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Slowing down (with purpose) when practicing

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by trxx, Aug 13, 2020.

  1. trxx

    trxx Tele-Afflicted

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    Something that probably everyone hears from a more experienced player or teacher early on when learning to play a riff or lick is to play it slowly at first and then gradually work up the tempo. I have seen beginners and more advanced players at guitar, drums, and bass struggle with making themselves do this, where the tendency is to fumble through the part over and over as the bits gradually come together to sort of fill in the blanks.

    I haven't been in practice mode for a long time until fairly recently, and it came to mind while practicing a riff why players do this (not only beginners). It's because the purpose for slowing down hasn't been spelled out enough to convince them of the benefit over the repeated fumble method. The purpose of slowing down is to make it clear in your mind first what the exact hand motions and sounds are of a riff or lick. Once you are able to think clearly through the motions and sounds as you are playing it and repeat them exactly, the brain starts to transition from thinking about each individual step in a riff or lick toward thinking in clusters and then toward automatically playing without thinking. Practicing something via the fumble method is more like a blur, where the steps are never really learned, but the thing being practiced *might* still come together given enough iterations.

    Anyway, just a thought that came to mind while practicing a riff, which brought to mind my younger self using the fumble method for learning riffs and licks, which further brought to mind a young nephew who is still using the fumble method on drums and guitar because I wasn't able to articulate well enough to convince him to slow down (with purpose). And a meta thought here is that the thinking first method is not just about learning the riff. It is also a logical process for breaking down a problem and practicing how to practice riffs and licks in general, where the fumble method is only about learning a specific riff or lick in the moment, the latter being more error prone due to never having thought clearly through the motions and sounds of a riff or lick repeatedly.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2020
  2. Deeve

    Deeve Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    repeated fumble method -
    Well, now I know the name of my practicing "technique" . . .
    :oops:
     
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  3. kennl

    kennl Tele-Afflicted

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    practicing slowly also involves positioning the fretting hand muscles / tendons for a longer period, which builds "muscle memory" for performing those movements
    as Jimmy Ponder told me "if you can't play it slow, you sure-as-hell can't play it fast"
     
  4. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    This is why I practice slowly ...
    The worst thing about 'fumbling through' is that many times when you eventually do think you've got it, you realize that you've got a mistake somewhere in there. If you're conscientious you'll set about learning it again. The catch is that now you have to unlearn the mistake and then relearn it correctly. And now you've just spent 3 times longer learning that lick.
     
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  5. 3-Chord-Genius

    3-Chord-Genius Poster Extraordinaire

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    Very good info here. I did not practice this way, and as a result, if I play anything fast it sounds like slop.
     
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  6. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Afflicted

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    This encapsulates about 4-5 years of guitar instruction (for me at least). It's too easy to want to play that song, passage, riff -- just like you hear (or envision) it. But, repeatedly playing it fast and wrong gets a player nowhere. Ironically, the 'goal line' that often *seems* to be far out of reach gradually becomes more and more possible when practice is done effectively and methodically. As my guitar teacher used to say, 'play it slow enough to play it right.. THEN, speed it up'. (And don't forget to revisit / analyze fingerings and movements to be sure they are correct as well.

    Another practice technique used often for classical guitar (and others) is to memorize the piece and be able to play it back 'air guitar' style (without the instrument in your hands). Doing so correctly ensures that the player a). has memorized the music and b). has worked out the fingerings, timing, transitions, etc. It's a good practice technique. I'd recommend giving it a try if you haven't yet.

    Great post.
    Great observations and advice for any lurking guitarists just starting out.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2020
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  7. dswo

    dswo Tele-Holic

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    I use an iPad app for this, AnyTune Pro. It can slow things down and keep the pitch constant, but at 50 and 60 percent of the original speed, the recording sounds grainy. It's less fun playing when that happens, but the alternative is worse. When you go faster than you can play correctly, you end up practicing mistakes. The groove of bad playing gets worn deeper. I'm not sure if that's worse than not practicing at all, but I don't want to spend my practice time getting better at playing mistakes, so I slow it down when I find myself fumbling.
     
