Since beginning this blog, I have been scutinizing my own practicing nearly every day. There is much more involved than I had been aware of, especially on a verbal level.

Today I practiced mostly in slow motion.
So, how slow is that?
In college, one of my classmates used to prop his left leg & foot on the piano bench, draping his right leg over the left. He would incline his head so far to the left, his face was practically touching the keyboard.
He would sit there for the longest time, watching his right index finger descending s-l-o-w-l-y from the air to the bottom of the key.
How do I know this? Some genius installed doors on the practice rooms w/large windows, top & bottom!
Anyway, this rate of “practicing,” several of my other classmates & I thought, was probably pointless.
I thought of 2 comparisons this evening: one is like instant replay in a televised baseball or football game. Not excruciatingly slow, but you can see what’s happening more clearly.
The other is like the difference in detail you can take in riding on a train, in a car, or walking.
With slow practice, you can:
  • hear more detail
  • look ahead more easily
  • think ahead effectively
  • play the correct fingering

By contrast, faster playing invites more mistakes unless the music is ready for performance. Taken to its extreme, when you make enough mistakes in one practice session, you can start thinking that you’re a bad musician or have inadequate technique. (“I’ll never be able to play this [expletive here] piece!”)

Today I discovered, by slow practice, that an entire section of a Liszt piece has a big gap in sound at the end of every measure. That didn’t sound like the composer’s intention. So I moved the pedal change to a later point, by about a 16th note. (Pedal markings* are often as close as they can get. It’s listening to the sound that makes the decision.)

The most significant benefit I’m finding from slow practice is that the progress I make today “sticks!” It’s there the next time. Eliminating the hit-or-miss quality of some practicing is well worth the effort.

My practice today included 1 Liszt piece, 1 Stravinsky (the metronome helped!), 2 Messiaen, 2 Charles Turner, & 1 Bach fugue. Total time: 1 hrs. (Yesterday was a bust ~ too humid. I lasted 45 min.)

Happy practicing!

*Pedal is sometimes indicated as “Ped.” for a line or two, with no ” * ” (lift pedal) marking at all. Only rarely would that mean to leave the pedal depressed the entire time! More likely, it would indicate to play “with pedal,” assuming that you will listen & pedal accordingly.

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