by Stan Munslow on 10/20/15

The ability to play with blinding speed has long been a dream for many musicians. But in recent times this dream has mushroomed into a national obsession. There is a proliferation of musicians, on all instruments, who are on a speed rampage.

It used to be that players strove simply for the ability to play as fast as their music demanded. Now it has become a craze of “speed for its own sake.” It has taken on the character of an arms race with many taking up the call for more velocity for no practical reason and with no limit in sight. No matter how fast they get, it is never fast enough.

Many have moved from appreciating another’s music to rating that player by how many notes he can squeeze into a sixteen-bar solo. “Who’s better?” discussions often become “who’s faster?” debates.

Preoccupations or obsessions with playing faster and faster would not be such a problem if it were not for three things:

First, many players devote so much of their practice time to speed exercises that they end up with little or no time to work on more important matters such as feel, expression, rhythm, or tone. Their playing becomes cold, calculated, and uncreative. Their listeners become confused, bored, and unmoved by music that is big on clutter and short on just about everything else.

Second, those who have not been blessed with the ability to play fast will often judge themselves as incompetent, even if they have abilities in other, often more important, areas. They spend their time comparing themselves to their heroes, even their peers, feeling all the more inadequate, sometimes abandoning their dream altogether. What a waste of talent that is.

Finally, ask anyone in the audience if they really care how fast you can play. Sure, some of the musicians in the crowd might. But remember that, as a musician, you’ve cultivated a different set of priorities than most non-musicians. In other words, most folks simply don’t listen to music the way you do. They don’t analyze it and judge it on its technical merits. For example, Eric Clapton’s nickname is “Slowhand.” That shows what sort of priority he attaches to speed, doesn’t it? Does he suffer from any lack of respect from the community as a whole? How about B.B. King, Elton John, Maynard Ferguson, or the many other greats who have little interest in showing the world how fast they can wiggle their fingers?

That’s the key to beating an addiction to speed: Realizing that our efforts to show off and impress the audience almost always fall upon deaf ears. It just doesn’t work. Playing well impresses people; playing fast does not. Too many musicians have gotten to the point where they can’t see the difference anymore.

Music is art; it is not an Olympic event. Are other artists judged by how quickly they perform their skills? Have you ever heard anyone say something like: “Oh, that painting is so wonderful ... the artist painted it so fast!” Or how about: “This book is great ... I hear the author typed it in only four days!” You get the idea.

Of course, there are times when you will need to play fast. The key is balance. Speed deserves no more of your attention or practice time than any other element of your music. Work on speed sometimes, but don’t overlook the other things. If anything should be a priority in your music it is enjoyment and enrichment.

For you and your fans.

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