“Practicing everything slow is the greatest approach. When you go to the park and you see those people practicing tai chi, that’s what they do; they’re going through their fluid motions. They’re so slow and graceful. They’re focused on every single movement, every single turn. Taking that approach with your instrument is very effective because when you play things slowly, you suddenly become aware of every little thing that you’re doing, like how your finger comes off the string, the finesse of how you release the string and all those things. You become more aware of how the instrument breathes and the way each note breathes.
“When you’re young, you just want to hear the head of the note because you’re more concerned with playing as fast as you can. You spend very little time listening to the tail end of the note or even the middle. As you practice things slowly, you start to realize that there are so many different parts of a note and a tone. When you first strike a note, there’s the head of the note, and then there’s this body that kind of opens up and develops. There’s a point where the tone is just right there; it’s got this beauty to it. And then it starts to taper off. Then the tail of the note has a completely different character. If you play everything really fast, all you’re presenting is the head of the note. If you want to change the texture, change the mood, you need to let the note speak so the audience can hear that and feel that as well.
“I used to hear it all the time from my teacher: Practice slow. It’s a lot harder to play slow than fast. You think, ‘You’re just saying that because you can’t play fast [laughs]!’ But then later on you realize, ‘Oh my gosh, they were totally right!’”
Read a candid Q&A with Jake Shimabukuro, from the the Spring 2016 issue of Ukulele magazine.
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