If we go around and ask every professional and accomplished musician, I believe they will all agree on one thing, and that is that slow-practice routines are an essential part of their development and success.
Slow-practice has been a crucial concept in music education for centuries, and it seems to work since a vast majority of professionals affirm to have benefited from it.
Also, slowing motions down seems to not only be beneficial for musicians but also athletes like swimmers, runners, and many others. They affirm to gain control, more relaxation and better performance when competing.
According to experts, practicing slowly increases our awareness of the things we are doing, giving our brain more time to process and absorb what we are executing. Therefore, maximizing the learning process.
There are millions of articles and studies which express the benefit of a consistent slow-practice routine. However, in this post, I’m going to share with you what I have found beneficial for me, and the things I have improved in my playing by having a disciplined slow-practice routine.
Our brain learns by repetition. The more we do something, the more efficient we become doing that action. And if we slow down the process, we will make it easier for our brain to internalize the process.
Every time we sit down to learn something, our brains make changes in its neuronal connections so that we can retrieve the information more efficiently the next time. The better we perform those actions we want to learn, the easier they will be to absorb.
That’s one of the reasons why practicing technique slowly improves our learning process. We can pay more attention to details when performing the motions and execute them with more precision. We want that because we want our brain to learn the actions the best way possible.
I learned this the wrong way because I wasn’t patient enough to work on things the right way. I wanted to be fast right off the bat. I didn’t understand the learning process and didn’t give myself time to absorb the information. And that was one of the reasons I was failing when performing.
So, in my personal experience, if you want to learn a new technique, take the time to practice it slowly, don’t rush the process. Speed comes as a side effect of proper learning.
If you’re struggling with technique, be patient and do the homework. Practice all your technical exercises slowly; there are no shortcuts. Diligence, discipline, and slow-practice will bring excellent results.
2. Rhythmic Precision
For me as a drummer, this is a big one. But all musicians need to have this under control. Slowly practicing rhythms has been extremely beneficial for my development as a musician.
As we slow down rhythms, the space in between the notes gets larger, which make their execution more difficult and requires more accuracy. Also, the slightest movement within the tempo is more noticeable.
We need a great deal of precision when performing rhythms at considerably slow tempos.
Here are some of the routines I do, to improve my rhythmic precision:
If you are working on your rhythmical vocabulary, this is an excellent exercise for you. This is a table of the most used rhythmic figures in western music. You want to get familiar with them and internalize their sound.
Practicing this subdivision table at a ridiculously slow tempo will help you learn, memorize and execute them precisely, which is vital if you want to be a first call rhythm section musician.
8th Notes Subdivisions:
8th Notes Triplet Subdivisions:
16th Notes Subdivisions:
Practice the 8th notes and 16th notes subdivisions in a straight and swung feel. Remember, work slow, 40bpm to start. Then you can take it even further down to 35 or 30bpm.
Practice each one separately and then combine the three tables into one exercise, play each figure 4 times and jump to the next, without stopping.
You’ll see how hard it is to change rates, going from 8th notes to 8th note triplets and then to 16th notes, at those tempos. It requires a lot of concentration and precision.
Do this often, and you’ll see results. This table changed my playing big-time.
For more on rhythmic precision, please go and give my previous lessons a look: 5 Exercises to Improve Your Rhythmic Precision and Feel and 2 Rhythmic Exercises Every jazz Musician Should Practice.
This one is related to the previous point, but it is essential to understand that each style of music has a specific way in which rhythms are articulated, and I believe that is why different music styles are so distinctive from each other.
You could argue that if you are technically proficient, you’re going to play rhythms accurately. But, here is the reason why I separate technique from rhythmic precision and styles.
You can be technically proficient, but if you don’t know a styles rhythmic interpretation, you’re not going to sound authentic.
So, as a rhythm section player, or even not, it is crucial for us to interpret those rhythms authentically. Practicing comping patterns and grooves at a slow tempo helps us to understand and truly internalize the space between the notes.
So, practice your Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, Swing or those Jungle/Drum and Bass comping patterns, for instance, at 40bpm. You’ll notice how hard it is to play them. You’ll notice how different they’ll feel at regular tempos even after a few hours of a disciplined slow-practice session.
This point comes as a side effect of all the things we have discussed so far. If we understand and improve our learning process, we absorb information better and can, as I said before, retrieve it more efficiently.
Slow-practice, for me, has worked great for learning new repertoire and charts I need to perform. Spending a few hours going through them at a slow pace and internalizing the nuances and details has helped me to play better in the moment of a concert.
Also, it has helped me to learn new standard songs I wanted to memorize. I’ve noticed that the melodies I’ve practiced on the piano or sung slowly, are the ones I perform and remember better.
Again, take that to your advantage and use slow-practice routines to learn your new tunes or go through the new charts you need to play.
As I said before, the benefits of practicing slowly in a disciplined and deliberate fashion, are infinite. And it is not just me saying it. There are hundreds of studies supporting it. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Take this advice, and you’ll see results.