Every once in a while, I come across something that is a game-changer for my perspective in music and life. A while back I was struggling to transcribe yet another complex jazz solo and thought to myself “if only I could slow this down!”. I sat there feeling bewildered until suddenly I realized “hey! there’s probably an app for this!” Lo and behold, I did a quick search and found my now all-time favourite music-learning tool: the "Amazing Slow-Downer". What a great name, right? I giggle a bit every time I say it. 🙂
Even if you are not a musician, and/or don’t care about virtuosic playing, this app is still fun to check out. As its name suggests, it can take any music in your phone’s library and slow it down or speed it up to any tempo you want without shifting the pitch. Very cool technology!
You can experiment listening to music at 75%, 50%, or even 25% of the speed. It’s like your favourite songs being poured through a giant vat of molasses. You hear all the incredible nuances come glistening through the speakers in perfect detail so you can absorb them all one at a time without your brain being overloaded.
When I first got the app, I listened to nothing but Art Tatum at 75%. And then classical music, and more jazz, and some pop. And as I listened, especially to the live jazz improvs, something powerful dawned on me.
There seemed to be no errors. EVER.
Even though they might have been playing at lightening speed. Or an immensely difficult passage. The performers were linking together pattern after scintillating pattern more effortlessly than playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
It's like their fingers were speaking through their instruments without ever getting jumbled up. They never forgot a word, they never mispronounced anything, or paused to reconsider a thought. It was all just there, at their fingertips, waiting to flow out one after the other in perfect sequence.
And I realized that a major key to virtuosity must be CLARITY. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this concept can be applied to almost any creative pursuit. In our age of artistic abundance and accessibility, it’s so easy to get caught up in the rat race of feeling like you need to emulate so many styles and techniques before you really “qualify”. But these players weren’t just playing everything under the sun. They were playing very specific things that they had chosen, and then executing them with perfect precision.
This made me understand that no matter how much I sometimes want to improve just for the sake of sounding more sophisticated, working on technique can never be an end in itself. I need to be discerning in the technique I acquire and then be diligent in continually integrating it into my mental map so it can flow seamlessly with other ideas. Without this discernment and integration, acquiring new technical skills is no more useful than learning a thousand new words in a foreign language I’ll never learn to speak.
Now when I practice I am going to SLOW DOWN and make a more conscious effort to ask myself important questions like “why am I practicing this technique?” and “how does it fit in with my other skills?” In addition to spending conscious time mastering the technique itself, I will be stepping back regularly to integrate my techniques together and get clear on how I want them to all fit and flow together.
[bctt tweet="Asking “why am I practicing this technique?” is as important as the practice itself."]
More and more I feel that when I listen to another player I’m really just witnessing the state of their unconscious mind in that moment. And in the case of a virtuosic player, their musical consciousness is clear as a bell. Perfectly curated, organized, and integrated.
So there you have it - the Amazing Slow-Downer. A revolutionary little app that has changed my whole approach to practicing music. And who knows, maybe it could do the same for you. But don’t just take my word for it - go check it out for yourself! 🙂