To go fast, go slow first

Many years ago, a friend who was getting a degree in music performance volunteered to be the driver for a distinguished guitarist who was scheduled to give a concert in town that evening. The job requirements were simple: have a large car and drive the famous guest around town for the afternoon.

My friend picks up his guest at his hotel after lunch. The guitarist puts the case in the trunk and takes a seat in the back with the instrument. "Just drive around for the time being," he requests. "I'd like to practice in the back seat." My friend sets off, trying not to pay attention to what is going on in the back seat.

The guitarist is famous in part for playing lightning fast with ease, so my friend, although he's not a guitarist himself, thinks he might get some tips on playing fast.

After a half hour of driving, my friend can't help notice something strange going on in the back seat. The guitarist isn't racing up and down scales and arpeggios. He isn't racing at all. On the contrary, he is playing at a snail's pace: pluck, silence, pluck, silence, pluck, almost as if he were a beginner. One note, silence, another note, silence. It is almost unbearable, so my friend reminds himself to focus on driving safely and turns his full attention to the road.

Still, he's having trouble holding back his curiosity. He wants to interrupt and ask the guitarist what he's doing. How can this famous musician be practicing at such a slow pace? When is he going to race up and down a scale or unleash a pack of killer arpeggios? When's he going to let it rip?

The guitarist, clearly unaware of my friend's thoughts, continues in the back seat: pluck, silence, pluck, silence.

The guitarist asks to be deposited at the concert hall. As he's leaving, my friend gets up the courage to ask his guest the question that's been burning in his mind. "Excuse me, but why do you practice so slowly? You play so fast in concert. Don't you need to practice fast?"

"Oh, that's simple," replies the guitarist. "I practice slowly to be accurate, and playing fast is just the same as playing slow with the spaces between the notes removed."

I suppose the audience that night had no idea.