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  8. MonkeyJefferson

    MonkeyJefferson Tele-Holic

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    Now that I am also taking this approach to my practice, I amazed how many things I just dogged before.
     
  9. Luthier Vandros

    Luthier Vandros Tele-Afflicted

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    You perform what you practice - mistakes included.
     
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  10. beninma

    beninma Friend of Leo's

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    I don't play to the original tracks very often which helps with this. If I'm not playing to the original track there's no issues around slowing it down or it not sounding good slowed down. I more often just use the looper + drum machine.

    I think you're dead on.

    In my case I have a teacher, and I get this explicitly emphasized all the time.

    It really works.

    I recently re-vistied Heads up by Freddie King. I had "learned" this a year or two ago but in a beginner sense, my tempo & timing were off.

    The whole point of revisiting it was to apply better time/rhythm to it.

    By starting slow I quickly realized I had "learned" it with some of the picking wrong. Wrong direction, poor alternate picking, etc.. correcting those mistakes helped a lot in keeping everything on the upbeat. Once I had it engrained in correctly that "auto pilot" took over and I was able to start raising the tempo while staying on the beat.
     
  11. JL_LI

    JL_LI Friend of Leo's

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    Playing finger style forced this on me. There's one song I've worked on recently where except for the solo, the guitar backs the vocal playing a repeating pattern of eighth note phrases. If I miss a string and pluck an adjacent one, it's usually still a note in the chord, but the song requires exactly repeating the four note patterns to sound the way I want it to. Good enough is not good enough. It's wrong, even if I'm the only one who notices it's wrong. It's difficult to practice this way when practicing accompanying myself singing, but it's necessary to work on the lyrics and accompaniment separately and bring them together only after I've learned the lyrics and brought the guitar accompaniment up to speed. It's called discipline and you can't learn without discipline. I found the same thing when I taught myself Travis picking. The fingers of my right hand just didn't want to go there until I slowed down and made them go there. That also required discipline. It's worth the effort and is sometimes the only way to learn something.
     
  12. lousy13

    lousy13 Tele-Meister

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    All good points. I have been consciously slowing down during practice time. It's amazing how my subconscious wants to go faster when i first sit down with the guitar. It's all a part of practicing with purpose.
     
  13. rockhound

    rockhound TDPRI Member Gold Supporter

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    Guilty of fumbling and am working hard at re-training myself to practice slow with a purpose. Back in the day one of my first guitar teachers told me to learn songs (and riffs) at the speed of the actual recordings, even if mistakes were made. His take was that if you practice slow, you tend to stop and start over, which you cannot do when playing live. I though it was good advice at the time. No longer play out so no need to keep fumbling.
     
  14. Pineears

    Pineears Tele-Afflicted

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    If you have practiced slow (relative to the intended BPM) and you can play it slow, you sure-as-hell can't play it fast. You will need to practice fast.

    I would say your start off practice speed should depend on your overall speed ability.
     
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  15. Peegoo

    Peegoo Poster Extraordinaire

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    Use.

    A.

    Metronome.


    If you've never played to a click or beep (at any speed) and you try it, you will think there's something wrong with the metronome. You couldn't be wronger.

    A metronome is the best way to learn to stay in the pocket, or play right behind or right ahead of the beat. It will make you a better player.

    And they're cheap!
     
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  16. boneyguy

    boneyguy Doctor of Teleocity

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    I also like 'no tempo practice'. I learned that years ago from the book 'The Principles For Correct Practice For Guitar'. It's really useful advice I think. At least it has been for me.

