There's a great and underused practice strategy that's been coming up a lot in my lessons lately. And it's something that the majority of my students benefit from - if and when they can make themselves follow the advice.
You see, this particular strategy falls in the category of great advice that’s almost impossible to follow.
And a lot of students I encounter who are studying jazz either don't know this strategy or they ignore it as obvious or “just for beginners” advice.
I know from my own experience that I heard this piece of advice countless times before I actually followed it. You read it in books, hear it at clinics and workshops, and get told to do it in your private lessons
The advice or strategy is this:
Practice slowly. Painfully slowly.
I remember hearing Mark Whitfield talk about this in a clinic. I was excited because Mark is a great player and was a hero of mine.
So I went back to the practice room and I tried it.
But after about a minute of practicing my scales as slow as I possibly could, I thought - “I don't have time for this. I need to get through these scales faster.” And I stopped practicing this way.
Years later, I actually tried it for real. I practiced as slowly as I could stand it for a few weeks. And it made a huge difference in my guitar playing almost overnight.
Here's how it helps:
Make better note choices for improvisation.
When you slow down, you take away the “time pressure” of playing jazz guitar.
We’re always told to play with a metronome to work on our time, and that's great advice.
But sometimes you end up:
Both of these can limit your abilities going forward (even though it’s very common and accepted musical advice).
When you slow down, you can buy yourself time to think and make more conscious choices about what your next note will be - rather than letting your muscle memory do it for you.
Probably 95% of the students I encounter who feel like they're stuck playing the same stuff over and over again… are the ones who always try to put things in time immediately.
And usually, that time is faster than they can actually think about what they are going to play.
If you can't think about what your next note is… you're not going to be able to come up with anything new to play.
Speaking of muscle memory...
Build New Motor Skills
The muscle memory you've already built into your playing isn't necessarily bad.
It helps you play without thinking, which is something that's important when you want to be able to play by ear (even a little bit).
But chances are if the muscle memory you already have was just the result of the very first thing you figured out how to do to get yourself through a set of challenging chord changes.
And so now, when you see that set of chord changes, your old muscle memory lick is all that can come out, because that's what your hand can do without you thinking about it.
Playing slow however, allows you to take your time and build new patterns that might not otherwise occur to you to play over those same difficult chord changes.
And this way, playing slowly can actually help you generate new vocabulary without having to memorize tons of licks or try and reinvent the wheel.
Fix Your Technique
Slowing down also lets you pay attention to what your hands are doing.
Because your mind doesn't focus on counting or getting to the next chord change or what note you're going to play necessarily… you're able to pay attention to other areas of your playing that you probably haven't thought much about since you were a total beginner.
I know for myself that once I slowed down, I found a hiccup in my picking technique that none of my teachers over the years had ever been able to catch.
And this particular hiccup had probably been there for decades.
The only reason I was able to catch it and fix it… was by going super, painfully slow.
Now, I had great teachers over the years and they all gave me valuable pieces of advice that helped me - but this little thing of going slow and paying attention to my technique is what really let me catch an issue that no one else had been able to discover.
Improve Your Speed
This probably sounds like the opposite of what should happen when you start playing slowly, but it really does work.
When you slow down, it lets your fingers learn that whatever pattern you are playing is easy for you.
You're able to do things in a relaxed way and your hands won’t ever get the impression that they're doing something difficult.
When your fingers are able to learn patterns in a relaxed way rather than an intense way (which is what happens when you're constantly pushing yourself to go faster), our overall speed is actually going to improve even though you're practicing playing as slowly as you can.
It seems like the opposite should be true, but it works.
Wrapping It Up
The best way for you to improve your jazz guitar playing fast… is to practice slowly.
Try practicing as slowly as you can stand it for a little while at the beginning of each practice session. It can be a great way to get warmed up, too.
Practicing slowly will help you work out better note choices and improvisation.
It will allow you to find and eliminate technical issues in your playing that would otherwise go undiscovered, develop new vocabulary, and it’s actually going to let you play faster in the long run.
All by practicing slowly.
Give slow practice a try for a week or two. You don't need to do it the whole time - just spend a few minutes of each practice session practicing as slowly as you can.
It's going to transform your playing.
If you're ready to go deeper with your Jazz Guitar Practice and get specific advice that will help you improve your skills, one on one private lessons are the best way to start making real progress.
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