I’m not by nature a fast player. I don’t do anything fast except breakfast.
However – like most reed players – I am blown away listening to Coltrane and would give anything to be able to play with that amazing technical facility he routinely demonstrates (not to mention his wonderful lyrical ideas.)
And so, when my student loaned me the Jerry Coker book Patterns For Jazz, I jumped at the opportunity to challenge my anti-speed demons.
This past week has not been easy. The commitment to woodshed Coker means that the papers pile up on my desk, the emails don’t get answered, the dog doesn’t get exercised, and those new songs don’t get learned. But my wife is out of town, so “Now’s The Time.”
I just now finally was able to play exercise #169 up to the recommended top tempo mm=176. This was a huge accomplishment for me. I had to start yesterday at 20 clicks below the 132 bottom recommendation. After playing all of the fingerings smoothly at mm=112, I started increasing the tempo by 5 clicks per performance, then 4 clicks, and – when I reached mm=150 – the increment became 1 click per iteration.
Even so, it took me 4 tries to play the exercise smoothly at mm=163, to play it at mm=168 took 5 or 6 tries, and so on.
My next student arrived, and I had to postpone the process until just now. Starting back up after 24 hours away from the piece meant backing the metronome down at least 20 clicks. I gradually worked my way up to where I left off yesterday. Will I remember the piece tomorrow? Or the next day?
It was at this point I began several loops such as those illustrated below. As you discover the need for more loops, you can keep the metronome going to retain your momentum and repeatedly loop any sequence of 2 or more notes which suffer from “sticky finger syndrome.”
But something else – something much more profound – begins to emerge when a slow hand like myself begins to push the speed envelope. There is a myriad of psychological, emotional, and spiritual baggage which begins to float to the surface. I have trouble focusing. My artistic sensibilities become easily offended at the mundane nature of the exercise.
My mind remembers errands that need to be run, emails that need to be sent, phone calls that need to be returned.
My emotional side reminisces about the first time I ever played a saxophone – borrowed from my friend John – or about that gig 14 years ago when I met my wife.
My spirit obsesses over offenses perpetrated by me or against me.
This is a time not only of developing better finger dexterity and smoother finger motion but also of cultivating finer mental concentration, focusing, ignoring distractions, and learning to be fully present in this instant. And I only develop these higher skills by diving in and swimming around in the mirky world of intense, prolonged practice.
How do you develop finger technique?