Saturday, December 29, 2007


Play it Slow

Slowing it waaay down.

With at least one missed lesson this month, and Z out of school (his semester grades were really good, whew!), and holidays, and sleeping late, and so on, I've not been starting my morning practice at 7:30 like I'm used to. Today I didn't get started until after 10:00. Now, I'm a morning person. Since I'm also a creature of habit, these late starts have really messed up my normal practice routines, and I've run out of steam after just an hour or so.

That may explain why I've become so frustrated lately that I keep making the same errors every time I play a piece. I have really focused on these "tricky" parts, over and over, but it just hasn't seemed to help much.

So today I decided to concentrate on playing everything very slooowly, thinking about each and every note and taking the time to make sure I played them all as accurately as possible. I'd been using this approach on new pieces for some time and found it to be very helpful. But for whatever reason - impatience, mostly - I would pick up the pace before I was ready, and then would pound away day after day, trying to work past the difficult passages.

So, today I sure was surprised to find myself moving smoothly through all those stumble points. Not only that, the effort to be more accurate made them sound so good!

As much as I want to increase that metronome rate, I'm going to stay slow for a while...

Something similar happened to me. I was trying to move along with a piece after having played it well to a particular speed. I was setting a pace to be at max speed by my next lesson. I had to cancel my lesson today and decided to slow everything down, scales and all because I was making so many mistakes. My husband commented today on how great my practice sounded! I think my problem is that I am so determined to move along as fast as possible because at my age I feel that I don't have any time to waste.
I realized today that there's just no reason not to play these pieces at speeds that please me! That's why I'm learning the cello. After all, I am my main audience; so why should I play in a way that irritates me?

I know my teacher would like to see accuracy and intonation over speed - although she does expect me to gradually increase the tempos on each piece, as long as I don't sacrifice quality to get there.

If I can play everything correctly every time at a slow pace, it should eventually become possible to play them accurately at faster paces.
You are so right, making a beautiful sound, with proper technique, is so much more pleasant than playing fast with a lot mistakes. I just need to keep reminding myself of that. My teacher reminds me every lesson. Thanks for your's so nice to know that there are others out there with similar experiences. This business of learning to play an instrument as an adult can be a little lonely. I'm not advanced enough yet to play with others.
Playing slowly is just a great tool (if I could just convince my students!) I went to a teaching workshop with Dorothy DeLay some years ago and she shared a practice technique she uses with her students. You turn every note into a whole note. You don't worry about rhythm or bowing, you just play every note as a whole note. That gives you time to think about the note you're on, think about the note you're going to, what the interval between them is and how to get there (shift, string crossing or whatever) and it clears up a lot of problems. It just takes forever! But she said you do that once with a passage, then put rhythm and everything else back in and sometimes the problems are fixed. If they aren't, you do it again with whole notes. It really does work. I love this technique.

Good luck with the practicing. I'm taking a few weeks off. I need a playing break.
Guanaco, you are so dedicated. You're practicing during the holidays? ... Such discipline! Holiday merriment has put my practicing and lessons on hold for the past 2 weeks.
I admire your discipline in practicing. My teacher is always telling me to practice slowly, which I pay attention to some of the time. It really does work but I find it oh so annoying sometimes!
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