string pair at all times. Fret fingers almost touching the point of impact. Stretching exercises.

    Play rock type music but everything with the pick on upbeat, get the upbeat movements smooth graceful and fluid.

    Here’s another REALLY good one: learn a whole tune just in picking/string pattern. Use fret hand to bar at the seventh fret. Don’t even look at the fret hand. Change to fifth fret to prevent yourself from learning the tune harmonics by ear, change tune.

    The notes: DAGEF is not played D-A-G-E-F it’s just one movement- to be remembered as one movement.

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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    +1 Jill, absolutely my experience as I've been working at upping my speed. It's critical to learn good habits when starting out, but there's also excess stuff you bring along from the "slower you" as tempos increase. Flying fingers, extra pick motion, tension and ...

    The more I work at playing faster, the more cruft I'm having to shed. It's a good Zen exercise in a way.

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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    I play along with a lot of music that I like. My goal is always to keep up with the original artist. When she or he is going faster than I am capable of mirroring, I tend to try and hit every other note, or whichever note is most pronounced. That way, I am not getting behind the tempo even though some of the notes are not being hit. Over time, I work to include those missing notes as I race along. It works well for me and over time I can generally nail all the original notes. Actually, as I build confidence and speed, I sometimes find myself adding additional grace notes in those fast runs, just because it is fun.
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    The Japanese have a saying, “hurry up slowly” and this can easily apply to the mandolin. Practice slowly and concentrate on making each note perfect. Definitely use a metronome for practice and do NOT practice at a speed that is just too much for you. You do NOT want to practice your mistakes. If they get imbedded in your muscle memory, you may never fully get rid of them. What is that speed? It’s the one that you can play that tune wit NO mistakes. If that is at a grindingly slow pace, so be it. Your choice EVERY TIME is, play it correctly or play it fast. What kind of player do you want to be seen as?
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    While you want to spend most of your practice time at a speed you can handle, you must also periodically set the metronome to as high as you can manage and then even faster. As mentioned above, you need to develop efficient finger movements, and practicing only at slow speeds won't eliminate excess motions. With a little playing too fast, when you slow down again you'll find that you can actually play better because your fingers have (hopefully) learned more efficient movements.

    Also, pay attention to what your fingers are doing, and eliminate excess. Find optimizations.

    And most of all, don't lift a finger that doesn't need to be lifted (e.g., when playing a scale up, don't lift fingers behind the top fretted finger. Leave them down. Lift them only when they need to start moving to a new position on another string.

    Likewise, avoid lifting fingers very high, and minimize hand movement. Don't go too far on this, of course, movements should be fluid and not stiff, and too much focus on minimizing movement can lead to stiffness if you're not careful.

    I seem to be contradicting JiminRussia above, despite the fact that what he says is very important. But it's not the only factor. Just as you don't want to spend a lot of time practicing mistakes, you also don't want to spend all your time practicing inefficient movements. So, you have to do contradictory things, being aware of the dangers of both. Remember that the too-fast playing is to LEARN but not to PRACTICE. You don't want to spend much time there!

    So, what I do for a typical practice session is start out at a comfortable pace, and then advance the metronome by say 5%, play until I can keep up, increase by 5% again, etc., until I hit a speed where I simply can't hit some of the phrases. Then I go back to the comfortable pace and practice for the bulk of my session time. Every few sessions, I back off to 5% faster than I started to see if I can still play cleanly at that speed. If so, that's the new comfortable pace.

    One other tip I've noticed. Once I've learned a tune, multiple short sessions a day seems to be more helpful than one long session.

    Disclaimer: these are words from someone who can't play very fast, so take them with a grain of salt. But given my general clumsiness I think I'm actually pretty quick, and even at 64 I keep getting faster. Lately I've been working on Tony Rice's Manzanita, and I currently top out around 75% of his speed. I am confident that careful, limited use of playing too fast helps me build speed faster, on guitar and mando as well as piano.

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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    A lot of good advise here, but not mentioned. I found when I was starting out and getting up to speed it was not clean. The pick attack must correspond exactly with the left hand. If I remember I could pick faster than I could fret. I needed to slow the faster one to match the slower one. Once that was done and practiced I could play much faster, cleaner. That was decades ago, but I think it was the most important thing I remember doing was matching the speed of both hands.
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    The key thing he touches on is that the playing mechanics used to play fast differ from the ones we've developed when playing slowly/moderately and if we aren't aware of that and don't consciously alter them then things like incrementally increasing the speed of the metronome won't help.
    I think this is even more true for mandolin. Based on my experience anyway. And I only play mandolin so what do I know.

