Monday, November 9, 2009


You often hear the advice that playing something slowly is the key to being able to play it fast. I would certainly agree that if you cannot play a tune well slowly you will not be able to play it fast, so sorting out all of the difficulties of playing a particular piece and really getting it down at slow speed is a prerequisite of playing it fast.

But having done all that does not mean you will then be able to get up on stage and blaze that song at 150bpm. Even if you have worked on it at slower speeds for months, or years.

The problem is that in order for the advice about playing things slowly to be true you already have to be capable of playing at high speeds. I believe that's why you will quite often hear professionals recommend this 'play it slow first' method - they know it works for them. And it does, because they already have the technique they need to play fast.

So, at the moment I can play pretty well up to about 110 to 120bpm. By that I mean I'm able to play a lot of tunes cleanly and be fairly comfortable improvising up to that speed. But a lot of bluegrass songs are played at speeds of 135 to 155 bpm, and banjo instrumentals may go even higher. Bill Monroe played Rawhide up to about 195bpm when he was in the right mood.

So I guess my next project is to figure out a way to bring what I can do at 110bpm up to 130bpm speeds. My assumption is that the more time I spend playing well at speeds above 120bpm, the more likely I will be to achieve my goal. So in the hopes of tackling this, I'm going to work over some fiddle tunes I know pretty well, and see if I can get them all up to about 130bpm. I'm also going to try pushing my technique exercises up to those speeds and see if that helps.

Just to be clear what I'm intending here, it's not that I can't play at all at these speeds, just that I don't have the kind of control over tone and rhythm up there that I do at slower speeds. Here's an example


  1. Hi there and great post. Yeah here in Texas bluegrass is generraly played at 160bpm - that's pretty fast.

    120bpm is the threshold for me also, and I was stuck there for a while. I tried playing slow, I tried playing fast. I wasn't making progresss.

    Then I started taking lessons with Taturbug. He immediatly noticed my left hand thumb was moving too much and was hooking over the neck at times.

    He corrected my form and within a couple of weeks I was playing fiddle tunes at 160bpm.

    See my July 7 and August 29 blog posts on the subject (

    Looking at your video of you playing Temperance Reel I can recognize some of same things I was doing that was slowing me down. Mainly the thumb is dancing all over the place.

    Hope that helps and keep up the great blog.

  2. Thanks Rekx - that's very helpful I'll take a close look at that.

  3. As you know I don't play super fast (or, better said, not when I record myself!), but I can play certain things fast, just that I tense up too much when recording so I'm just not able.
    However, when I stopped worrying about speed and started focusing on tone and learning new tunes, and to play and practice, and play with other people, after a while I noticed that I could play much faster than before, without even thinking of it. The whole thing was psychological for me.