I play too fast.

I play too fast.

Hi all,

I have been playing concertina for about 5 years now and am a devoted student with decent discipline.

I’m playing a lot at home now due to the pandemic. I have a tendency to play too fast even though a lot of the concertina players I listen to play nice and moderate when it comes to tempo. Mary mac, Seán Dwyer, kitty Hayes.

I recorded myself the other day playing one of my favourite tunes, which I can utterly release to and leave my hands do the work without thinking about any mechanics. I listened back and it was god awful. Way too fast, no time to dwell on any of the nice ornaments or chording I had included. While I completed the tune it sounded like a runaway train even though it was one of my repertoire that I would have good control over.

I set out regularly trying to play slower and achieve a nice groove rather than ploughing ahead. I may start out slower but will lose myself to speeding up inevitably by the third time round the jig or reel. I’m not able to play along with anyone at the moment and I’m not good enough to play along with most recordings. Can I have any advice when it comes to playing slower?

I’m sure this is something people teachers encounter in their students from time to time.
Thanks,

Tim

Re: I play too fast.

Good for you for recognizing the issue! Recognizing that it is a problem is half the battle. I’m generally not a fan of using metronomes, except in cases where what you are working on is specifically tempo. I’m not a fan, because a metronome is an unforgiving slave master, which is not generally how this music works. Normally, you’re playing with other people, and not only are you reacting to them, but they’re reacting to you as well, which a metronome does not do… And we play this music with some lilt and swing, so if you are using a metronome, I recommend having it just give you the first beat of each bar, which provides you more room to make the rhythm sound good.

However, we do need to be able to keep a steady tempo on our own, and a metronome can really help you work on that. I would suggest that you play a tune the way you normally would, and figure out what that tempo actually is. Then set your metronome to maybe just 5-10 beats per minute slower, and work on staying steady with the metronome. Then you can alternate playing with it and without it, until you can keep your tempos steady without it. When you’ve found a tempo that you can keep fairly steady on your own, try recording yourself again, and seeing if it helped. If it still sounds too rushed, then set your metronome a bit slower still, and keep at it. Once you get better at keeping your tempos steady, you can work on speeding them up again without sounding too frenzied…

The good news is that most players when they’re starting out will struggle to play as fast as they want, and most of the tempo questions here are about how to get faster. So you have developed at least some of the ability to play fast, which will help you in the long run.

The other thing you mentioned is that you did this with a tune that you were able to just "let your hands do the work". This is often called kinesthetic memory, or "muscle memory", which really just means that you’ve developed the neural pathways that know how to play that tune. That’s an important step when you’re first learning, because it allows you to relax and not have to think about all the things, like where do my fingers go, how does this tune go, is that a c# or a c natural, which button should I use for that note, am I playing steadily, etc… However, the next step you should take is getting your conscious brain more involved again. Humans aren’t very good at concentrating on more than one thing at once (we basically can’t do it… we just think we can…) Since you have some of what it takes to play the tune automated with your kinesthetic memory, now is the time that you can focus your conscious brain on just one aspect of playing the tune, and right now, that could be focusing on keeping your tempo steady. (Ultimately, you will want to learn to focus your conscious brain on expressing the music eloquently, but for now, you can just focus on your tempo and rhythm).

I also suggest getting your body involved in the tempo too. The most common way is by foot tapping. If tapping your foot messes you up, that means that you just haven’t built the neural pathways that can handle the foot tapping yet. But once you’re good at tapping your foot without thinking about it, then it can be another reminder of your tempo and help in keeping it steady.

And finally, we have all sorts of technology to help us these days. There are all sorts of software that can slow down the tempo of a recording without changing the pitch. Heck, even YouTube allows you to slow down videos (click the settings ‘gear’ icon, and then Playback Speed). In a lot of ways, playing along with a slowed down recording is even better for you than playing with a metronome, because the rhythms are there too, so that’s another thing you don’t have to try to focus on…

Re: I play too fast.

Again, good for you for noticing. I suggest you stop playing tunes for a few weeks. Pay simple, unrelated exercises. Play them slowly, with a metronome set on 60. These can be scales, but not music which is tune related. Don’t try to change the situation with your repertory until you can slow down, repeatedly, with exercises. Best.

Re: I play too fast.

Although I don’t disavow metronomes entirely, I do share some of the concerns about misusing them. I think one useful trick that provides a useful middle ground is to employ a drum machine-type app or the like. Something that provides a healthy background rhythm and keeps pace, but with a bit more life to it than the beep of the metronome.

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Re: I play too fast.

