Have you never played an instrument before and think you’ll never be able to learn? Or are you not making the progress you want to be on your instrument?
Just like a sense of rhythm and sense of tone, most of us already have the dexterity to be able to play musical instruments with ease – we just have to retrain our bodies in the ‘language’ of those instruments
Most instruments require us to move our fingers very fast in order to play fast (for drums its your arms and feet, and for singing and wind instruments it can involve your mouth too). Try this:
Wiggle your fingers really quickly
like you’re pretending to be the fastest piano player in the world,
like you’re attempting the world record for typewriting.
See – your fingers are already fast, all you need to do is train them to be precise: to be that fast but in specific patterns on the bass, piano, or saxophone. Just like when you were a baby, you have to start slow and clumsy until your muscles get to know the patterns and then you can speed them up.
But have you hit a roadblock in your speed, and can’t go any further? Let’s try a different experiment:
Let’s go back to finger-wiggling:
Try it again, but this time tense up your hands and fingers like you’re clinging onto the edge of a cliff,
while also trying to set the world record for typewriting.
It’s a lot harder, right? Too much tension in your fingers will keep them from moving quickly. You have to fight against yourself to move them up and down. Speed is more about relaxation (and stamina) than brute strength.
Tap your index finger against the table, or even your whole hand. There’s two parts to this movement – your muscles contracting to make your finger/hand tap the table, and apposing muscles pulling your finger/hand away from the table to prep it for the next tap. These muscles need to alternate tensing and relaxing – if they are both tense the effort is wasted and speed is hindered. We’ll talk more about this topic in another post.
Is it not individual finger movement, but making chords on piano and guitar your problem? Taking too long to swap between chords?
Lift your hands up and make these hand symbols:
Thumbs up, fist; peace sign, palm open.
Complex hand positions are a part of life – you make a certain shape to hold a pencil, point directions, and wave goodbye. When it comes to piano or guitar, these are just different shapes than we are used to and so just require time, patience, and consistency to learn and become fluent in. With repetition, your brain and muscles remembers these shapes and they eventually become second nature.
One of the keys to speed between changing chords is minimising the amount of work you have to do – if some fingers can stay where they are, or can stay in the same shape while moving position, it’ll make the change easier – and you already do this.
When you changed your hand from thumbs up to fist, you didn’t open your fingers between the two shapes, you kept them closed because that part of it was common between the two shapes. Just as having your thumb, ring, and little fingers in was common between fist and peace sign, and having your index and middle finger up in both peace sign and palm open.
To summarise – playing fast isn’t about straining yourself, it’s about doing as little work as possible. And patience – lots of patience!