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Faster / Slower - Why?

bleujazz3

Power User
This is kind of a curiosity question I'd thought to ask...

In terms of speech, people who teach often slow down their speech pace for the more important things, but speed up for unimportant things.

My question is, should (or do) we also tend to slow down our playing speed for more important phrasing, and speed up for unimportant things?

The only reason for my saying this is because an audience needs time to digest what they hear. If something is said or played too quickly, can an audience hear and/or digest it?

Is it because as older people, we tend to listen for context and a deeper meaning, or is it because we have a hard time "getting all that" if we can't hear it?

Please discuss.
 

Greg Ferguson

Fractal Fanatic
When playing riffs we rely on muscle-memory, which short-circuits a lot of the thinking that's needed when playing what we actually think about. The same is when speaking; people have speech patterns, i.e., blabber, and then when they're consciously trying to pick the right words they slow down. I try to avoid riffs for the most part when soloing, I'd rather try to build a good solo based on the melody, or a significant part someone else on stage played, to build continuity, and that thinking process definitely slows what I play. I have a good grasp of the neck and a good ear, so I can weave together a decent solo, but I'm definitely not going to win a speed contest, nor do I want to.

In music theory we learn there are various ways to create and release tension. The pace or speed of a melody or song can cause tension when it's fast and doing it too long causes the listener to grow weary of it because of the concentration they need to process it. And, similarly, music that is too slow can be wearing on us because we like certain amounts of energy in our music. Having music that has occasional bursts of speed, that backs down and lets the listener relax, then picks up again, or vice-versa, starts slow then speeds up then slows, results in an engagement with the listener and keeps them interested.

That's not as important in a shorter piece of work, but longer ones, especially symphonies or full album sides, need changes in dynamics, speed, pitch/range, complexity, etc. It's a game of cat and mouse, it's seducing the listener and keeping them interested, it's even a partnership of sorts, and keeping that in mind as we play/solo makes us better musicians because we're playing to the crowd, who responds with energy and feedback. Ignoring that… we've all seen players who just want to blaze away with absolutely no concept or interest in fitting into the song or moment, and they totally lose the discerning audience. Yeah, the Saturday-morning Guitar Center kids will be going ape-shit, but they're definitely not the ones I want to impress.
 

chris

Legend!
Words imply meaning and communication. The point of speech is to convey information. Spoken too fast orwrittenwithoutspaces it’s difficult to understand what a person is trying to convey.

For music, if we’re talking about solos or melody played by a guitar, each note isn’t necessarily communication and information. It’s more emotion and feeling. Playing the notes C D F E G won’t tell someone what you had for lunch regardless if you play it quickly or slowly.

However, playing a quick flurry of notes before landing on and holding the note B in the key of A minor can show importance of that note. As mentioned before, it’s tension and release.

For musicians who are really knowledgeable of modes, note degrees, intervals etc. (like REALLY knowledgeable) perhaps they get more “information and communication” from music than those who aren’t as knowledgeable.

But in general, I’d say fast vs slow in music isn’t the exact same as that in speech. Similar, but not the same.

Think of a fusion or prog song where they’re just shredding the entire song with very few held notes or breaks. It’s a lot of tension, excitement, etc the entire time. Vs an up-tempo song that has a slower melody. Both work, both convey a feeling, but the faster one isn’t really communicating less due to faster notes if your ear is ready for that.

It’s almost like speaking to someone just learning a language vs someone who knows it very well. Speak very fast to the beginner and they’ll miss a lot. Prog is missed by many casual music listeners because it’s unfamiliar. Vs a prog veteran that can keep up, hear every note at 300bpm, things like that.

I guess it ultimately depends on your intended audience. If you’re teaching a new concept in a video, you’d speak slowly because it’s new information for your audience. If you’re vlogging about your day with common phrases and occurrences that most would understand, you’d speak faster.

Many other iterations of this, but it all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish, and who may be listening.
 

bleujazz3

Power User
In music theory we learn there are various ways to create and release tension. The pace or speed of a melody or song can cause tension when it's fast and doing it too long causes the listener to grow weary of it because of the concentration they need to process it. And, similarly, music that is too slow can be wearing on us because we like certain amounts of energy in our music. Having music that has occasional bursts of speed, that backs down and lets the listener relax, then picks up again, or vice-versa, starts slow then speeds up then slows, results in an engagement with the listener and keeps them interested.

