Greg Cohoon (drmellow) wrote,
Greg Cohoon

Mando Lesson

Yesterday's mandolin lesson went very well. I surprised myself with how well I was able to play Billy In The Lowgrounds. I even played it at a faster clip than I was expecting to play -- I played it at a clip closer to what I was able to build it up to in practice. That's still not as quick as it needs to be, but it's quicker than I was planning on playing it. I guess I just got in a good groove on it. I think part of the reason was I got to my lesson thirty minutes early and had some time to loosen up immediately before my lesson started. (It's always difficult to judge timing, because sometimes I drive around the block for a while looking for a parking space, which means that it's good to give myself plenty of time. Sometimes, like yesterday, I can pull right into a parking spot and end up with time to kill.)

Why all this talk about what speed I play a song at my lesson? Because when it comes to bluegrass music, playing fast is as important as playing well. The thing is, it's pretty easy to play well and it's pretty easy to play fast. It's difficult to play fast well. While both skills are important, the only way to master both skills is to concentrate on playing well first, then concentrate on playing fast. My typical week of practice includes the first day or two of playing the song amazingly slow just to make sure that I get all of the notes and fingerings correct. It's painful for me to play so slow, because I can hear the song in my head and what I hear in my head is going at about 10 times the speed as I play. After playing a piece slow and deliberately for a few days, however, my fingers begin to have a sense about what they're supposed to do and can follow the correct patterns without my having to concentrate on them. "Muscle memory" has a lot to do with that -- but there's more to it. Once my fingers know what they need to be doing, I can concentrate on speeding the piece up, while maintaining good form with the notes and meter. By the end of the week, I'm usually playing the piece at a reasonable clip, but I'm pushing myself to do it. When it comes time for my lesson, I back off on the speed a little bit because I want to be sure to get the notes and meter correct. I'm also still a little nervous about playing in front of Jeff -- it's like a bet of a test every week. I'm getting better at that, though. Part of it is just getting more and more comfortable with both my instrument and my instructor.

I don't know exactly what was different about yesterday, but somehow I felt comfortable enough playing Billy In The Lowgrounds up to the speed I was practicing it this week. It sounded pretty good. There is still lots of room for me to improve it by playing it faster, but that will come as I keep practicing. For example., I'm only now playing Soldier's Joy at a speed that could be considered reasonable for general consumption, and I've been working on Soldier's Joy since February.

The song Jeff showed me yesterday was Turkey In The Straw, which brings back pleasant memories of childhood toys (thanks, tldz, for pinning that down for me) and memories of Animaniacs, because that's the tune they used for one of their songs -- I think the state capital song. I'm looking forward to putting that song in my bag as something I can play at jam sessions and the like.

All in all, it was another great week with Loretta.

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