Surly Boy if you’re talking about reels, what a fiddler I know did was to practice all of his reels as hornpipes.

Not that you would play them up to reel speed as hornpipes! That would just be really fast hornpipes.

The point was to practice lift and phrasing and tunefulness. He found that when he switched over to playing the tunes as reels again they retained some of those good things.

Re: I play too fast.

How fast is the speed you’re calling too fast in beats per minute for say, a reel? One of the nice things about Irish trad dance tunes is that we have a baseline for common dance tempos, like somewhere around 112-115 bpm for reels. Your mileage may vary in local sessions, and sometimes recording artists will push or pull the tempos, but I think there is a general consensus on a narrow range of target tempos for the common dance tunes.

So, are you actually playing reels far beyond 112-115 bpm while playing notes cleanly and with good expression, and you feel it’s just too fast for the tradition? Or are you playing beyond your ability at common dance tempos, which is a common fault (for me as well)? Gradually speeding up through a set of tunes is another fault that some of us have to work on. A small amount of tempo creep is natural in group sessions as excitement kicks in, but you don’t want to let that run away too far.

In all those cases some metronome practice may help. I’m not a fan of metronomes, but they’re useful for some things when nothing else is working.

Re: I play too fast.

It can be very instructive using a metronome and can reveal a lot about your playing.

I would say that if you can’t play along to a metronome or click track then that is because you can’t play at a steady enough tempo. There’s a natural tendency sometimes to speed up when a part of a tune is note heavy (more notes so I have to play faster). I’ve sometimes surprised myself to discover (using a click) that there’s more time to play fast sections than I thought.

There may be times when you are required to play to a click. A couple of years back, recording some instructional material at slow tempos, a fiddler and I found we had to use a click to keep a steady tempo and not speed up. When playing say, a reel, at a very slow tempo, there is no momentum and it’s very difficult to keep to an even tempo.

If you can play along with a metronome then fine, you can put it back in the cupboard or whatever. But if you can’t then you’re going to struggle when it comes to playing with other people.

Re: I play too fast.

There are two important clues in your post. One is that your evaluation of your playing came from recording yourself. The second is your saying you cannot play with others or keep up with recordings. These disclosures tell me you are not playing too fast, just faster than your ability will allow. You may be sacrificing quality for being able to keep up with more advanced players. Also, what do you hear when you are playing? The process of playing should provide personal pleasure because you like what you hear. I would always rather play than listen, not because I’m all that great, but because I play tunes the way I think they should sound. Even when I make mistakes, those mistakes are made in the context of how I have developed the tune. Of course one must do a great deal of listening to develop the skills to play what you want to hear, or even know what you want to hear to begin with. But there comes a point where you need to kick back and enjoy what five years of disciplined learning have taught you. When you have worked out a tune or set, play it and enjoy the experience. If you need to hear a recording to know what you played or have any objectivity about it, I fear you are missing out on the pleasure of playing music. Think about it and see if what I’m saying gets to the heart of things.

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Re: I play too fast.

Get a metronome and use it. Another choice is a drumbeat app, I use DrumBeats+ and what I find on Garage Band, but none of them offer a lot for anything but 4/4. Practice with all the discipline you can muster. Remember you’re practicing the rhythm not the tune. When you feel like you have some control over tempo and rhythm stop using it, turn on a recorder and play the tune. Be honest about what you hear and if you need to go back to the metronome. What you do here is to learn to play outside of your own head. After all, playing this, or really any kind of music, is all about a conversion, a cooperation with others. The metronome is about as simple a conversation as it gets but it’s the most accurate one you’ll ever have. One of the things I like about playing to drum beats is that you have the chance to learn to be adaptable. The drummer ain’t gonna adapt to you and it’s a lot of fun to find out what you can do. Just remember it’s the skill you’re learning about not the resulting tune. I’ll bet that playing Sligo Maid with an 80’s pop rhythm won’t make you popular in a session! Don’t forget that once you can play with a rock steady beat and tempo you have the freedom to express yourself with confidence.

Re: I play too fast.

I should add to my above post that no one has perfectly exact timing - it’s more about the ability to float along with the tempo.
I’ve been doing a course on working with Logic Pro X and one of the lessons was on using virtual instruments (not something I’m planning to use, I should hasten to add). Once having inputted the "music" on the virtual instrument you can then "humanise" it, which puts some of the notes slightly off exact timing.

Re: I play too fast.

One of the things about playing on your own, especially in these days of lockdown, is that you don’t have your fellow players to keep you on track. It is very apparent from Zoom sessions that you are not alone in tempo problems - anything from outrageously fast to turgidly slow. Previous suggestions about playing with a metronome or along with recordings you like, and/or recording yourself playing will probably help.

