‘If it sounds like music, you aren’t doing it right.” I recall that from a magazine story about a serious summer music camp for serious high school orchestral musicians. During the summer, they would learn and perform challenging pieces that significantly raised their playing levels. The idea was: Take your early practice slowly to build correct muscle memory; if your early practice sounds anything like the piece is supposed to sound, you are playing too fast.
I’ve heard the master bluegrass guitar player, Doc Watson, on video say something similar. He was talking about learning the song, “Deep River Blues”. He was demonstrating how he played the simple alternating bass line, muffled, and he said that he’d practiced that for 10 years before he added the melody. T E N years.
To raise up my flatpicking skills, I’ve started learning Blackberry Rag, a piece that Doc played on his “Good Deal! Doc Watson in Nashville” album. If you rated the most difficult bluegrass lead guitar flatpicking as a 10, Blackberry Rag is probably a 5 or a 6. On that same scale, I’m probably a 2 or 3.
On the recording, Doc plays Blackberry Rag at 127 beats a minute… quite lively. I’m starting myself out at 55 beats per minute and I’ve had two thoughts about that:
One: Although I’m using a metronome to maintain that 55 beat speed, I’m prone to rushing ahead of the metronome. 55 is frustrating. I want it to sound like music NOW. But, when I rush ahead, I make mistakes that defeat the purpose of building perfect muscle memory. Also frustrating.
Two: After I’ve practiced for a bit, I record and listen to what I’ve practiced. Funny thing: It always sounds better in my head while I’m playing than it does when I’m listening to the recording.
Slow role play, anyone? I’d be happy to record it.
Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees through better sales strategies and execution. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.
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