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#2286781 - 06/06/14 10:52 PM Slow Practice
earlofmar Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1500
Loc: Australia
Most of my reading on this subject, including on this forum, espouses the merits of slow practice but I have not found anything on how to incorporate this into my daily practice. I want to apply this type of practice to one piece in particular I am having difficulty with, mainly with random errors. So I have a couple of questions:

1. Is slow practice good for eliminating random errors?
2. How slow should you go? (I have read half or quarter speed)
3. How many repeats in a session should you do in this slow practice?
4. Should you alternate tempos within a session or over days?
5. How long would you stay doing these slow practice sessions?


Edited by earlofmar (06/06/14 10:53 PM)
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#2286793 - 06/06/14 11:19 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
gynnis Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/16/14
Posts: 116
Loc: Florida, Connecticut
I usually found it most useful on the organ rather than the piano. It seems to work best for pieces that have big changes in speed and difficulty. Usually, I would find the most difficult and fastest part of the piece and slow practice that first, usually at about 1/4 speed and work it up to full speed. Then you can incorporate it into the rest of the piece which can usually be played at close to full speed at early readings anyway.

The real point is to use slow practice to play sections error free and train muscle memory. It really doesn't seem to work very well for random errors.
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#2286797 - 06/06/14 11:28 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7345
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
Most of my reading on this subject, including on this forum, espouses the merits of slow practice but I have not found anything on how to incorporate this into my daily practice. I want to apply this type of practice to one piece in particular I am having difficulty with, mainly with random errors. So I have a couple of questions:

1. Is slow practice good for eliminating random errors?
2. How slow should you go? (I have read half or quarter speed)
3. How many repeats in a session should you do in this slow practice?
4. Should you alternate tempos within a session or over days?
5. How long would you stay doing these slow practice sessions?

How did your teacher answer these questions?
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#2286860 - 06/07/14 02:59 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
AZNpiano Offline
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Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5454
Loc: Orange County, CA
Do you use a metronome? And keep track of your speed?

Slow practice is more for mental discipline than anything else. A number of my students are totally incapable of practicing slowly. They just want to sit down, play as fast as possible, and get it over with. Or sound "impressive" by playing really fast, wrong notes and wrong rhythms included. And crazy fingering.

The patient ones who can put up with slow, careful, attentive, metronome practice end up being better players who actually understand the rhythm of the piece and play the correct notes. And their fingering is usually flawless.
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#2286863 - 06/07/14 03:16 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: John v.d.Brook]
earlofmar Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1500
Loc: Australia
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook

How did your teacher answer these questions?


John, I always appreciate input from as many sources as possible. Some may work and some won't.
_________________________
I thought I understood endurance sport; then I took up piano
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#2286864 - 06/07/14 03:19 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: AZNpiano]
earlofmar Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1500
Loc: Australia
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
Do you use a metronome? And keep track of your speed?



I haven't been using a metronome but recently started doing so. I am a mature age student and not out to impress, speed doesn't really interest me but getting it right does.
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I thought I understood endurance sport; then I took up piano
XXXV-6-XXX

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#2286905 - 06/07/14 08:00 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
mikey keys Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/06/07
Posts: 62
Loc: New York
Hi earl, that is a great question. Many students don't understand how to practice slow and they often get it wrong. You can practice a piece to slow and too fast. It is hard to tell you when to slow something down and how slow you should make it. Without hearing you play, it is similar to shooting in the dark. As an overall rule, if you can't play the rhythms correct, then the song needs to be slower.

Here is something you can try. Find the fastest rhythms you have in the part of the song you are working on. Put the metronome on and count the fastest rhythms with the metronome. For instance, if the fastest rhythms you have are sixteenth notes, then each click of the metronome will click on "1 e & a 2 e & a" and so on. So the first click on "1" the second click on "e," the third on "&," and so on. If it is eighth notes, then each click will be 1&2& and so on. See if you can find a tempo on the metronome where you can play that part 100% correct 3 times in a row. If you did it the first try, then the tempo you picked was too easy for you. Make a mental note that you can handle more for next time. Once you are able to get it correct 3 times, start speeding up the metronome 4-12 clicks. If you can get it correct keep going faster. If you get stumped at a tempo, make sure you can play it 3 times in a row at that speed before you continue. When you start getting to fast tempos like 120-144 you are going to have to switch your counting with the metronome to the higher rhythm. For instance, if you were counting with sixteenth note and you get to 120, switch the metronome to 60, which is half the speed. Now count the eighth notes with the metronome. If you were counting eighth already, switch to quarter note counting. Then continue getting faster until you reach the speed of the song.

There may be a point where the speed is too difficult. If you can't get any faster in a couple of minutes, slow the metronome down until you can get it again.

I hope that helps.


