Slowing down

Slowing down

Hi folks !
This may seem like a stupid request but I need some advice on how to slow down. A couple of month ago a well seasoned piper joined one of the sessions I was running and as the session ended, we had the usual chat and started discussing technique. "Slowing down was the most difficult thing I have had to do in all my years of playing" was what he eventually told me. As a young player, I was early on attracted to the fast playing of Mc Goldrick, Brian Finnegan, Cathal Hayden etc… and wanted to play with the big guys in town. I am lucky enough to live in a city where sessions are a plenty but there is a catch, pretty much all of those sessions are damn fast and most likely ran by some of the most brilliant players this side of the atlantic. Ultimately I am not happy with my playing, I do not want to have to sacrifice the music to the profit of speed but without it, no chance to attend other sessions. I am currently practising with a metronome but seeing to noticeable effect. I was wondering what was the mustard boards members approach to speed in personnal playing, sessions and gigs.

Thanks in advance.

Re: Slowing down

Playing slowly is a critical step in the process of being able to play well fast, and it’s a difficult one! There are a few factors in play.

When first starting out, players generally haven’t got the motor skills to play fast to begin with. Every movement has to be controlled by a conscious effort, and the player hasn’t developed the neural pathways that eventually form that help automate some of the tasks of playing an instrument. But the first thing that people notice is that they aren’t able to play as fast as other players, and speed invariably becomes a primary goal - way before it should, in most cases. Playing slowly is where you can develop the good techniques of tone, intonation, articulation, ornamentation, etc. And it’s playing slowly and deliberately that helps build those neural pathways. But the desire to play with the big boys often leads a player to trade style for speed.

Don’t get me wrong, I think being able to play well at higher speeds is a great ultimate goal. So to reach that point, I think it’s important to practice both playing slow and playing fast. I’m not a huge fan of playing with a metronome (and that topic has been discussed quite a bit on this forum, not a bad idea to go reread some of the discussion/argument about it). But a metronome can be very handy in at least helping you set a slower (or faster) pace than your natural inclination. My suggestion would be to use a metronome to find a tempo that you want to practice at, start tapping your foot at that tempo, and then turn off the metronome, and work on the tunes or techniques that you’re wanting to work on. (And then maybe check your ending tempo against the metronome again and see how far you drifted…)

And finally, once you have developed neural pathways that help you play with good technique at a higher tempo, it’s still great for you to play slower sometimes. The music played more slowly tends to lose some of its lift and drive, which means its up to you to find ways to compensate to make it interesting. If someone starts a tune way slower than you like, instead of being bored by it, treat it as a challenge to see how great you can make it sound at that speed. For me, that is where I learned a lot of my expression of the music. At slower speeds, it’s easier to play around with subtle timing and things like changing your ornamentation to change the feel, or changing your approach to notes (like sliding into notes, etc). And that is where you can start learning about subtle melodic variation, experimenting with new pickup notes, and finding new ways to express the same musical ideas in a more eloquent way. And those are lessons that ultimately help you at any tempo!

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As far as my approach to speed in different circumstances, I try to practice at varying tempos. If I’m struggling with a finger-twister part of a tune, I will play it numerous times slowly and then work the speed up a bit. But most of my playing when I’m by myself is at the faster tempos that I like to play. In a session environment, I will play at whatever tempo a set is started at, of course. (One exception to that is maybe when I have a student that starts a set - I will sometimes speed it up a bit, to help push them a bit, but only if it is something that we’ve talked about before…) And finally in performances, I find that adrenaline often pushes tempos up faster than I want, so I try to stay relaxed. (I see lots of examples of that in commercial recordings… take a band that records and album, and then clock a live performance of the same set, and they’re often going faster)…

Re: Slowing down

> This may seem like a stupid request

It isn’t. It’s one of the most important questions you could ask. And one of the things most of us are terrible at doing.

Here’s a thought for you. What we’re trying to do when we practice is turn conscious behaviour into unconscious action. When we do things that require conscious attention, we’re using short term memory. And your short term memory can only hold a few items of information at once.

What that tells you is that when you practice, you need to figure out when you’re overloading short term memory and when you’re not. You need to push its limits, but not shoot past it. If you’re playing and you’re not feeling like you’re reaching, then you’re not really improving, you’re just going through the motions.

On metronomes: I think they have their place, but they are *not* for helping you speed up. They are for helping you slow down, and they help you automate your playing by learning to concentrate on something external to your playing.

