One of the ironic aspects of musicianship is that many aspiring rock and blues pianists have trouble playing slow tempos.
On the surface it seems like it would be easy, right? We usually think “Fast = difficult, slow = easy.” But in reality, it can be very challenging to feel comfortable playing at slow tempos.
When we begin analyzing it, we realize that there are a few reasons for this. First, most of our “pianistic upbringing” is about building up to faster tempos. From the time we’re very young, we practice each piece slowly at first and then, as soon as we can, we begin increasing the tempo until it’s at a medium or fast pace. In other words, “slow” is merely a necessary step towards “fast.”
Another often overlooked part of this is that tempos have become faster over the years. When I played in wedding bands, the dancers always wanted us to play, say, disco songs much faster than they were on the original recordings. Yes, dance music nowadays is faster than dance music was 50 years ago. The result is that a lot of the music we hear now is fast, not slow.
In addition, there’s a relentless push towards forward motion that’s pervasive in our culture these days. We never sit still and relax. When we have to wait 5 seconds for an elevator to arrive, we check Instagram. We don’t have time to answer the phone and speak with someone. And while I’m driving on the parkway, cars speed up and cut me off just to get one spot ahead of me in the upcoming traffic jam.
In all these areas of modern life, we want to go as fast as possible and never stop, even for a moment.
Seen in this light, it’s not too surprising that many pianists rush the tempo when playing a slow blues groove.
The answer is to relax and settle into the groove. Enjoy the relaxation. There’s no hurry. Each beat is a world unto itself, and there’s nowhere to go. Except to groove.
Once you get used to settling into a slow groove on a blues, you’ll find that it’s pure bliss. After all, there’s a reason all the great blues players love these slow tempos. Once you become comfortable with this style of playing, it’s like you’re enjoying your favorite meal. You’re enjoying every mouthful of flavor, and you want it to last forever.
To help you become comfortable playing at these wonderful slow tempos, I’ve made a playalong video so we can jam together. It’s a slow Blues in C, and you can play along at any level, from beginner to advanced.
Jam with Ron #2: Slow Blues in C Piano Playalong
Have fun, and enjoy every moment!