If you’ve ever worked with a teacher then you’ve probably heard this very common piece of advice: practice slowly. Slow practice is a tried and true way of practicing, but what makes it so effective?
Slow practice shines a magnifying glass on things that you need to correct, making it easier to identify problems and craft solutions so you can make progress. Oftentimes the tempo of what we’re working on can make us feel rushed and we might make a mistake but not really know what the problem was. We might even say, “Why did I make a mistake there? I never mess up there!” Slowing down removes that rushed feeling and allows us to see much more clearly things that are usually moving at too fast a pace for us to see. Thus, slow practice is an excellent diagnostic tool.
Moreover, at faster tempos we tend to tense up more (especially when we come to difficult spots in the music) and this can make a difficult passage even more challenging. With slow practice, though, it is much easier to stay relaxed. In fact, if you practice slowly enough you can be completely relaxed, almost meditative with how you approach a passage. This can sometimes be the key to making a difficult passage much, much easier. So, how should you practice? Slowly.
But just how slowly should you practice? S L O W. No, I mean: S L O W. Don’t just slow down a little bit. It’s important that you take things at a snail’s pace. It’s a lot easier to see what’s going wrong and to stay relaxed if you slow down by at least half of your usual tempo. In fact, we can sometimes even remove tempo altogether and work just on the slowest mechanical motions possible to feel what it’s like to be relaxed in our motions. So the next time your teacher asks you to play slowly, make sure you really slow down!