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I agree with Rev most of the time, but I don’t agree that "music played more slowly tends to lose some of its lift." In general I think that music played too fast loses its lift. Most people play faster than they can.
My Dublin flute-playing pal used to say, "Let’s play slow and wild." Plenty of old guys play that way. I do agree that fast lends drive and excitement. I think of "lift" as something flowing, the music rising and falling, that makes you want to lift your feet and do a step.

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Although we talk about metrognomes , really any solid reliable source is fine, in fact the preference would obviously Be a really good drummer (bodhran) or samples of …..
the thing with speed its about evenness of sound production, combined with good technique and relaxation of antagonistic muscles.
So play slow , relaxed simply and be really precise about note positioning.
Set the gnome to play a beat on every 1/8 note and hit each note on the head.
The idea is that the gnome click should vanish behind your note.

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Will, I had heard that the Little People didn’t like the noise of the cities, but I guess the metro-gnomes are ones who adapted to city life?

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I do this only with tunes I have "in my hands" instead of in my head — i.e. tunes I can play slowly, all the way through, multiple times without mistakes.

I set the metronome to that speed…the speed I can comfortably make it through the tune multiple times in good form without mistakes.

Then I crank it up five beats per minute.

Once I have the same ability to make it through the tune at that tempo as many times as I care to play it without mistakes, I crank the metronome up another five bpm.

I do this until I can’t make it through the tune in good form. When I start making mistakes, I back off 5bpm, and that’s the tempo I start my speed drill for that tune next practice.

Rinse, repeat. YMMV.

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Exactly Aaron, they have adapted to the 21 c and use our technology to communicate with us :-)

Thing is folk, a gnome is worse than useless if you dont use it right!!! Its all , all about listening to something or someone outside of ourselves and adapting to that.
Do technical exercises for a short cut…… get a bunch of drum basic books and follow the exercises with your fingers , not thinking about the actual musical pitches though you could just read as written . Its not about making music here , its about rhythmical precision .

Drum basics are more complex than trad rhythmically in many ways . In our music the simplicity and repetition is a big part of its driving danceable qualities. Melodically and in harmonic patterns it can be very complex and changeable.
And of course there are lots of triplets!!! :-)

Re: Slowing down

Is this like going from 150 BPM to 115 BPM or something? Or are we talking changing tempo of the same tune from reel to air?

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Re: Slowing down

"There’s fast music and there’s lively music - people don’t [ always ] know the difference" - sleeve notes from "Music At Matt Molloy’s" CD.

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@David Levine - I agree with Rev most of the time, but I don’t agree that "music played more slowly tends to lose some of its lift."

Fair enough… I didn’t mean to imply that music played slowly ALWAYS loses its lift. Playing with lift is a big part of what you should strive for when you’re playing slowly. What I meant is that often times, tunes being played slowly are being played by relative beginners and they can sort of plod along without much lift or excitement. So when one of the less experienced players starts a tune slowly in one of my sessions, I use that as a personal challenge to see how well I can play the tune at that tempo with lift and eloquence, instead of rolling my eyes or taking a break and going to the bar or the loo… Its always good practice, and continues to be a learning experience even though I am at a point where I can play fast reasonably well…

Re: Slowing down

I agree with Rev and David. There is, I think, a sweet spot that satisfies most players. At our session (about 15 of us), we all tend start at about the same tempo - allegro non troppo if you will. Most sessions I’ve been to play in that range. Check out YouTube for videos of sessions vs performance videos. Sessions are often much slower, especially those that don’t feature a big name. You need to play at some speed or you won’t fit in most sessions. But beware of showoffs. I don’t think it’s a secret what a good tempo for this music is.

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Re: Slowing down

It’s been almost 11 years since Michael Gill posted this, "I find that just as sometimes people confuse
pace with drive, they often confuse swing with lift. I think drive is to pace what lift is to swing."
Mr. Gill’s words are as vital now as they were then.

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Re: Slowing down

AB - //"I find that just as sometimes people confuse
pace with drive, they often confuse swing with lift. I think drive is to pace what lift is to swing."//

Ben, how would you explain these terms to a newcomer to the music, in the most basic terms, in an unambiguous way?

Here’s my understanding of it. Everyone - free to correct me on any of it, and explain "drive" ("steadiness"?) :

pace = tempo, speed, notes/second
drive = ?
swing = relative lengths of consecutive notes
lift = accentuation of specific notes (not necessarily in a fixed pattern)

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I suggest, for explanation to a newcomer:
Drive = compulsive danceability.

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I thought compulsive danceability was related to ‘Lift’.

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Ben, why would you quote something that makes no sense at all? Gill says one thing and then says the opposite. You consider that vital?