Edited by mikey keys (06/07/14 01:46 PM)

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#2286931 - 06/07/14 10:26 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7345
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook

How did your teacher answer these questions?


John, I always appreciate input from as many sources as possible. Some may work and some won't.

I asked because I'd rather build on, support, or expand the direction your teacher is going. They know your needs far better than we can possibly know from a simple one-off question posted on a forum.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#2286935 - 06/07/14 10:31 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: John v.d.Brook]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3187
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
Most of my reading on this subject, including on this forum, espouses the merits of slow practice but I have not found anything on how to incorporate this into my daily practice. I want to apply this type of practice to one piece in particular I am having difficulty with, mainly with random errors. So I have a couple of questions:

1. Is slow practice good for eliminating random errors?
2. How slow should you go? (I have read half or quarter speed)
3. How many repeats in a session should you do in this slow practice?
4. Should you alternate tempos within a session or over days?
5. How long would you stay doing these slow practice sessions?

How did your teacher answer these questions?


It would be interesting to have him ask his teacher what slow means.

I can take a MIDI recording and set it to any speed I want, even beyond the range of my metronome.

The pulse will slow, AND the notes will slow. But the rate at which notes change will not slow, because there is no physical motion.

But human players must move physically, and so they must make decisions about HOW to move when playing slowly. If I play a piece at 1/4 speed, what part of my body moves at quarter speed? The fingers? Then it will be 1/4 as loud. The motion between notes only? Then you must move s.l.o.wFASTs.l.o.w.

I think much of the value of slow practice is lost if this is not addressed explicitly. I'm sure teachers do so, but I have never seen it discussed on the beginner or student forums.
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#2286937 - 06/07/14 10:33 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
keystring Online   content
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Registered: 12/11/07
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Slow practice in and of itself is only half of the equation. Practising slowly gives you the necessary time to focus on details - WHAT to focus on, and HOW to focus on it - is the other half. And here is where your teacher comes in, as John says. There may also be times when fast practise may be asked for, again for its purpose.

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#2286941 - 06/07/14 10:49 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: keystring]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3187
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: keystring
Slow practice in and of itself is only half of the equation. Practising slowly gives you the necessary time to focus on details - WHAT to focus on, and HOW to focus on it - is the other half.


That's a really good point. Slow practice tends to be treated here as if it were inherently good. I see it as a tool to be used for specific reasons. The nature of those reasons will influence how slow and how one moves. Focusing on details is one of those reasons but not the only one.

Quote:
And here is where your teacher comes in, as John says. There may also be times when fast practise may be asked for, again for its purpose.


Everybody touts slow practice. Fast practice is a very neglected tool. I do some every day, for specific reasons.
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#2286955 - 06/07/14 12:08 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
hreichgott Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/13
Posts: 958
Loc: western MA, USA
As keystring and TimR say, the answer depends on what you're trying to accomplish.

Usually for beginning and intermediate students, especially adults, I find that they tend to play too fast in the learning stages, which results in frequent note errors, and it takes forever to learn to play the notes accurately. If you are having a problem with frequent note errors, then you can most quickly improve your accuracy by working at a speed where it is easy to get all the notes right. This may feel horribly slow. The good news is that once you get used to getting a passage right at a slow speed, it is much easier to get it right at a faster speed, and you develop accuracy sooner than if you always practice at a speed where there are frequent errors.

So for developing note accuracy, practice most of the time at your "easy speed" in which 100% accuracy is not hard, whatever speed that means for you.

For advanced students, "easy speed" practice is still useful as a general rule when working on accuracy. Practice at slower speeds can also be helpful when trying to change something musical. Like if you are playing a Bach allemande and you think the right hand's lower voice needs to have more of a crescendo during a certain group of four sixteenth notes, it will be hard to make the fix all at once, so take it apart: try just the voice with the desired crescendo slowly until you can make it happen, then add the other voices in one at a time slowly. Once it's working then put it back together: increase the speed until the crescendo becomes reliable with all voices playing from a farther-back starting point.

edit: regarding your questions on how many times to play a spot slowly, do it until you feel like you could do it 100% accurately whenever you wanted. 5-10 times with perfect accuracy might be a good number, but it depends on you and on the passage.


Edited by hreichgott (06/07/14 12:15 PM)
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Sounding the depths of small pieces: Beethoven Op. 33
Daily attempts at 16th notes: Chopin Op. 10 no. 4, Pischna
Totally loving Fauré/Barcarolles and Ravel/Tombeau de Couperin
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#2287017 - 06/07/14 03:22 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: TimR]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11648
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: TimR
Originally Posted By: keystring
Slow practice in and of itself is only half of the equation. Practising slowly gives you the necessary time to focus on details - WHAT to focus on, and HOW to focus on it - is the other half.