Re: I play too fast.

Play along with players you like and admire, get a Mary Mac album and play along with that, it’ll be more fun and more educational than a metronome

Re: I play too fast.

Tim, lots of good advice above. Metronomes can be a useful tool for developing a steady tempo even though they have their drawbacks if you don’t also learn how to play smoothly with other musicians. In reality live music is rarely absolutely steady. I think you’re on a good trail playing along with Mary MacNamara & Kitty Hayes.
They are the human equivalents of a steady beat; like a metronome but so much more musically.
Also, keep recording your playing; if for no other reason it is helpful to follow your progress. It’s not easy to know when you’re speeding up while playing. That’s where a recording is a useful tool for evaluating changes in your tempo.

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Re: I play too fast.

Mary and Kitty play mostly in unusual keys (C and F, and Mary sometimes uses a concertina that’s tuned down). One could use software to put them into normal keys.

There are tons of videos of moderately paced sessions and solo/small ensemble playing on YouTube and Facebook. The trick might be finding tunes you know to play along with. The YouTube user Niamhaines has lots of nice videos of sessions in Ennis. I put a handful of them into playlists. Here are a few.

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCVoA4ZO7FikTIyVNVmTluL_qg5OyBEJs
https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCVoA4ZO7Fik_h6cCnCrjWCGiFf3B2VDL
https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCVoA4ZO7Fini8_e-gO3odVJyD7CJZQdB
https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCVoA4ZO7FikOzF1MiF5cm8Gc5b9SurlS
https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCVoA4ZO7FinTLFU9SwX8RA30FhpzhHx5
https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCVoA4ZO7FimmmWCYVuteVFAxKNjJFS31

Re: I play too fast.

On the subject of electronic drum machines/software that some are suggesting as a more musical alternative to metronomes, might I suggest for anyone who is comfortable with DAW’s, plugins and MIDI a wonderful plugin called Jamstix. It’s basically a drumming and percussion "brain" which simulates real drummers and does a very good job. The performances it churns out are infinitely customizable in just about every technical way familiar to a drummer, and you can either use its internal sounds or route its MIDI output to another percussion plugin or sampler. It’s way less cold and mechanical than a regular drum machine, you can customize the "pocket" the drummer plays in and how accurate or loose the timing is, and it will "humanize" anything you throw at it - you can even load your own MIDI patterns into it and have it improvise around them. I use it to jam along to on guitar and it really is like playing with a human drummer. You can even input your audio into it, and it will react to how softly or strongly you play by adjusting its own dynamics. A bit of a learning curve in getting it set up and learning how to program its "brain," but well worth it.

Re: I play too fast.

Our band, Three Times Through records every time we perform. We listen back and a majority of the time we feel the tune/song is too fast. When performing it doesn’t feel that way, when listening back it does. Hence we now crank out the metronome during band practices quite a bit. It has been a lesson in timing. Sometimes we swear the metronome is changing!

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Re: I play too fast.

I’ve been fighting that habit for nearly 50 years. I have to really consciously work at not speeding up, mainly when I’m performing solo. In a group, it’s not as much of an issue.

Re: I play too fast.

As others have said-METRONOME!! A hated apparatus, but it works.

Re: ‘but it works.’

Only as well as it’s operator is able to work with it. Metronomes do not know anything when it comes to music.

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Re: I play too fast.

I guess the reason I’m a good bodhran player is, I don’t speed up. Never been an iasue on flute, but I still wonder if that is the issue for the op .

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Re: I play too fast.

I put an ear bud in one ear with a recording playing the tune at a tempo I like. So one ear hears the recording and the other hears my instrument

Re: I play too fast.

"Metronomes do not know anything when it comes to music."

Erm,…. they know how to keep time.

Re: I play too fast.

"…. they know how to keep time."

But they’re terrible listeners – which, I suppose, is the point, as it places all the onus on you.

Re: I play too fast.

Exactly.

Re: I play too fast.

I find that a great alternative to the metronome are the tools available at the Wellington Irish Sessions website:

Select a tune from an archive of over 400:

https://wellington.session.nz/tunes_archive/

Or, upload your audio file:

https://wellington.session.nz/playLocalAudio/

Then adjust playback speed and/or set loops over portions of the tune.

You play along with real musicians (I really enjoy playing my flute along with a fiddle, for those tunes where a fiddle recording is available) and you work at tempo and intonation at the same time.

Re: I play too fast.

Wow Sergio, what a great resource! Thanks for sharing.

Re: I play too fast.

