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Piano Learning and Technique: The importance of practicing in slow motion or behind tempo

Learning a composition in slow speed is the best way to reach a satisfying level of performance at the desired tempo.

On one of the piano forums, students, teachers, amateurs and professionals are debating the value of slow practicing in developing performance fluency.

Some insist that motor movements enlisted in slow motion are different from those employed in a brisker tempo, so why bother going through a laborious phase one.

I can affirm that layered learning seems to be the best route to mastery of a  composition. And even if motions might be EXAGGERATED in a slow time framework, they can be effectively SIZED down in a faster one. It's what's referred to as the visible and invisible in piano technique. Tobias Matthay, a famous pianist who delved into technical aspects of piano playing, explored this dualism.

I advocate for slow phase practicing as exemplified in the video instruction dispensed on the Bach Little Prelude in D minor, BWV 435 where two voice counterpoint is a pivotal dimension of the work..

Each voice HAS to be examined, properly fingered, phrased and then fleshed out autonomous of the other. The brain needs ample time to process all these learning components.

Rushing through or skipping any sub-division of the total assimilation, carries a cost: The player will keep making the same mistakes; come to the same roadblocks in the piece; and grow quickly frustrated.

Most students who short shrift their learning process, make little progress, and want to move onto something NEW, rather than face the music before them IN DETAIL. Of course, Time and Patience, are vital ingredients of a journey to mastery and must be factored in.

My video instruction

As a proponent of the back tempo approach, I offer my process from the ground up as it applied to the Bach Little Prelude previously mentioned.

1) I played through the Right hand alone SLOWLY after I refined fingering and phrasing.. for me slowly, might be a tad too fast for others. Therefore, I would recommend an even a SLOWER TEMPO than I took in my video.

The slow reading exposed the nature of the subject and its shape, contour; key changes, and sequences. I noted these in the score and made myself aware of suggested dynamic markings.

2) I did the same for the left hand.. and made note of counterpoint, or the nature of its independent line that had a relationship to the subject. I looked for a counter-melody and noted in the score. (Keys, sequences were scoped out)

RE: Both hands, I noticed parallel tenths stream, and an ascending melodic minor segment.. etc. which I noted in the score.

3) I played both hands, fleshing out the Left Hand part  (not in video) but I do recommend.. also in slow tempo.

4) I played both hands, fleshing out the Right Hand part.

5) I practiced hands together with equal intensity, but listening for the internal energies of each line. (back tempo)

6) when I felt ready, I played through part A, first page in a brisker tempo, keeping my consciousness of all the ingredients in each line studied.

A more advanced student will get to a faster tempo quicker than one with less experience, technique, etc. but both need to embrace a deliberately slow, layered learning approach to bring a composition to a level of smooth and fluid performance.



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Christie December 27, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Thank you for this wonderful article. Not only is it on a topic rarely in the news, (which is refreshing!) I believe that this technique can work in many fields.
shirley kirsten December 27, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Thanks for your kind and valuable feedback. This video, in tempo should have arrived in the blog, but has lagged behind, (no pun intended) http://youtu.be/yte9ugmpXyk


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