That's a really good point. Slow practice tends to be treated here as if it were inherently good. I see it as a tool to be used for specific reasons. The nature of those reasons will influence how slow and how one moves. Focusing on details is one of those reasons but not the only one.

I was stressing something that John pointed out - the OP's teacher. Hopefully this teacher will be telling his student what s/he wants to be concentrated on, and that will be part of this.

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#2287132 - 06/07/14 09:30 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
Piano*Dad Offline
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Registered: 04/12/05
Posts: 10354
Loc: Williamsburg, VA
earlofmar,

You talk about random errors, but I'm not convinced that random is actually a very good word here. If you're looking at the music and making mistakes, it's generally because you are not fully taking in and processing everything that's on the page at whatever speed you are trying to play. The errors are unlikely to be truly random. They're more likely related to the spots where your brain isn't seeing or your hands aren't fully comprehending the easiest and most reliable pathway. Slow practice helps me to get the visual connections and hand motions down reliably in situations where the music is simply too complex for me to sight read it accurately.
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#2287454 - 06/08/14 06:43 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: Piano*Dad]
whales Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 05/09/14
Posts: 7
Originally Posted By: Piano*Dad
earlofmar,

You talk about random errors, but I'm not convinced that random is actually a very good word here. If you're looking at the music and making mistakes, it's generally because you are not fully taking in and processing everything that's on the page at whatever speed you are trying to play. The errors are unlikely to be truly random. They're more likely related to the spots where your brain isn't seeing or your hands aren't fully comprehending the easiest and most reliable pathway. Slow practice helps me to get the visual connections and hand motions down reliably in situations where the music is simply too complex for me to sight read it accurately.


This is exactly what I wanted to say! Try to look deeper for underlying causes of the errors -- is there a problem with your fingering? Are your hands not getting in position in time?

Here's one of my favorite pieces of writing about this subject: http://celandine13.livejournal.com/33599.html. This is a long quote, but the whole thing is worth reading:
Quote:
I wasn't an exceptional pianist, and when I'd play my nocturne for him, there would be a few clinkers. I apologized -- I was embarrassed to be wasting his time. But he never seem to judge me for my mistakes. Instead, he'd try to fix them with me: repeating a three-note phrase, differently each time, trying to get me to unlearn a hand position or habitual movement pattern that was systematically sending my fingers to wrong notes.

I had never thought about wrong notes that way. I had thought that wrong notes came from being "bad at piano" or "not practicing hard enough," and if you practiced harder the clinkers would go away. But that's a myth.

In fact, wrong notes always have a cause. An immediate physical cause. Just before you play a wrong note, your fingers were in a position that made that wrong note inevitable. Fixing wrong notes isn't about "practicing harder" but about trying to unkink those systematically error-causing fingerings and hand motions. That's where the "telekinesis" comes in: pretending you can move your fingers with your mind is a kind of mindfulness meditation that can make it easier to unlearn the calcified patterns of movement that cause mistakes.


Edited by whales (06/08/14 06:45 PM)
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#2287565 - 06/09/14 12:19 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
earlofmar Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1500
Loc: Australia
Thank you one and all for your responses. I have spent close to a week slow practicing my piece, less than what I previously thought was slow. I am seeing improvement and gaining more confidence with fewer mistakes. I now believe the random mistakes I spoke off may be caused by concentration lapses which I am going to investigate further.
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I thought I understood endurance sport; then I took up piano
XXXV-6-XXX

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#2287616 - 06/09/14 08:10 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3187
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
I have spent close to a week slow practicing my piece, less than what I previously thought was slow.


Out of curiosity, what did you slow down? Everything? Motion between notes? Or are you pausing on a note, then moving at full speed to the next note?

There are many varieties of slow.
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#2287618 - 06/09/14 08:15 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
malkin Online   content
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Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2498
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
I love this thread!
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#2287769 - 06/09/14 05:08 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
A443 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/12
Posts: 1043
Loc: Manywheres
This is indeed an excellent thread, with great responses covering the most important aspects of the OP questions about slow practice. That is awesomely efficient.
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#2287785 - 06/09/14 05:56 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: TimR]
earlofmar Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1500
Loc: Australia
Originally Posted By: TimR
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
I have spent close to a week slow practicing my piece, less than what I previously thought was slow.


Out of curiosity, what did you slow down? Everything? Motion between notes? Or are you pausing on a note, then moving at full speed to the next note?

There are many varieties of slow.


I slowed down the complete piece to half speed.
_________________________
I thought I understood endurance sport; then I took up piano
XXXV-6-XXX

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#2287839 - 06/09/14 08:26 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
malkin Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2498
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
At half speed can you play through with no stops?
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#2287850 - 06/09/14 09:09 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
hreichgott Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/13
Posts: 958
Loc: western MA, USA
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
Thank you one and all for your responses. I have spent close to a week slow practicing my piece, less than what I previously thought was slow. I am seeing improvement and gaining more confidence with fewer mistakes. I now believe the random mistakes I spoke off may be caused by concentration lapses which I am going to investigate further.

