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Speed and relaxation

Musicians want to play what they hear in their heads. They also want to play what they hear on recordings. Often that means playing something faster than their body is comfortable with. This leads to muscular tension and mistakes.

But there are things you can do to make your playing feel relaxed. As you might expect, it takes some practice.


The brain

Your motor cortex doesn’t think in terms of slow and fast or good and bad. It just records movements needed to complete an action. If you do something too fast and make mistakes, it thinks that that’s correct. Then it keeps doing that until you tell it to do it a better way.


Making it better

Bring intention to your practice. Be aware of your mental states. If you’re playing something that you find difficult, be aware of thoughts like, “Oh, oh, this part’s hard.” Or “I should be playing this faster.” Or, “I wish I could play it like that guy.” These kinds of thoughts create tension.

Thoughts like, “smooth”, “easy”, “light” communicate a feeling of relaxation. Try placing those kinds of thoughts in your head as you practice.



You can program you brain and body to function fluently using a metronome. Set it to a comfortable speed. Too slow or too fast won’t work. Most musicians tend to think of slow as easy, and sometimes it is. But sometimes it feels unnatural and we struggle to make our muscles conform to the slowness.

Everybody has a speed where things feel loose and natural. Strum a simple chord progression and adjust the metronome until you find that speed. It might take a while but it’s worth the time.


Notching it up

If this optimally comfortable tempo is slower than a song you’re learning, bring the tempo on the metronome up a notch. By notch I mean no more than five. So if the metronome is set at 70, don’t go higher than 75. Accept that you may have to go lower than that. Once you’re comfortable at the new tempo, notch it up again. Continue until you’re playing the speed of the song.

Pay close attention to what your body is telling you. If there’s any tension at all go back a couple of notches. Seriously. If you go too fast and program mistakes into the brain, it will take 6 – 10 repetitions of doing it right to get it to where you want. Going slow and being patient will get you where you want to go faster.

This isn’t easy to do. Most people get impatient and try to go fast too soon. Be patient and honest with yourself, and eventually you’ll be able to play anything you want.

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