    So take a mandolin's signature technique - tremolo. So tremolo is not just going back and forth across the string quickly. It feels like a different mental physical aural relationship. I can't gradually accelerate into tremolo. There is a discontinuity where I go into tremolo mode: I stop concentrating on picking D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U and go it concentrating on the fluid connected tone.

    Continuing the picture - I practice a lot of scales, etudes, exercises, things whose purpose is less musical and more aerobic. (It would not be wrong to call me a nerd.) So here is the important part - I took something I knew well, like an ascending G major scale. And I pushed it up into "tremolo mode" where I stopped thinking about the picking of each note and concentrated on synchronizing the fingers of my left hand with the tremolo. Frequing magic.

    So then I went to the next step and picked some fiddle tunes I knew real well, and did the same thing, where instead of thinking about picking cleanly and getting every note, I concentrated on synchronizing my left hand so that the fingerings matched the tremolo generator my hand had become. Frequing magic.

    Notice this matches everyone's advice in that I can only do this for a series of notes my left hand knows really really well. To get there is just practice. But once there, putting it into speed is a deliberate tremolo mode exercise.

    HUGE great big caveot: I don't like playing fast, I think for many tunes it robs the musicality. And the notice you may get is often not what you want. I want to hear how you think the tune I played is such a beautiful, moving tune. Not that I broke the land speed record and blew yer hair back.

    That said, some tunes need to be played fast, obviously, and in a performance there needs to be at least one fast tune so the audience knows you have chops; and knows that you are playing slow and beautiful as a choice, not because its all you can do. So this technique of mine helps me get there.

    I cannot improvise fast, I cannot sight read fast, I cannot play along on a new tune fast, but if I know specifically and completely what notes to play in a tune or passage or exercise, if my left hand knows it, I can ram it up to tremolo like speeds, often for no apparent reason.

    Also, just as two sailboats on the same lake is a race, there is that human competitive aspect, where leaving them in the dust becomes important. My little trick has helped me with that too, though at such moments it might have been better for me to just walk away.
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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    Yes Pops that reminds me that coordination of the two hands is extremely important. For me it’s often the fret hand that needs more work (on rhythm and timing).
    I plug in my electric mando and with the metronome I practice finger tapping on the fret board. Because it’s electric I don’t have to use a distracting pick hand. I’m always surprised at how bad my rhythm sounds when it’s set by the fret hand.
    Last edited by Simon DS; Apr-22-2022 at 12:52pm.

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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    As a guitar guy who came to mando late, I find that hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides not only give extra notes to each pluck but, used strategically, can add expression.

    They don't lend themselves as easily to mando as to guitar, but they can still be handy.
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    I agree Charlie, I’m saying that you can play an electric mandolin without a pick, none at all. This forces you to make the fretting hand a lot more regular in it’s movement because all the fingers are hammering down on the beat of the metronome. For me at least it’s the irregular movement in the fret hand that trips me up as tempo increases.
    And I think there is this irregular movement because it’s difficult to remember that, for example, if you jump over from string three to string one then it’s a greater distance travelled so the move will have to be faster to keep the rhythm smooth. Well, faster or you’ll have to ‘push’ into the string to save time, instead of swinging which wastes time.

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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    Quote Originally Posted by DaveGinNJ View Post
    I have been finding it very frustrating trying to increase my speed on my repertoire tunes.
    My project for the last few years is to learn to play irish reels at 120 bpm on mandolin, tenor guitar and octave mandolin. I am sitting
    between 100 and 110 bpm right now.

    What I discovered:
    - it is physically difficult, you have to move the pick real fast and finger the strings real quick, with significant physical effort. developing the strength takes time.
    - right hand technique and left hand technique has to be changed (I would not say "improved". "changed" is a better description). there is teachers who specialize on this, Emory Lester, Sharon Gilchrist, others.
    - I have to hear, interpret and play tunes differently. Listen for common session tunes played by mandolinists at Contra Dances (120 bpm) and it becomes quite obvious what needs to happen. For one thing, tunes "compress" and there is less space for swinging stuff.
    - a super loud metronome is a must, a drum machine programmed with jig and reel grooves is useful (I use "hydrogen").
    - oh, yea, last thing, try to catch a class on irish jig and reel grooves from Nataly Haas and Joy Adams (Fiddle Hell regulars). They teach on cello, but!

    Good luck on your journey.

