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Learn to play fast - part four: Step 3 Back-to-Front

Welcome back to the Play Fast training program! 😃 I’m so glad you decided to come back, I hope this means that you’re already experiencing the benefits of this approach to learning to play fast passages!

The different steps I’m covering in these blogs are all the different ways to tackle fast passages I have come across in my years as a saxophone student and teacher. Each step is valid as is, and sometimes just one step is enough. But I’m convinced that when you apply them as a complete training method, you’ll enjoy the benefits even more.

You’ll feel more comfortable, at ease, confident and even under the stress of a performance or exam you’ll be able to keep your cool.

Okay, here we go! Step 3 is short and simple: You start at the back and work your way to the front. basically learn the end of the passage by heart. This comes in really handy, because the issue with longer fast passages is often this: The first couple of notes, you have enough time to read the notes and translate what you read into movement of your fingers. But after a while, this starts to lag...the delay between the note read, and the note played grows! Now, turning it around - start by playing the notes at the end, and work your way to the notes in the beginning - really works! It’s as if your fingers simply remember what to do on their own, without your brain telling them.

As a bonus, there’s another benefit to this training method: You know how sometimes a single mistake in a fast passage can throw you off balance? Making it impossible to pick it up a little further along? And to make it work you have to start from the top again…? Well, there’s a sign that you’ve been linking the consecutive notes together as a chain. And the chain breaks if you play a mistake somewhere. No way to start at a random note in the middle of the chain, you have to start at the beginning! Use this step 3 to avoid the chain, and you’ll be able to start wherever you want in the passage!

Enough with the explanation...let’s get to work!

Applied to the example I used in step 2, this is what it looks like:

Set the metronome ‘in tempo’. Relatively fast that is. No need to play slow, you’ve got this!

  1. You start at the number 1 bracket. You play the last two beats of the passage.

  2. Repeat them nice and quickly, leave one or two beats empty and start over, just breathe when you need to. Add all there is to add: articulation, dynamics, phrasing, character.

  3. Repeat until you feel comfortable, close your eyes and play by heart. Have you got it?

  4. Then start at the number 2 bracket and do the same: repeat and repeat - play by heart - add all there is to add.

  5. Now start at number 3, and do the same again.

By now

Your fingers are nice and warm, you can feel the muscles working!

You know the end of the passage by heart.

Time to keep on adding beats to the front, each time repeating and repeating. At some point it’s probably no longer possible to close the eyes, that’s okay, don’t worry! You probably don’t need to know a larger part of the passage by heart to be able to play everything in tempo. And when you’re satisfied for the day, congratulate yourself on another job well done!

Here’s something extra for you to try, just for an advanced level of fun 😉. Close your eyes.

Try to think of your fingers as the mallets that rapidly strike the keys of a xylophone, imagine the sound, the energy, the taps, the speed, the clear impact-after-impact.... Open your eyes and play again.

This awakens a certain focus, awareness in the hands. The fingers become individually strong and alert - I simply love that feeling! It reminds me of the many hours I spent happily practicing in small conservatory studio’s. Nothing else to do but play, train, study...oh how I would love to be back there just for a little while!

I wish you lots of fun playing your own fast passages, and hope to see you again next Blog on the final step towards a complete Play Fast training method!

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