Keeping Up To Speed
The process of learning a musical passage on any instrument can be translated to any skill set in any industry. Being a musician, I know this far too well. When a musician is working on their skill set, whether it be scales, arpeggios, difficult musical passages of a Bach inventions, or a new arrangement of a cover song they’re soon to perform, it is best to start slow.
Our first desire is to be as good as our contemporaries. So, we often feel we have to rush through the exercise of learning so we can execute and perform tasks rapidly. Specifically, when applying to motor skills, the neurology in our brains must learn the wiring patterns of connecting to the body. The same goes for mental abilities. The brain needs time to absorb and map out the new skill or pattern of thinking.
So, how can we approach anything we are learning that is new to us? Answer: Breaking down the task into parts.
What are you trying to learn? Is it a physical movement? A golf swing? Fastpitch softball? Free-throws on the courts? The perfect cast with your brand new rod and reel? A clean and Jerk in the gym? Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption solo? Mozart piano concerto in Eb major? Or maybe something as simple as the new tool in the office which is meant to improve overall efficiency, nevertheless causing more frustration and slow down than before.
When I was studying in school and working on the fundamentals of music, we used a metronome to hone our focus on time.
Time is a funny thing. We can get lost in moments only to peak our heads out of the other side and realize so much of it has passed. “What? Two hours? Where’d the time go?”. That’s what the metronome did for us when we were drilling on our scales, arpeggios, and crazy 16th note passages. Using the metronome at slow tempos, we were slowing down time so we could intensely focus on a micro unit of the skill we were trying to learn. As we became more familiar with the passages, we would speed the tempo up gradually, working on the passages in tempo increments. Eventually, the tempo was up to snuff, and we felt accomplished after such long, tedious, mundane, boring skill work. Sometimes achieving a musical passage or song would take weeks. Although, the more consistent we were in our practice, the faster we were able to reach out goals.
What is happening with this process?
- We are breaking down the task into small chunks
- We are working on the individual chunks until mastered
- We piece the chunks together as a whole
- In each stage, we are wiring the brain
What did we just do? We created a Loop. Now we don’t have to think about performing the action which we worked very hard in mastering. Through repetition and consistency, we have Mapped the patterns of our brain, so the task and skill are virtually automatic.
People often ask me, when they see me perform my looping show, how are you able to piece all that together? Well, anyone can do it. All that is necessary is the awareness of the multi-layers of skills that are in play. For instance, when I’m performing my “Solo Looping Performer” shows, (#SoloLoopingPerformer), there are several layers of skills occurring altogether.
Solo Looping Performer Skill Breakdown
- Guitar Skills
- Vocal Skills
- Looping Skills
- Arranging Skills
[note: each of these skills can be broken down further]
The brain has a lot to focus on when I’m performing. There are a lot of things that are somewhat automatic. But, let me simplify a performance by removing the looping from the equation. Now If I’m just performing a song where I’m just singing and playing the guitar, I am focusing on two skills. (So, now I’m just patting my head and rubbing my belly, minus the gum chewing.) It’s a skill we’ve seen all over. Maybe you have this talent or have a friend who is very accomplished with this ability. It’s a fun skill to have.
When a performer who sings and plays an instrument, they are self-accompanying their singing. If you’ve never tried this, I highly recommend it. Pick a simple song to start. The first thing you do is to work hard at mastering each part separately. Most likely, if you are fond of singing, you’ve already started singing the vocals to the song. If you’re more fond of the instrumentals, that’s generally, where you would start. Drill down on each of these skills. Use a metronome and slow down your focus by setting the tempo to a slower speed than the song is generally played. This may feel awkward. It feels unnatural. But, if you work at it, you can eventually find the feeling of the groove at a slower tempo. You want to do this with both the vocal part and the instrumental part, even if you know one part better than the other. Trust me. Now, gradually, increase the tempo in small increments working on the part until you are ready to move the next higher speed. Eventually, you’ll be able to play or sing the parts much faster than the original version of the song. (This is an excellent skill to acquire)
The next step is to bring the two parts together. Now you are ready to attempt to perform the vocals and the instrument together. This will feel awkward again. Your brain will fluster in finding searching on which part to focus. Because the mind really can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. So, what needs to happen is one of the parts needs to be automatic in your performance. Most of the time, it’s the instrumental. Sometimes it’s the vocals. I find that it switches back and forth depending on which part is more demanding. Once again, use the metronome to slow the tempo down and slow your focus. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself in a flow state and time will have passed without awareness and you’ll be surprised and elated that you are actually, performing your first song.
Now, musical veterans may find this boring to read, but, I assure you they can relate to it. Because we all have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is the beginning. And we all have to go through the process of feeling awkward and unskilled before we are comfortably skilled. The ancient Japanese saying, “Fall 6 times, get up 7.” has great meaning when we are approaching something new. Couple that with “Slow Down to Speed Up” and you can pretty much accomplish anything.
I find this process a tremendous tool in creating long-lasting Life Loops. You can apply the Slow Down to Speed Up method to anything in your life. Sports activities, fitness, education, personal skills, professional skills, everything. It’s in our nature to want to be as fast and speedy as our contemporaries. We want to be as successful as the other people in our lives. We want to feel like we are accomplishing at a fast pace like the rest of the high-level high profile personas we continuously see in media and on the web. However, never forget, that they too had to feel awkward when they were starting, and they had to Slow Down, work on the problems, drill, drill and drill some more before they were running at full speed.