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Re: Slowing down

Ailin,

I had trouble understanding the Gill quote, so I wanted to assign unambiguous meanings to each term, to see if the whole sentence made sense.

Until the terms are explained and agreed upon, then the original sentence, whilst still coherent, doesn’t really have much meaning.

Re: Slowing down

I think tempo can vary depending on the session you’re playing at, and that you should always play at the tempo somebody starts the set with. Speeding up or slowing down in the middle of a tune is BAD. Starting the tune at a moderate or slower pace is fine.

A thread on slowing down and nothing on hornpipes? I always follow this rule; hornpipes and waltzes are always played too fast. Hornpipes start to sound like reels when you play them super fast, and it kind of ruins the tune… It’s the same with waltzes; these tunes were meant to be played at slower speeds. Try adding triplets to your hornpipes and waltzes. It sounds really cool and it keeps you from speeding up.

As for "drive," I define it as the continuing stability of your music (through math!). The easiest way to fix a problem related to "drive" is a genius invention that’s hundreds of years old: the metronome!
If you speak Calculus, you can think of drive and pace this way. Your tune (how far you’ve gotten along in the music) is the original function, pace is the first derivative (d/dt) or velocity of the tune, and drive is the acceleration / second derivative of the tune (d^2/dt^2). I apologize in advance for using math to explain music. My calculus professor, Thomas Crow, has played ITM for decades, and he had a few things to say about the mathematics of music during office hours…

Re: Slowing down

"Until the terms are explained and agreed upon, then the original sentence, whilst still coherent, doesn’t really have much meaning." That was llig’s style. And AB knows that ;-)

From its use on forums I have got the impression that ‘Drive’ requires a tempo as for dancing or maybe higher, only a slight swing, and phrasing that comes through in the melody but not so much in the rhythm. I think it is style that some people complain has not got enough lift.

Re: Slowing down

Jim, the original sentence is not coherent at all. To say two words have nothing in common and then go on to say they equate makes no sense. This is true regardless of how you define the terms themselves.

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I think of drive as being forwards motion and lift as being a vertical motion, bounce . So lots of drive but little lift means feet close to the floor. Lots of lift but little drive means a lot of bounce, its about the connection with dance and music.
To get both is a fine balanceing act as too much drive precludes a lot of bounce. And of course it depends in the ability of the dancers, polka sets being danced in the cork/keery borders will require different music than being danced in england say…
How to get these things into your music! Drive is a function of note positioning and regularity while bounce/lift is more about the swing :-)

Words fail me here 8-)

Re: Slowing down

I actually like that llig quote, and if you want to learn more about what he meant, search for him talking about ‘torque’ in the music. This discussion was a good one: https://thesession.org/discussions/3769

To me, the idea of "torque" in music is related to "drive", and it is about applying a consistent pressure to keep the tune moving without speeding up. To me, when a set is played with good drive, it *feels* like it is speeding up when in fact it isn’t, because there is a continuous amount of force being applied so that you get a feeling that the tune has momentum. If you try to analyze that from a purely technical perspective it doesn’t make much sense, but it is a very specific feeling that I can’t think of a better way to describe.

Re: Slowing down

Nice explanation, Will. I like that

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The last thing I want to do is try to figure out Michael Gill. Good heavens!

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Because I am a rank beginner, I can’t hope to grok all the nuances of speed, tempo, lift, swing, torque, etc.

So my first rule is, "Make it pretty."

Major, minor, fast, slow, doesn’t matter if it isn’t pleasing to the ear.

So first, make it pretty. Only then work on being able to play it as fast or as slow as circumstances require. And if you’re lucky enough that your circumstances require playing in sessions with really good players…lilt, drive, etc. should arise naturally and be self evident if you’re paying attention.

Aesthetics first, technique second.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Re: Slowing down

"And if you’re lucky enough that your circumstances require playing in sessions with really good players…lilt, drive, etc. should arise naturally and be self evident if you’re paying attention."

Bog, I think that about covers it.

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//Jim, the original sentence is not coherent at all.//

Yes Ailin, agreed, on second reading. I was too busy looking for the key nouns to pick out.

On "torque", or "drive" - bluegrass gods Sam Bush and Tony Rice called it "pushing and pulling the time" - so at times the melody would skip ahead of the beat very subtly, then slow down before the end of the bar - just enough to be noticeable, but not enough to buck up the feet ;)

I think this was what was meant in the above post.

Get you terminology straight!

