If you want to be free to play anything on your instrument, perfect your current ability, or you just want to impress your neighbour, we all know the importance of a good technique.
Most musicians get stuck at a certain point, where the playing ability they wish they had, seems unreachable.
The good news; there is a shortcut. The bad news; it’s difficult, frustrating and often painful. But if you are willing enough, you will grow to like every last tiring part it.
The reason why the approach is called a shrotcut, is because it focuses on getting better in the shortest possible time. These tips will not save you from hard work, but the opposite. The idea is to achieve maximum possible progress in strength, speed and control of movement, in minimum time, with maximum effort.
Before attempting any hard practice, you should be warmed up. You can do this just by playing your instrument for a while. At least 15 minutes, to wake up the muscles and get the blood flowing.
This concept is based on the repetition of small chunks. These are to be played in the most optimal way the player knows, »the right way to play it«. If you are unsure about your technique, ask a good teacher first.
Pick a small playing segment, like a lick, thrill or rudiment. If you are working on a passage or a fill, take out only the part that is the most difficult. Make the segment as small as possible and repeatable. It should be something you can play in a loop with no brake inbetween.
Now play it a few times slowly, in a loop. Observe, what muscles are you using? What are the optimal movements? Make these movements even bigger, a bit silly looking even, this is what you are going for. These full and correct movements are what we would also call wide movements.
Now try playing it with a speed way above your current ability. Observe what happens, what muscles are you using now? What parts of the body become tense? You will avoid these unneccessary tensions and wrong movements in practice at all cost.
Your body should be relaxed. You are to use only, and only, the muscles used with the correct technique.
BITTER SWEET SPOT
Start playing the chunk again. Play it with maximum strength and wide movements, clearly and accurately, at a normal doable speed. Start increasing the speed, until you reach your maximum. You know you are on your maximum, when you can’t go any faster, and you can’t stay at the maximum speed for long, before loosing perfect accuracy. This is the edge of your current ability.
When you reach it, try staying there for as long as possible! Stay accurate and strong in your movement. Your speed will naturally decrease, as you stay accurate and strong. If you start being sloppy, decrease speed! Do not sacrifice your accuracy to stay at the current speed! On the opposite, if it seems you could stay at your maximum speed for long, apply more strength. Strength is the amount of pressure applied to a movement. For example, how hard you fret your left hand on the guitar or violin when doing a thrill, or how hard you hit the snare drum.
Because you are at your maximum, you won’t be able to stay at full speed with full strength for long. Your speed will decrease, until you aren’t able to repeat a single chunk any more. It should feel uncofortable, and relatively painful. I wouldn’t recommend going all the way, so when the pain and tension become too much, stop.
Relax the muscles, shake, stretch gently. Wait a moment or two before going for it again, there shouldn’t be any tension left before you repeat the drill.
To sum up the formula in an order of improtance:
SMALL CHUNK + RIGHT MOVEMENT + MAX SPEED + MAX STRENGTH + LOOP = FAST PROGRESS
USING A METRONOME
A metronome can be very useful, particulary if you can break the chunk into different note durations or tuplets, so you can play it in sixteen notes and sixteenth triplets for example. This way you can set the metronome on a speed where you can play the chunk in triplets for one bar before loosing accuracy, and then fall back to playing it only sixteenth notes. Push to triplets for a beat or so, and back, you get the idea, edge of your ability. The benefit of using a metronome is that you can track your progress more accurately, and it improves your time awareness.
LAST WORDS OF ADVICE
This kind of practice requires a lot of focus and endurance and will likely leave you tired. This is why, I recommend one session of maximum 30 minutes of intense practice a day. You can do it before or after your regular practice, or just on it’s own. As far as injuries go, listen to your body, be aware of it, and you’ll have nothing to worry about. But if you do sustain an injury, even the smallest pain that won’t go away, take a brake for a day or two. If the pain is still there consult with a doctor. Remember, this is a shortcut, and your technique will be where you want it to be, so there’s no need to get ahead of yourself.
You shouldn’t expect to reach your goals over night, give it some time, you will notice improvements almost every day. You don’t need to do this every single day, you should have days off
Extra tip: Remember to breathe. Pay attention to your body, when it starts to tense up, relax it. Only the muscles used on your playing should be working hard, and they will become tense enough.