Green, Yellow, Red:
I’m constantly asked – “How can I get to be a great player really fast?” Here’s my response. I say divide your practice time wisely (We’ll cover that in a later article), and consider my “Green, Yellow, Red” principle. Picture the RPM indicator on a car, in particular on a racecar. There is typically a large band of green (in the lower revs), a small band of yellow (in the peak performance area), and a red zone (in the danger zone). When the engine is working in the green zone it is comfortable for the car and non-stressful. The driver can relax when in this zone. When in the yellow, that is usually the where the horsepower (performance) is at it’s peak. The driver as well must be well focused in order to control the car. The red zone is where the engine is overworked and is likely to blow up. It just will not function in the red zone. When you are practicing and working on new material, ask yourself if you are in the green, yellow or red. You want to be in the yellow. This is the area where you get the most “performance”. You will be focused on your playing and you will retain the information much better.
You are in the green if: You are super relaxed. You don’t make any mistakes. You may even get lazy in your playing. You are easily distracted from your playing. If you find yourself in “green” – bring up the pace a bit. Sit up straight or even stand up. Get into a peak state. Intensify your focus.
You are in the yellow if: You are pushing the tempo or speed so that you are possibly making a mistake or two but not so many that you have to keep re-starting. Your focus is sharp. You might lose track of time (i.e. an hour may pass and it felt like 15 minutes). You have to constantly think about what you are going to play next. If you are in “yellow” – Great! Stay there!
You are in the red if: You are making mistakes as soon as you start. Your playing is really sloppy and uneven. You just can’t keep up with the given tempo. If you find yourself in “red” – Slow down a bit. Relax a bit. Don’t rush. That’s usually the cure.
Now there’s one last thing to remember. Unlike the racecar, your green, yellow and red bands keep moving. Lets use a 1-20 scale as an example. Let’s say that your green zone covers 1-7, yellow (which is always a small band) is 8-10 and red is 11-20. Now lets say that there’s a song that’s on your scale at 9. That’s perfect, right in your yellow (challenge) zone. The more you play in that intense/ performance zone you will be able to play that song comfortably without much stress or effort, right? Well, now that song is still a 9, but your green zone has now been expanded to 9. That bumps your yellow zone up to 10-12, and red to 13-20. Get the idea? Soon enough, you’ll be playing songs that have a challenge level of 20, but you’ll be cruising through them because your new red zone is up at 30. What was once impossible is now possible as a result of your focus and energy.
So, get into a peak state. Accelerate your learning by keeping in the yellow zone!