@Reverend,
Torque is the angular analogue of Force. Perhaps you should use "Force" to describe the "consistent pressure to keep the tune moving without speeding up." Going back to my earlier comment connecting math / physics with music, acceleration, which I compared to "drive", is equal to the force applied divided by the mass of the object. You can think of the mass as resistance (any kind, such as people who are slowing down or speeding up the music). But please, don’t use torque. The only thing torque has in common with ITM is the amount of pressure you need to exert to keep an octave mandolin from flipping over.

@Jim Dorans,
Same as before. Torque is a bad way to describe "drive". You need a radius to have torque, and I don’t see any analog in music…

Re: Slowing down

Some of the best players I know tend to play at sessions at a moderate tempo and it’s lovely. Don’t get me wrong they can play lightning too when a tune lends itself to that. At sessions where folks like to play fast, I don’t begrudge but tend to mostly lay out since I know for me, it tends to cause me to “tighten up”which affects everything about my playing.

Best of luck

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One observation I have had and I think to be true is that when all the tunes at a session are played super fast, the noise in the pub gets louder. I think this to be that the notes don’t register in the listeners brain and all the tunes end up sounding the same and after a while they loose interest and stop listening.

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What I hate is when I start a tune at dance speed, some smartarse decides I’m playing it too slowly and takes over. This happened only last week when I was playing "Le Canal En Octobre", which is what the French call a Scottish and we, a Schottische, danced at what I call "swagger" rhythm - a slightly slower hornpipe. About the third time round, in jumps ***** with his squeezebox and takes it away.
It can be played at that speed, but I prefer dance speed, as I find that this lets the tune be itself.
Make no mistake, ***** is a lovely guy and I enjoy playing with him, but I do wish he wouldn’t do this!

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Mr. Gill’s quote is perfectly coherent. What he said was that people confound and confuse tempo, or speed, or "pace" with drive, and they likewise confuse swing with lift. Tempo and swing are straightforward quantifiable elements which are easy to understand. Drive and lift as evidenced by this thread, are much more complex. They hinge on understanding subtle accentuations and articulations and are not so easily measured. It’s human nature to seek the easiest answer, so "My playng lacks drive, I must play faster." Attempting to eff the ineffable.

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If I use a metronome I watch it rather than listen to it. With or without a metronome I tap my foot or move some other body part at the speed I’m playing. To speed up I speed up the movement. To slow down I slow down the movement. When I play with other people I watch whoever is leading. I might also play along with a recording of the tune played at the slower speed or even a recording slowed using software - but again a video is better so that I can watch the speed. I am usually trying to speed up though. I am a very slow player of Irish tunes.

When you play with others there are all sorts of speed pitfalls and watching people helps. Some players speed up sessions unintentionally by the habit of playing slightly ahead of each note. They don’t know they are doing it and they’ll tell you other people are speeding them up - but you know the speeding only happens when they are there. Everyone else hears themselves as lagging behind the player who is ahead of the note and the tune goes faster and faster. I find if I watch the miscreant and play behind them then I don’t speed up. Some people - especially novice players - have an inconsistent speed. That’s very difficult but, again, I can often play along with them if I watch them.

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> I don’t see any analog in music

I think the analogy of a tensor field would work very well, and I think it gets across exactly what the great man was trying to say.

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I’m just thinking of all that sheet music of obscure and quirky tunes in various genres, from the old days.

Sometimes the tempo is marked with a figure, and there is optionally the "allegro" or "presto" phrase too.

I’ve also seen "gently", "with feeling", "boldy", "with gusto".

Now we have "play with torque" :)

Love it!

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Jim, you could print "play w/torque" @ the top of the page. Or in many more words you might describe it like this,

"The thing about good diddling is it is ensemble stuff, everybody contributes. You keep your ears constanlty open to the subtleties of the music around you and you respond accordingly. That’s where the drive comes from. From a tention created by the give and take of the constant response to diddley stimuli."

;)

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Re: Slowing down

Calum,
Impressive, tensor fields aren’t really introduced till completion of introductory calculus courses, and most STEM students even start using tensor fields until grad-school. You can do so much more with tensor fields than dealing with radius and musical concepts such as "drive". A tensor field is similar to a vector field. The difference is that your input vector produces a tensor (usually a matrix) as an output. This lets you play around with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and cut corners with some awful un-differentiable manifolds….
Force and acceleration are simple to understand. Anybody who drives a car can understand that acceleration means speeding up or slowing down, and that accelerating creates a force that you can feel. The analogy of a tensor field to the radius used in torque is overkill. The simplest way to think of "drive" is the force acting on your music to keep it at the right tempo.

Enough with torque.