Expanded practice tip #3: Play slowly

In an earlier post, I outlined five tips for practicing. For this article, I’m going to elaborate on the third tip: play new material slowly and deliberately.

As a teacher, part of my job is to learn new material in the shortest period of time possible, so I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years. The most important of which is to play slowly and deliberately when learning something new. Its tempting to play that new scale or lick at full speed, but you’ll only end playing sloppily and working against your goal, which is to play it well. Here’s why.

Scale.Muscle memory is the name of the game. We’re trying to teach our hands to make a particular series of movements, so we force them to repeat those movements over and over again. Eventually, our hands memorize the movements and we’ve learned the lick, riff, scale, etc.. But here’s the thing: our hands are dumb. It doesn’t recognize the difference between repetitions full of mistakes and repetitions played properly. To our hands, they are no different. So every time we make a mistake, we confuse our hands, keeping us a step farther from reaching our goal. In order to make significant progress, most of our repetitions need to be good ones without mistakes. And to do that, we need to play slowly and deliberately. Keep your mind ahead of your hands and be sure you know exactly what the next note is and how to play it before you play it.

Imagine a scale, with a tray on either side of a balance point, like the scale of justice. Every time we play the riff properly, we put a marble on the “good” tray. Every time we make a mistake, we put a marble on the “bad” side. We want the scale to tip in our favor as quickly as possible by minimizing the mistakes and keeping most of the marbles on the “good” tray. Do that and you’ll learn new material faster than ever.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.

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