How to Progress Quickly

I first came across this idea in construction but it applies across life. Have you heard it? There are 3 things, Good, Fast, and Cheap, and you can only ever have any two of them at the same time:

It can be Good and Fast, but it won’t be Cheap!
It can be Fast and Cheap, but it won’t be Good!
It can be Good and Cheap, but it won’t be Fast!

This is funny because it is so true! I chose the 3rd option when I built my recording studio, and it took me 3 years to build a structure smaller than my garage! LOL.

And there is a similar concept when it comes to practicing music:
1.) You can play some quantity of piece of music (a short phrase or the entire piece)
2.) You can play it at some tempo (very slowly, or as fast as the recording)
3.) You can play it with some ability (very well to very sloppy)

Just like the previous example, usually making choices about 2 aspects here will affect the third aspect. Check this out:

-You can play a very short excerpt, up to speed, and play it very well
-You can play a long excerpt, and play it very slow, and play it very well
-You can play a long excerpt, and play it up to speed, and play it sloppy

I recommend that 90% of the time, you focus on one of the first two of these three scenarios. These are your best practices:

1.) Play a very short excerpt up to speed
2.) Play a long excerpt very slowly

Focusing 90% of your time on these 2 methods will accelerate your growth as a musician. Trying to play things up to speed and doing a very sloppy job of it is not something we want to practice every day. Because what we do every day will create who we are. So if we play sloppy every day, we will become sloppy harmonica players. Similarly, if we play every day with no emotion, we will become boring harmonica players.

Occasionally it’s good to challenge ourselves beyond our present ability, but most of the time we are best served by playing things really well - either a short segment up to speed, or a long segment very slowly.

I saw a great interview with the famous jazz piano virtuoso Bill Evans, one of my favorite musicians (he played on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album) and he observed that most musicians are mediocre because the are just APPROXIMATING what they are hearing, instead taking small enough bites to really be able to PLAY the music. He asserted that even if you are playing the tiniest excerpt of a piece, if you are actually PLAYING it, you are light years ahead of the person who rushes ahead and tries play the whole thing but is only APPROXIMATING it.

Over a couple of decades of teaching, I have seen the same thing time and time again. Students don’t want to be patient with the process. They want to jump ahead to the finish line. In so doing, they develop bad habits which need to be unlearned before new habits can be learned, and their growth is hindered. Why is their growth hindered? Because they are in a hurry to grow faster! Ironic, isn’t it? The very act of wanting to progress quickly makes us progress more slowly.

Here are some great mantras for any aspiring musician:

1.) I have to take it slow to progress more quickly
2.) Slow and steady wins the race
3.) Take a deep breath, relax, just play with it
4.) Don’t try harder, try easier

If you’re going through my Beginner to Boss course, you’ve probably heard me say things like this frequently. You’ve probably also noticed, that most of the time I take things very slowly, and occasionally I’ll challenge you beyond your present ability with a fast tempo.

The musical journey is so fun because it never ends. There is ALWAYS more to learn. There is ALWAYS more to practice. This is why it is FUN. So I encourage you to fall in love with the process. Learn to enjoy taking tiny little baby steps.

And, ironically, in so doing you will be accelerating your growth on the harmonica!

Rock on, my harmonica brothers and sisters!




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