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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    Once you can play up to speed you can put in subtlety's easily. We play dances very fast, that's what the dancers want, and we can do syncopated tunes keeping the feel nicely. I think they can sound better slower so it's easier for a listener to hear, but it's there. Getting the tune so you don't have to think about it, just play it helps lots for playing fast.
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    Thanks for all the input. I was hoping for a magic formula that would make a huge immediate impact but as I expected that doesn't exist. I definitely feel that my fretting hand is the limitation. When playing I don't feel I am lifting my fingers off the strings that much, but a video told a different story. I am sometimes lifting off the string 1/2 inch or more at times. I am not sure how to "fix" this. Perhaps buy playing slow and concentrating on minimizing finger movement? Otherwise I guess I will keep slogging away by making small, incremental increases in speed

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    Quote Originally Posted by DaveGinNJ View Post
    Thanks for all the input. I was hoping for a magic formula that would make a huge immediate impact but as I expected that doesn't exist. I definitely feel that my fretting hand is the limitation. When playing I don't feel I am lifting my fingers off the strings that much, but a video told a different story. I am sometimes lifting off the string 1/2 inch or more at times. I am not sure how to "fix" this. Perhaps buy playing slow and concentrating on minimizing finger movement? Otherwise I guess I will keep slogging away by making small, incremental increases in speed
    Something to keep in mind is that if "small incremental increases in speed" haven't been working for you to date then just keeping slogging away at them isn't likely to help in and of itself - we often are told to keep "plugging away" at something and that we'll progress eventually as a result, but in actual fact if we're not seeing improvement and have been taking that approach for awhile then it's a clear signal that we need to change something else. Rather than trying to work on playing a whole tune with more minimal fretting hand movement, start out working on a few notes at a time of a tune - that way you can embed the new behaviour strongly before moving on to the next couple of notes etc. etc. Figuring out things like parts of the tune where you can leave fingers down on the fretboard rather than raising them unnecessarily takes a wee bit of thinking through and then takes repetition to get it to be what you automatically go to when playing but it's very worth it for the improvement in economy of motion (which helps make speed easier) and better tone as well.
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    This is going to be a divisive topic. Obviously there is the standard just chip away at it like you've been doing. Repetition is ultimately the key, but I've found and been taught some things that I think help. Once you hit a wall so to speak, try playing it as loud as you can. Not that you'd ever play it that way, but sometimes you may find that it's easier when you play it normally. I learned that from BB Bowness. And probably the more controversial opinion is that it's not wrong to push beyond how fast you can play it perfectly. Play it past what you're comfortable with. Don't repeat it to the point of it becoming engrained, but if you really push it, when you go back down in tempo, it feels much more comfortable even if it's your maximum speed. That's my 2 cents, and it isn't even worth that.

  31. #23
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    A good clean tremolo will help a lot (even if you don’t really use it much while playing, it’s a must-have technique).


    https://youtu.be/XxvD41asKCY

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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    When you’re practicing for speed are you playing relaxed or are you getting tense? Do you remind yourself from time to time to relax or, if you’re already tense, are you willing to take a break? Are you even aware while you’re playing that you’re tightening up? Matt Flinner often reminds his workshop students to relax because he knows how effective that is for clean, smooth and rapid playing. In one way or another all my past music teachers (and the more results oriented skills coaches) have delivered the same message: Speed doesn’t come from strength or endurance.
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    Default Re: gaining speed advice

    Quote Originally Posted by Kenny View Post
    When you’re practicing for speed are you playing relaxed or are you getting tense? Do you remind yourself from time to time to relax or, if you’re already tense, are you willing to take a break? Are you even aware while you’re playing that you’re tightening up? Matt Flinner often reminds his workshop students to relax because he knows how effective that is for clean, smooth and rapid playing. In one way or another all my past music teachers (and the more results oriented skills coaches) have delivered the same message: Speed doesn’t come from strength or endurance.
    Kenny nailed it, as well as plenty of other excellent advice.
    What works for some does not necessarily always apply.
    I personally spend a bit of 'warm up time' if you will, on scales, not particularly fast. Being a lefty, my right hand is well versed in its role but playing (no pun intended) nice with my left hand is not always the case. Therein lies my practice goal with the scale exercises. I pretty much ignore my fret hand and put the focus on pick attack with a long term goal of clear notes, at the same volume, at the same speed. Not sure who said it, but the old adage 'if you can play it right 10 times slowly, the speed with come on its own. Practice DOES NOT MAKE PERFECT! Perfect practice makes perfect, not something I am close to by any stretch, but the clarity of the notes means more (to me) than how fast I can go. Only my opinion...

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