piano, piano blog, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano practicing, piano teaching, slow piano practicing

Why is practicing slowly so unpopular?

There appears to be a stigma attached to parceling out a brand new piece in deliberately slow tempo, where a player threads through separate lines with a commitment to expression framed by an ultra-relaxed singing pulse. In the best realization of such immersion, the music becomes magnified to a new level of awareness, albeit in the incipient learning stage. (Fingering decisions are made; phrases undergo slow motion contouring, and a deep key/weight transferred relationship to the notes is explored, avoiding a top of the keys haphazard glide.)

Such slow but engaged practicing as described, sets a foundation for added layers of learning on progressively deeper levels.

In light of this truth, a substantial proportion of nay-sayers still view “slow learners,” as cognitively impaired, further stigmatizing the pupil who labors against premature piece-turnovers, and stays deeply affixed in moto lento. That is, until the time is right and ripe for a graduated tempo advancement.

More often, students who are asked to pull back from a tempo that is racing out of their control will resist the push back to a near heart-stopping pace. Or at minimum, they will re-try a separate hand reading at the tempo set by the teacher only to deviate from the agreed upon “beat,” as if the mentor would hardly notice.

Face the music, practicing at a snail’s pace, but preserving the player’s “high” inside a MAGNIFIED musical bubble, still attaches a Western cultural taboo allied to our fast-paced existence with its built-in upward MOBILITY frenzy. (“Getting there fast is half the fun,” blasted at fever pitch in carry-over-to-life auto advertising, is pervasive!)

Add in cell phones grunting out instant message alerts amidst unwanted calls interrupting piano lessons, and it’s no wonder that peace of mind needed to inhabit a retrograde inversion of time is a foreign and ill-timed request.

Still I refuse to surrender my commitment to time-honored teaching that is in defiance of a Beat the Clock, 1950’s era mantra. As antidote to the culture of cramming, crowding, and herding notes in a cadential stampede, I underscore my own SLOWED down approach to all my music from Bach to Blues.

“If I can practice my pieces slowly, so can you.”

I’ll admit that there’s a bit of guilt sandwiched into my haughty, authoritarian push back, but it works, at least for 15-minute chunks, before an iPhone breaks the mood of a higher Power tempo-suspended intervention.

By example, I will rehash one of my classic learning journeys and how it advanced from a heightened back tempo approach to a smooth and satisfying outpouring. That usually gets my adult brood going, at least for the time being.


(Below is a J.S. Bach Prelude that I allowed months to grow from carefully spaced-out seeding to its eventual maturation.)


An Adult Student exemplifies slow practicing in Turk’s “Happiness”

The steady progress made over time:

11 thoughts on “Why is practicing slowly so unpopular?”

  1. i agree 10,000% ! my “test” of whether a piece is memorized is can i play it at half tempo all the way thru, not just slower but literally 1/2 tempo. i call it the chopped and screwed variation. just the other day i was having issues w/ a prelude d minor wtc ii which is a fast piece. there was a section that i found to be very scary in that i never knew if i would stumble or not. i focus practiced the section very very slowed and realized i didn’t have a coherent choreography of how my hands had to move in my mind, knowing the notes were not enough i needed to have a concrete dance in my head of how my hands moved (going from the front of the keys to closer to the splash board and at how this changed over time in the passage i was struggling with) what a revelation! knowing just the notes is not enough. now i can play that passage quite securely at the fast tempo but it took the very very slow investigation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bravo to your patient, introspective, analytical and musical approach at 1/2 tempo. Thanks for sharing your detailed and multi-dimensional practicing routines that pave the way to fluidity. For certain the choreography of playing the piano is intrinsic to the learning process.


  2. Absolutely! There’s no substitute for slow practicing, and even hyper-slow practicing. For me, practicing at a too-fast tempo leads to mistakes and bad habits which are learned, and which must be unlearned before I can advance in the piece. In fact, playing slowly, in a relaxed state of mind, leads to the assurance and expectation of an exploration of the music uncomplicated by mistakes — or fewer of them, anyway. Additionally, as you observe, it does allow exploration of a deep key/weight transferred relationship to the notes.
    There’s a video on YouTube of Ben Hogan, a champion golfer in the 1950’s, practicing his golf swing in hyper-slow-motion. Slow practice worked for him.
    There must be some data, somewhere, on the mind-body learning process, and how slow, focused practice trains both in learning a piece. The search is on.


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