One of my brightest students is an 8 year old piano player. I lost count of how many times I told her to slow down today, especially when she was sight-reading. I actually got her to slow down once, and – surprise! – she played more accurately. It didn't matter. She just played faster again. I can certainly understand an 8 year old's impatience, so I don't take her resistance personally. I'll just keep reminding her to slow down over and over until I eventually wear her down. In a few years, she'll have progressed enough that I'll have to hand her off to a more advanced piano teacher, and then the new teacher can tell her the same thing.
If there are any young musicians out there reading this (or parents of young musicians), here are some reasons to practice slowly.
- Playing slowly improves accuracy. If you are having trouble playing something quickly, and you continue practicing it that way over and over, you are going to get really good at making the same mistakes. If you slow down, you can pinpoint where you are having problems. Play at a tempo in which it is almost impossible for you to make a mistake, and then gradually speed it up.
- Playing helps you play more relaxed. If you are playing too fast, you build up tension in your fingers, arms, shoulders, and the rest of your body. If you are tense, your body tends to lock up, and you can't play as fast. If you start slowly, within your comfort zone, you will be learn to be more relaxed as you build up speed.
- Playing slowly helps you learn to play expressively. Playing fast is impressive, but if all you can do is play fast, listeners will soon get bored with your playing. You also need to learn how to play with good phrasing, dynamics, and nuance. In playing slowly, you'll learn to develop the power of expression.
- The pros all practice slowly and build up speed. That's one of our big "secrets." If the pros practice slowly, why not you?
I hope that all of my students will be turned on to the power of slow at some point in their development. Until then, I'll keep saying the same things over and over in my lessons…"slow down!"