By: Megan Prats
The ultimate goal of “speed work” is to move answers from the conscious to the subconscious mind because when the student can arrive to the answer without really “thinking” about it, the answer comes to the student almost instantaneously.
In order to move the conscious into the subconscious, the first step is for the student to obtain a comprehensive understanding of what she’s doing. For instance, a student will not be able to be able to play a 7/8 groove quickly if the student doesn’t even understand the time signature. Thus, you need to spend time in the lesson covering different aspects of playing in 7/8 and make sure that the student understands the time signature in different scenarios. To verify that the student understands her answers, you should ask the student to explain them to you. If the student can justify her answers soundly, then she gets it.
The next step is practice, practice, practice, because understanding without the labor to back it up means that the answers will still live in the conscious mind. The practicing can be done outside of the lesson so it is best to provide it for homework. For example, assign the student for homework to play in 7/8 for at least 1 hour/day, during which the student should increase the BPM by 1 after the student has played the 7/8 groove almost flawlessly for several minutes at the current speed.
Now, the student isn’t going to become an intellectual Usain Bolt overnight so you need to push the student’s speed limits gradually (in the aforementioned example the BPM was increased only by 1). You know when the student has reached her speed limit when the student can no longer maintain quality. When this happens, the student should engage in the exercise at a slightly slower speed, execute it well and comfortably, and then try to push her limits once again.
Finally, it is imperative that the student maintain quality as she increases her speed because if the student does it wrong at a slow speed, it is going to continue to be wrong at a faster speed; thus, you need to make sure that the speed increases only when the student does it right. So, if the student is trying to say something in her foreign language 5 different ways without changing the meaning and the student’s answers really take the meaning in another direction, the student shouldn’t be doing the exercise at a faster speed. Instead, you should be focusing on the understanding part of speed work to improve the student’s accuracy before the pace increases. Once the student can consistently arrive to good answers (which shows a comprehensive understanding of the material), then you can go ahead and limit how much time the student has to solve the problem to push her intellectual speed.
So, problem-solving, just like running, can occur at many different velocities. However, once problem-solving moves into the subconscious mind via comprehensive understanding and lots of practice, the process happens almost instantaneously. Therefore, if you apply the concepts discussed in the article and allow the student enough time to practice, you’ll see her intellectually flying in no time!