Ken M., Canada
There are songs we can play without thinking, at a fast tempo. Should we also still be able to play them slowly? Some of my students are in the situation where they can play the former (fast) but not the latter (slowly). I suggested that they maintain the latter as well. I wondered since we learn slowly should we still retain that ability?
That caused quite an uproar. Talk about territory infringement! Do I have to backtrack and apologize?
Brianna S., Arizona
I would say no, don’t back down. I think it IS important to know how to play it both fast and slow. I think this is part of knowing the song thoughtlessly, inside and out. If they can only play it fast, and not slow, then they may not understand the tools well, and are only relying on memory muscle. Both are important. And, if he was to teach this song to someone else, he would have to be able to play it slowly and know all of the tools well in order to demonstrate and teach the other person.
Kerry V., Australia
Most definitely you must be able to play fast, slow AND medium pace. What happens is, the student playing fast is simply playing without any thought. As soon as you have them slow it down, they have to go into a different part of their thinking to access this information. If the student can play in all tempos, fast, medium and slow, they have it then.
The problem of playing fast is that when you hit the ‘brick wall’ as I call it, you cannot work out the structure of the song at all, you feel as if you have lost the song completely. It isn’t lost however, you need to go over the materials again. It doesn’t take as long and usually at this point they then have the song for ever.
My motto is “Slow is Fast”.
Winnie B., Colorado
Years ago a professional pianist gave a talk about his practicing to a group of us teachers. Of songs which are essentially “playlist songs” he plays every piece in his practice session at 1/2 speed, and then at the fast speed. On the days he is to perform, he warms up at the 1/2 speed tempo, and then performs at the full speed tempo.
He reasoned that at the slow speed the brain has to be more certain of the notes and passages, and that fingers often fly out of control when they only play a song fast, while control and evenness can be regained by the ballast of playing slowly..
While I don’t require every piece to be practiced this way, when a student has a piece with fingers playing some bits unevenly at a fast tempo, the remedy is to practice it slowly the next week. I do find it an effective way to reestablish an even tempo with more control of events. Of course, they also hear the story of this professional pianist and his practice habits!
Jeanne L., Massachusetts
My husband is a classical pianist who performs throughout the world. I always use him as an example for my students. After he has learned a piece and is getting ready for performance he does special slow practice. He’ll play through the whole piece at half speed. If he makes a mistake he takes it even slower and slower. As he says, you really have to keep the concentration going when you play slow. You can’t let the grocery list or the after school project creep into your mind or you will get lost.