"Metronomes do not know anything when it comes to music."
Just as knives and forks know nothing about eating; or bicycles about riding; or pens about writing; etc., etc.

Re: I play too fast.

Thanks all for your responses. A huge amount to think about. Tim

Re: I play too fast.

Just to add one small suggestion, I had exactly this problem and I’ve found a particular process using a metronome to be immensely helpful. I set the metronome to 95 or 100 (for a reel) and play the tune against that tempo for as long as it takes to get it feeling really settled and steady. Then I increase the tempo by 5, to 105; then 110; then 115; and finally 120, which is a good fast session pace to my mind, although obviously some play even faster.
It feels like a form of torture sometimes but the idea is to get a nice relaxed, lifting rhythm going on at each tempo before moving on to the next one. You might take a few sessions to get past 100, or it might only take a few runs through a tune.
For jigs, the pace tends to be a bit quicker but the same ballpark.
Incidentally, I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that the range of tempos in all human music, and the emotional effect of each tempo, is more or less identical to the range and emotional context of the tempo of the human heart.

Re: I play too fast.

"Incidentally, I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that the range of tempos in all human music, and the emotional effect of each tempo, is more or less identical to the range and emotional context of the tempo of the human heart."

Aha! That’s a cue to bring up a video I post every once in a while about the biological basis of Irish and related dance tempos. It’s from contradance fiddler Jamie Laval, on the subject of "Why 100-120 beats per minute" (for reels). He relates it to the typical brisk walking pace for humans. That may be a better metric than heartbeats since we dance with our feet, but maybe heartbeats are involved as well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9Q4paAfQw0

Re: I play too fast.

There’s also the "Amazing Slow Downer" program. Input the song, set the desired timing, and play along…..

Re: I play too fast.

"Jamie Laval, on the subject of "Why 100-120 beats per minute" (for reels). He relates it to the typical brisk walking pace for humans. "
Yes - the pace for dance music is definitely related to the feet - the classic disco tempo was 120bpm too. But my mechanical metronome is calibrated for 40bpm up to 200bpm. That’s exactly the range of a healthy heart, with 40 the resting rate for a fit athlete and 200 the rate of the same athlete working pretty much flat out; everyone else has a somewhat higher resting rate and a lower peak rate. Any music outside of these parameters is hard to perceive as music - we either intersperse imaginary extra beats between pulses that are slower, or group pulses that are faster.

Re: I play too fast.

Everyone differs. I know that people do play reels at 120 and above, and some of them are good players, for sure. But to my ears (and those of people I know who are open to Irish music when it’s done well) by the time reels are at 120 the tunes almost invariably blur into that generic racing reel-ish sound that makes people say "they all sound the same". I suppose it can be fun, especially if you want to show off a bit, but if we are honest it’s not surprising that non-aficionados find it tedious.

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Re: I play too fast.

Great vid, I’ve wondered about the walking thing before, it’s always felt like the pace of an exciting walk to somewhere you want to be. I also wondered if it was related to being able to jump or skip and land from one beat to the next. With something too slow e.g. 60bpm, you would have to take a tremendous ungainly jump to leave the ground on one beat and land on the next.

Re: I play too fast.

About walking I don’t know, but the reels and jigs etc are dance music so it helps to dance a bit, or watch dancers, or play for dancers.

I know nothing about Irish dancing beyond playing for them but I used to do Scottish dancing and there’s only so fast that the mass of an entire human can move up and down, so to me once you get much past 110 the music starts sounding irrelevant. When I hear reels and jigs in the 130s and 140s it’s becoming something other than dance music, for my body anyhow. (Perhaps in Irish dancing you’re staying closer to the ground and these speeds are doable and normal? I know when I’ve played for Irish dancers their speeds have been nowhere near that.)

Re: I play too fast.

"…playing along with a slowed down recording is even better for you than playing with a metronome, because the rhythms are there too, so that’s another thing you don’t have to try to focus on…"

Fair play, Reverend! Yet you’re assuming that focus requires great effort. Yoda would say it is trying which distracts us and if one lets go of *try* and instead you do what you already know how to do then playing with a metronome versus playing with a slowed down recording each becomes the same thing. No difference; only different in your mind.

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Re: I play too fast.

have you ever been to a feis? reels, jigs, slip jigs at 113, heavy jigs at 73 ect — putting yourself in the position of having to play at rock solid tempos for another person is the best way to learn to play at a reliable steady rhythm. Playing for dancers puts a huge burden of responsibility on your shoulders - you screw up, you’ve just ruined it for the dancer.
Try it and see if you can hack it —

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