That's not as important in a shorter piece of work, but longer ones, especially symphonies or full album sides, need changes in dynamics, speed, pitch/range, complexity, etc. It's a game of cat and mouse, it's seducing the listener and keeping them interested, it's even a partnership of sorts, and keeping that in mind as we play/solo makes us better musicians because we're playing to the crowd, who responds with energy and feedback. Ignoring that… we've all seen players who just want to blaze away with absolutely no concept or interest in fitting into the song or moment, and they totally lose the discerning audience. Yeah, the Saturday-morning Guitar Center kids will be going ape-shit, but they're definitely not the ones I want to impress.
This is where playing for the song / telling a story has its benefits. Most often, a story has its intro, a crescendo, a climax, and a denouement and conclusion. Perhaps there are points in a song (sometimes repetitive) that enhance the song because they are played faster (to create tension and stimulate interest e.g. solos that build towards a peak).

A song whose tempo is too slow does have its benefits as something that might lull the audience to sleep (e.g. Brahams Lullabies), or a slow blues song that expresses sorrow. The variation of the tempo does speak well for telling the story overall, though it is obvious that speech that is too wordy (word salad) does not bode well for the audience, because they often become disinterested if too much is conveyed that cannot also be comprehended.

I might suggest that if a person plays cleanly and adheres to these same standards, a person quick about hearing but slow about speech, these qualities might also translate well to his playing style and/or technique. If a musician can hear other musicians and adapt to the changes by playing with restraint what he hears in his head (See: Josh Smith's Blues Highways video), he will more likely make a firm statement with his playing style and tempo that will be clearly understood.
 

bleujazz3

Power User
...For musicians who are really knowledgeable of modes, note degrees, intervals etc. (like REALLY knowledgeable) perhaps they get more “information and communication” from music than those who aren’t as knowledgeable.

But in general, I’d say fast vs slow in music isn’t the exact same as that in speech. Similar, but not the same.

Think of a fusion or prog song where they’re just shredding the entire song with very few held notes or breaks. It’s a lot of tension, excitement, etc the entire time. Vs an up-tempo song that has a slower melody. Both work, both convey a feeling, but the faster one isn’t really communicating less due to faster notes if your ear is ready for that.

It’s almost like speaking to someone just learning a language vs someone who knows it very well. Speak very fast to the beginner and they’ll miss a lot. Prog is missed by many casual music listeners because it’s unfamiliar. Vs a prog veteran that can keep up, hear every note at 300bpm, things like that.

I guess it ultimately depends on your intended audience. If you’re teaching a new concept in a video, you’d speak slowly because it’s new information for your audience. If you’re vlogging about your day with common phrases and occurrences that most would understand, you’d speak faster.

Many other iterations of this, but it all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish, and who may be listening.
Yup. Being only an intermediary level guitarist myself, my tendency is trying to land on notes that will enhance the song, and if the landing note is off somewhat, I must quickly change tempo to cover the error, or distract the audience from the mistake. That in itself sometimes causes something worse to occur...it's like screwing up and then lying to cover over the mistake.

As much as I dislike this idea, because playing honestly is really what I prefer to strive for, veteran prog guitarists have the ability already to play quickly and cleanly, and that is what perhaps separates the pros from the amateurs. Fortunately, because my feelings are those of trying to be humble regards my playing, I prefer to admit when a song may not have gone well, but will thank folks for when they compliment a good effort.

Perhaps when I try to help someone understand a concept, or just generally assist them with something they don't fully understand, my tendency is to always slow down and speak clearly what needs to be conveyed. The opposite tendency is when my workload is exceptionally busy and I need to do things quickly and accurately. At that point, it's like being on auto-pilot and handling matters as concisely as possible without making mistakes. Screwing up only makes more work for my co-workers, and conversely, when co-workers give me the runaround, my workload must speed up to keep pace.

Thankfully, after "rush" hour, my workload eases somewhat and becomes slower and steadier.

The takeaway from this is, if one can adapt their work ethic to their playing style, we might find a good representation of life in reality, faster paced songs early on during busier rush hour to stimulate interest, slower songs once busier times have tapered off, and lastly, faster paced songs as folks being to make their exits and way home.
 

bleujazz3

Power User
One of my favourite guitarists, Eric Clapton, has often said, that he sings with his guitar.
Eric, IMHO, is one of the all-time greatest guitarists who paid his dues with the real blues musician lifestyle. And while he's also up there in years, it's kind of sad to realize that EC is losing his battle with his hearing. Eric's lost a good part of his ability to hear when he was younger. His type is recognizable, his licks entirely memorable and ones people strive to imitate. Eric does not play exceptionally fast, but more so with feeling, that is his hallmark style. One of my favorites tunes, Forever Man, was a song that did well in the charts, and has all the earmarks of a well-written blues-rock song. Although Eric isn't known for songwriting as much as he is his guitar work, Eric pays homage to his mentors and writers by showcasing their songs. And that may be his strength, just as it may be for many of us as well.
speed is good…but accuracy is better
I tend to think that with dedicated practice, speed is a result of targeted practice and routine drills. IMO, accuracy is more of a focus early on, whereas speed comes with practice and technical experience, unless you choose to play slower, for whatever reason.

