Pet Peeve

Murphy Henry

I’ve been teaching a long time now, and I like to think that over time I’ve developed a certain amount of patience that I perhaps did not have in my younger years. If people don’t practice, I can live with that. We all lead busy lives. As I tell the students, “We’ll practice in the lesson. I just want you to keep playing.” If people need to cancel lessons or switch them around, I can deal with that. In the old days, you booked your slot and if you didn’t show, tough stuff. (Cleaned that up for the blog!)

But there is one thing that still irks me: Someone is learning a tune. They don’t quite have it. They are playing it for me. They mess up. They play that part again, they mess up again. They try again. They still mess up. So far I’m TOTALLY OKAY with all of this. I know they are learning and that messing up is part of the process. Then they say the dreaded words: “Let me try it faster. I can play it better if I do it faster.” ARRRGGGHHH!! No, you can’t! It does not sound better faster! It sounds worse. It's just that the mistakes you were making go by faster, so you can pretend you didn’t hear them. Nothing is gained. Much is lost.

Usually nowadays, I let the student try the song faster. Then when it falls apart, I suggest that now we slow it down and try again. Some get the message, some don’t. Sometimes it’s like that movie Groundhog Day. We just keep doing the same thing over and over. They come in playing fast, I try to slow them down.

I have a new student whose attitude I just adore. (He doesn’t know I’m blogging about him either....) He’s only on his third song (Cumberland Gap) and this is what I love: when he makes a mistake he stops and plays the song more slowly! I didn’t tell him to do this, he just automatically does it. His playing sounds excellent! Clean, clear, crisp, in good time. All these things you gain when you play it slow, and learn it right.

I’m not saying that you should never try to play fast. Of course you should. That’s part of the fun. And sometimes playing fast can help you get a sense of the song and how all the licks fit together. But you should never think that playing it fast is going to fix your mistakes. It will not. It only allows you to slop over them.

So, my advice is, if you’re having trouble with part of a song slow it down, slow it down, slow it down. In the long run, you will learn the song faster, and eventually be able to play it faster. Slow leads to fast, but fast leads to sloppy playing and bad timing.

Now, I’m gonna go get my breakfast.....

6 thoughts on “Pet Peeve

  1. Martha Sheperd

    I jam with some fine players, some of whom are in good local bands, and it is so discouraging to have them complain that I played X fiddle tune too slowly and it was too hard for them.
    I’ve worked up to 120 on lots of tunes on mandolin and I wonder if that is too hard (slow) a tempo for most banjo players? Would you agree?

  2. Dave Eisenhuth

    How true your word are! I would add that keeping it slow until it can be played smoothly and correctly. I found myself feeling a little bold after completing beginning banjo and misfits. I was working on John Hardy and Joe Clark awhile back and since there are a bunch of licks that I had been playing in other songs I figured I could just zoom through them. How wrong I was, you may know the lick inside and out but until you can play it smooth in a particular song then slow it down. I lost probably two weeks in re training myself to slow those songs down and fix the mistakes. So do yourself a favor and listen to “da boss”. So it down the 1st time and play it right then experiment. Lesson learned Murphy ! You are the Maharishi of banjo 🙂

  3. Augie Augburn

    I have a friend that does what I call “Slurring the Notes” He thinks that playing it faster and out of time is the answer. He goes fast on the licks he knows and then muddles through the rest. It sounds like cr@p and I tell him so, but it doesn’t sink in. Next time, same thing. I guess that there are those that just DON’T GET IT and never will.

    Those in the know will always be appreciative of what you do for us. Keep up the good work and we’ll try to spread the word that TMM is a great way to learn. Thanks Murphy. Augie

  4. Dave Eisenhuth

    Yes, ague and I have been whooping your method up on the BHO and maybe we should get some shirts made

    I Use The Murphy Method!
    Use your Ears!

    and then on the back we can put om the back

    …speed is not important…..
    …. when you’re learning to play the Banjo! 🙂

  5. Steve (in Japan)

    Great entry by Murphy and the student-comments are “right on!” Also, I’d like to mention Casey’s Custom Lessons, again. I found them to be very detailed on “how to” practice the banjo. If you haven’t tried any then I’d like to recommend that you purchase some (about six at first) of the traditonal/standard tunes such as Wabash Cannonball, Little Birdie, Jesse James, Buffalo Gals, etc. In my opinion, the investment is well worth it and you’ll be glad you did. Plus, you can mark off sections, set your DVD player on repeat and then repeat, repeat, repeat … … and practice at the correct speed.

  6. martha acarlton

    I too have heard the comment, “I can’t play it that slow (ly)”. It makes me so mad because the result at a breakneck speed, usually, is devoid of accuracy; it is impossible to follow the rhythm, and the overall sound is AWFUL. A fellow musician and I were talking the other day and he told me that many of the original Earl Scruggs tunes were not played at the breakneck tempos that you hear today. I know that the only way to learn a song, to correct a mistake, is to go back and slow it down. Keep on being peeved, Murphy. I’m glad you posted this blog!!!

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