One of the most common pieces of instruction that I have to give to my students is to slow down. In fact, I have to tell students to slow down so often that I’m always trying to figure out new ways to get my point across.
Slow practice is important because it helps us to learn music correctly and precisely. While playing fast can be exciting and fun, it often results in sloppy or incorrect playing. The good news is that after you practice music slowly, it will naturally speed up and sound much better than it would if you skipped straight to fast playing.
Here are some ways I try to help students to slow down:
- I quickly record them and have them listen to themselves. A lot of times, they don’t hear themselves playing too fast in the moment. (I usually just hit the record button on my Clavinova, but most phones have a voice memo feature that would do the trick.)
- I use sports-related analogies. Most kids understand the type of practice that is required to shoot a basketball or swing a baseball bat. I explain to them that in their sports they are training their muscles to score a basketball goal or hit the ball into the outfield. In piano, we also have to train our finger muscles to play the correct keys. If we go too fast our fingers don’t get a chance to learn how it feels to play correctly.
- I use movie-related analogies. I talk to students about what is like to watch a movie and how you have to pay attention to the words in the dialogue. If the actors were speaking too fast, we wouldn’t understand the story. Similarly, when people hear our music, if it is too fast, they can’t really understand it.
- I use the good, old-fashioned metronome. My Clavinova’s no-so-old-fashioned metronome has a nice feature where it will count out loud. This is really helpful when students seem to lose beats.
- I help students practice rhythm away from the piano. I regularly try to do rhythm drills away from the piano to instill a sense of steady beat. I find that these drills really help students transfer this skill into their music.
- I play along with students. It really helps them to hear how the music should sound, and when they are speeding up.
- Before a student begins playing, I ask: ” Do you think I would rather hear this music slow and correct or fast and sloppy?” Often, when students come for a lesson, they instantly start playing fast because they think they need to show me that they can play up to tempo, rather than demonstrating that they know how to play it well, but not yet up to tempo.
Hopefully some of these tactics are following my students home in their practicing!
Teachers, share your tips on getting students to slow down!
Parents, is there a lot of fast music happening at your house? Encourage your student to practice, rather than play!