    This has a different purpose than just slowing down a piece we want to learn...that still incorporates tempo. 'No tempo' is used when we just can't get the 'choreography' of our fingers down...the fumbling...which may not have anything to do with how fast we're playing...it might just be that our nervous system/fingers haven't yet got clear instructions on how to execute a particular passage. Again, it's an enactment of the 'eating an elephant one piece at a time' idea. So we remove one musical element completely...tempo.The idea is to have no concern for keeping any sort of consistent tempo. You're simply focused on the mechanics of your finger movements. You could stay several seconds on one note/finger while setting up the most effortless transition to the next fingering/note. It's more about what's going on in your body that makes it that you fumble rather than what's going on in the music. And really, the problem is not with the music so, for me, it makes sense to really focus on body mechanics. It's kinda not easy to practice that way but it sure makes where the problems are very clear.
     
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  17. tfarny

    tfarny Friend of Leo's

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    The phenomenon that OP is referring to is called chunking by some educational psychologists. As we increase in skill at an activity - throwing a football, speaking Chinese, playing guitar - we can group larger and larger "chunks" of information or activity as a "unit" in memory as opposed to having to think about each individual piece. So the slowing down of a passage in music has analogues in many other disciplines. If anyone has ever learned a golf or tennis swing, you look at individual elements and then gradually put them together till the whole thing goes from conscious learning into procedural + muscle memory.

    An interesting technique from language learning that I sometimes apply to memorizing an instrumental passage is "backchaining" - you learn the last part first, maybe a couple measures at a time, then work towards the beginning. It's surprisingly effective.
     
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  18. Junkyard Dog

    Junkyard Dog Friend of Leo's

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    Using a metronome (drum machine is fine too), I will often start off practicing at 80% (for example) of the actual tempo. Then I just bump it up in increments of 5%. I may stay at any given tempo for hours/days before moving up...just depends on how well I am doing.
     
  19. trxx

    trxx Tele-Afflicted

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    I think it isn't absolutely cut and dry. When beginning to learn something new (especially the more alien it is) we have to do some amount of fumbling in breaking down the big problem into smaller more manageable problems. For example, working out a difficult fingering or a strange rhythm takes some back and forth of trying different approaches. But once it is clearly known what it is to be played and how, it doesn't make sense to me to keep fumbling until it hopefully comes together. The fumbling is due to too much lack of clarity still remaining. Being able to play something quicker is due to having good clarity in the mind of the various aspects of the thing being learned. In another way, say with a long line, your mind might be struggling to recall all the notes as you play the line. Via the thinking method, you would practice a chunk of the small line until you are comfortable recalling it, then add another chunk, play them together, add another chunk until you can think it all the way through, and then start practicing playing it as a whole. It's the same sort of approach as slowing down fast pieces. In other words, isolating the small difficulties in the bigger difficult thing to the degree that each aspect is more approachable. But with the fumbling method, you are constantly trying to recall the missing bits in your mind, getting hung up, stopping and restarting, because you don't really have it worked out in your mind. It's the same general issue with speed as it is with longer lines or strange rhythms, not knowing the thing well enough yet. But if we never see that lack of clarity is the issue, we keep fumbling and ignore the thinking and slowing down approach.

    Me telling my nephew to slow down a new drum beat really slow until he could play it wasn't really giving him a solid reason for slowing it down. It was just empty advice without purpose, as well meaning as it was. On his end, he probably took it as, just because, which he chose to ultimately ignore for lack of understanding. Hopefully I can re-approach him and better articulate why to slow down so that he sees the benefit of it and feels compelled to do it over constantly fumbling through new things.
     
  20. teletail

    teletail Tele-Afflicted

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    Although I do agree 100% with practicing slowly and working your way up to speed, there are a couple of caveats that I've picked up along the way.

    First, the picking that works at a slow speed doesn't always work at a fast speed, so now I often play it at speed a few times to work out the picking and or fingering, then working up slowly with the correct picking and fingering.

    Second, the feel is different at speed than when playing it slowly. I often incorporate something someone told me about years ago which is periodically playing it at tempo then slowly, then once at tempo, then slowly. It makes sure that you are practicing it with the correct feel.

    Just a few things that work for me, YMMV.
     
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