We all like to play fast, just try and imagine Merle Travis’s Cannonball Rag played half-speed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with speed, but in the beginning it’s ephemeral, detrimental and secondary. Try to imagine the tonal differences between the wing flaps of a Sparrow and those of an Eagle. Quick, flighty and erratic or strong, confident and soaring.
Focus on playing slow and steady, form a solid rhythmic background and really focus on getting a good clear tone from those strings. When you do this and you’re building strength and control, which has a lot more depth than racing through these arrangements. Speed is easy to build and will come surprisingly quickly, we’ll focus on that a little later.
Once the thumb begins to think for itself, make that melody sing! A strong melody over a solid backing will forgive a multitude of sins. This is one of the hidden keys: play with purpose. Nobody will believe a shifty, uncertain player who careens across the strings aimlessly at 100mph. Play it with authority from the heart, not the brain. You’re audience will feel it, experience it and remember.
Speaking of Merle Travis:
It is not wise to dash about.
Shortening the breath causes stress.
Use too much energy, and
You will soon be exhausted.
That is not the natural way.
Whatever works against the Tao
Will not last long.
-Tao Te Ching