Great!!!
_________________________
Heather W. Reichgott, piano http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com
Sounding the depths of small pieces: Beethoven Op. 33
Daily attempts at 16th notes: Chopin Op. 10 no. 4, Pischna
Totally loving Fauré/Barcarolles and Ravel/Tombeau de Couperin
I love Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and new music

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#2287857 - 06/09/14 09:27 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: malkin]
earlofmar Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1500
Loc: Australia
Originally Posted By: malkin
At half speed can you play through with no stops?


Yes I can if I maintain focus and concentration which maybe the original issue. By playing it at 50% speed as opposed to what I was playing before (70-80%)I have more time to think ahead just before a change comes up. I think I have read this before, that one must train the mind to think faster in a gradual way as the piece matures. I can only conclude that my idea of slow practice to date has not been slow enough and that my gradual increase in tempo will have to be planned and executed in a more methodical way. The minutia of learning piano never fails to amaze me.
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I thought I understood endurance sport; then I took up piano
XXXV-6-XXX

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#2287859 - 06/09/14 09:45 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
John v.d.Brook Offline
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Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7345
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
FWIW, you might try playing it slowly enough so you make zero note errors.

I'd still like to learn what guidance your teacher has provided on this subject. Thanks.
_________________________
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Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#2287865 - 06/09/14 10:01 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: earlofmar]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3187
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
Originally Posted By: TimR
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
I have spent close to a week slow practicing my piece, less than what I previously thought was slow.


Out of curiosity, what did you slow down? Everything? Motion between notes? Or are you pausing on a note, then moving at full speed to the next note?

There are many varieties of slow.


I slowed down the complete piece to half speed.


That is not possible. If you did so, it would be half as loud. You slowed down part of the piece to half speed.
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#2287870 - 06/09/14 10:18 PM Re: Slow Practice [Re: TimR]
keystring Online   content
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Registered: 12/11/07
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Originally Posted By: TimR

That is not possible. If you did so, it would be half as loud. You slowed down part of the piece to half speed.

The speed of the downward motion into a key affects volume. The length of time between notes equals slowing down, and that is not the same thing as the motion affecting volume. If it were so, then all largo pieces would be quiet, and all presto pieces would be loud.

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#2287906 - 06/10/14 12:34 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: keystring]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7345
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Originally Posted By: keystring
... If it were so, then all largo pieces would be quiet, and all presto pieces would be loud.

Keystring, this pretty well sums up the way most students play!
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#2287920 - 06/10/14 01:31 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: John v.d.Brook]
earlofmar Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1500
Loc: Australia
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
FWIW, you might try playing it slowly enough so you make zero note errors.

I'd still like to learn what guidance your teacher has provided on this subject. Thanks.


It will be front and centre of the next lesson I have for sure.
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I thought I understood endurance sport; then I took up piano
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#2287926 - 06/10/14 02:31 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: TimR]
earlofmar Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1500
Loc: Australia
Originally Posted By: TimR
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
Originally Posted By: TimR
Originally Posted By: earlofmar
I have spent close to a week slow practicing my piece, less than what I previously thought was slow.


Out of curiosity, what did you slow down? Everything? Motion between notes? Or are you pausing on a note, then moving at full speed to the next note?

There are many varieties of slow.


I slowed down the complete piece to half speed.


That is not possible. If you did so, it would be half as loud. You slowed down part of the piece to half speed.


Perhaps by using the word speed I misspoke so just to clarify: the piece (Clementi Sonatina No 2) I have been learning for 5.5 months. Movement 1, allegretto, I was playing at 70 bpm, movement 3 vivace, I was playing at 80 bpm. I believed these tempo's were slow enough to build a base from but this has been self delusion for I have found to get 100% note accuracy 55-60 bpm is the best tempo. My plan is to stay at 55-60 bpm for another week to build back up some badly battered confidence and then with the metronome gradually increase tempo to the correct tempo or something I can live with.

Do I have similar problems with other pieces I hear you ask, well no not really. While this Sonatina has been a technical stretch for me I feel confident it is just a deeper understanding of the complexities of the practice environment that is required. Again thanks for all the replies and suggestions.
_________________________
I thought I understood endurance sport; then I took up piano
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#2287984 - 06/10/14 07:56 AM Re: Slow Practice [Re: John v.d.Brook]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3187
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
Originally Posted By: keystring
... If it were so, then all largo pieces would be quiet, and all presto pieces would be loud.

Keystring, this pretty well sums up the way most students play!


My handbell choir too! It doesn't seem to matter how many times I make them chant "Loud is not fast, soft is not slow;" the pull to slow down on the soft parts is almost irresistable.
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