Working on your musical foundations – slowly

I’ll confess. I consider myself being unmusical. But at the same I’m incredible passionate about music; it’s just my lifeblood.

Being unmusical I had to work hard for the musical level I’ve reached today, which I’m proud of. And hey, it’s the journey that counts the most. But looking back I think I could have reached this level faster if I would have experienced sooner the two insights I only found recently: the power of practicing slow and working on one’s musical foundations.

Practicing slow

The insight on the importance of practicing slow I found in two books I read shortly after one another: ‘The Practice of Practice’ by Jonathan Harnum and ‘The Practicing Mind’ by Thomas M. Sterner. It does not bring anything practicing something at the speed which you cannot master; this way you only enforce your muscle memory and brains to make the same error(s). On the other hand, if you practice slowly at the speed you can master without making errors – how slow that may be – you are enforcing your muscle memory and brains with the right patterns. From there on you can gradually increase the tempo. But never to a level at which you start making errors. This process can take some time, but you have to trust the process. I already experienced myself it makes a big difference in making progress. Some things I could not master during several years, I gradually can now by applying the slow practice method. By the way, these are two books I highly recommend to every serious musician.

Working on your foundations

During my adolescence I started playing bass without any musical background. It’s only at a later age I followed for several years a musical education (theory, piano, bass). This was a real eye opener on many things (chords, harmony, etc.). However, I made little progress on one of my weakest point: 16th subdivisions. And with the Belgian educational system (Deeltijds Kunst Onderwijs or DKO) being subsidized by the number of students, music teachers are afraid of demotivating students. As a result they avoid the boring exercises of working on musical foundations. And I agree, it is of utmost important to avoid to demotivate students and to kill the joy of playing music. But at the same time a good teacher should be able to identify the students (asking the right questions helps 🙂 !) who want to go to a next level and who are prepared to work on (sometimes dull) foundation exercises to reach this next level. I heard this formulated nicely by drummer Anika Nilles during one of her workshops: “It’s like building a house. If you are happy with a small house – which is fine – you can do with a limited foundation. However, the higher the building you want to build, the stronger the foundations need to be.”

From now on I will be working more on my foundations – slowly.