4 Hazards of Playing Slow

We usually have an optimal ‘window’ within which we play our songs. Too fast, and obviously we are out of our comfort zone. But play it slower than usual and you hit some different problems.


The main problems with playing too fast involve not being able to keep up, which absolutely kills your timing and rhythm; playing sloppily because you’re trying instead just to keep up; and loosing subtle accents in your playing because once again you are trying to just keep pace with a too-fast song. Not to mention, often a song also sounds ‘hurried’ if played too fast, even if you are able to keep up with it.


Playing too slow can be problematic as well, but for different reasons. Here are 4 of them.


1 – It can make a song sound very dull, especially if it is a well-known song or a song that beginners frequently play. In that case, you’ll either want to speed it up, or get pretty creative with your approach to the song.

2 – If you are used to playing a certain song at a faster clip, then really slowing it down can make it noticeably more difficult to keep good timing. Just be prepared for a more difficult break or backup situation than you would otherwise anticipate.

3 – When I’m playing a song a good deal slower than what I’m used to, I always have the temptation to use this as an opportunity to start improvising. That’s a good thing, but nevertheless, it also makes for the inevitable mess-up somewhere in the song. If this is a ‘Production Run’ (i.e., it’s a situation for being more polished than the usual jam session), then think twice before experimenting on the fly.

4 – Playing a song slower can sometimes make you forget a well-known lick. I’ve done that on occasion. It’s almost like your fingers have it memorized, but only if it’s faster than a certain speed; slower than that and your fingers start to get disoriented.

About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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