Whatever reason there may be, a hot button issue is making sure to not make mistakes and pick the wrong note, unless you're extremely talented at sliding to a landing note that is more pleasing to hear. While that may not be technical accuracy, the more experienced realize that if you do screw up, you're only a half-step away from a resolving tone anyway. I don't relish screwing up, though it makes me work smarter, not harder.
 

socalguitar

Inspired
I agree with everything that's been said but also you have to be "in the pocket" or else it's not going to sound right. If you playing some slow melodic thing, then you can be a little ahead or behind the beat. But, when it comes to playing anything fast you have to be in time. No way getting around it.
 

bleujazz3

Power User
I agree with everything that's been said but also you have to be "in the pocket" or else it's not going to sound right. If you playing some slow melodic thing, then you can be a little ahead or behind the beat. But, when it comes to playing anything fast you have to be in time. No way getting around it.
Not to dissuade you from this thought, but there are many guitarists (Page, Trower, etc) who typically play behind/ahead of the beat and sound like winners. IMHO, perhaps it's their way of giving to the song that brings forth the desired product? FTR, any one can give you something valueless and it will always come back as crap. Giving something worthwhile is the key. You can take my word for it.

I will say that many good rhythm players play "in the pocket," but are sometimes conservative (because they wish to show restraint in their playing) instead of playing without control. The issue may be knowing when to exercise self-control and make better choices than not.
 

socalguitar

Inspired
I guess I should have said Petrucci/Malmsteen fast. Not Page/Trower fast. Maybe blues guys can get away with that but if you're shredding it up and the tempo is wonky it's not going to sound great. That was sorta my point.
 

unix-guy

Legend!
I guess I should have said Petrucci/Malmsteen fast. Not Page/Trower fast. Maybe blues guys can get away with that but if you're shredding it up and the tempo is wonky it's not going to sound great. That was sorta my point.
Maybe just semantics, but when I hear "in the pocket", to me it usually means playing with the groove. That usually has some component of playing "around" the beat.

I don't think of JP or Malmsteen as "in the pocket".

Maybe it's just me? ;)
 

bleujazz3

Power User
I guess I should have said Petrucci/Malmsteen fast. Not Page/Trower fast. Maybe blues guys can get away with that but if you're shredding it up and the tempo is wonky it's not going to sound great. That was sorta my point.
Ah , yes. My personal feeling is when things speed up, they also generate "heat". IMHO, there is a time to increase one's speed (accelerator down) and time to slow down. I've personal noticed that when folks are in a hurry, they often are shorter tempered (i.e. heated up) because they are stressed. Again, IMHO, it's far better to be slow of speech and play slower, but increase my tempo when things aren't as important. Not being able to digest faster play often causes distress, don't you think?
Maybe just semantics, but when I hear "in the pocket", to me it usually means playing with the groove. That usually has some component of playing "around" the beat.

I don't think of JP or Malmsteen as "in the pocket".

Maybe it's just me? ;)
"In the pocket", IIRC was a phrase coined by session rhythm players that does mean playing a tight groove with some syncopation or occasional off-tempo fills.

Although I prefer to not listen to JP or Malmsteen (for the reasons above), I don't mind listening to the sounds emanating from a drum kit, especially when the drummer is performing a solo at a faster pace. Sure, it creates excitement, tension and audience appreciation. It gets your toes tapping and heart beating faster. BUT, just as I don't need consistently elevated blood pressure, I prefer to not listen to it for lengths of time. The difference is, it's almost like what a workout is designed to do...elevate your heart rate and BP so you exercise. AND, once you've finished exercising, you either cool down and/or replenish your energy.

Just as you don't want to consistently work faster, would it make more sense (tortoise/hare illustration) to follow a set pace and increase your speed so as to adapt to changing conditions, and slow down again once things let up? "In the pocket" applies to many genres of music, but not so much others. I guess it depends on your personal style and music choices. If your life reflects a hectic, hurried lifestyle, it can't be that healthy for you.

Just as I work part-time and experience times when I am forced to adapt to busier times, I am entirely thankful when I finish my shift and can take my time arriving home and unwind. Yes, my music choices reflect both aspects of these times. Times when I feel like a slave to my job, other times that I feel liberated and have free time to enjoy my time away.

I am sure that many feel the same, but some may feel the need to be always "on" when they'd really like time to be on "stand-by" or "off."
 
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