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Tips & Tricks: Why Playing Slowly Should Be Your First and Last Step

snail on leafAny of you who are regular readers will know that I am a huge advocate of practicing music slowly. My students hate hearing me say “Let’s work on this passage slowly with a metronome.” Two of my favourite learning tools together!

A couple of my students have been performing solos in the local music festival (a competition), and it has reminded me of the fact that not only is it useful to play a piece slowly while you are learning it, but also at the end, just before you are ready to perform it. When I was in high school preparing for an audition, my violin teacher made me play my whole concerto at an incredibly high speed. This is why:

  1. We already had the speed. I had spent a lot of time working on the piece with my metronome to get it up to speed. Playing fast enough was no longer the issue.
  2. This was a chance to focus on all of the musical details such as phrasing and dynamics. I think many of us get caught up in playing the right notes, especially in a piece that is fast, and don’t think enough about the nuance of the music. Playing the piece slowly let’s you focus on that, especially right at the end when your notes have been hammered out. I am not advocating waiting until this point to consider musicality as you should be working on it throughout the process, but this is a good point to check in with it. This is another great time to take a look at your bow distribution and placement.
  3. Playing slowly at this point helps make sure that your fingers do not trip over each other. This is something I was seeing in one of my students as we prepared for festival. He had practiced the pieces fast when he was at home, and only even worked on slowing down during his lessons. His fingers could play the music, but were tripping over each other because the goal had always been to go faster. By slowing down again just before performing, you can lessen the chance of this happening.

So, if you are anything like my students, you will groan about this piece of advice, but it is never too early, or too late to play through your piece slowly, and like my high school teacher, I would especially advocate it right before performance. The thing is that you still have to concentrate, possibly even more than when you are playing fast, to make sure that everything is in its proper place.

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