Laurie's Violin School: Play fast, but don't rush.

April 27, 2015, 1:23 PM · You may play this fast, but you may not rush.

I found myself delivering this admonishment to a student recently, as we prepared for the spring studio recital. She was tripping over the notes at the final "più mosso" at the end of the Seitz Concerto (No. 3, III), but the problem was not her ambitious speed. She could handle the speed. The problem was an unintended accelerando.

I used to run down a certain hill at a park with my children, à la Little House on the Prairie. It was a dangerous endeavor as an adult, because if you truly let gravity take you, your legs can't keep up, and of course you fall to the ground. Her fingers were reminding me of this -- as the tempo careened out of control, her fingers stumbled.

My student was clearly unaware that rushing was the problem. In fact, I'm pretty sure she perceived the problem as a deficiency in her own abilities. "This passage is fast and difficult, and I just can't keep up!" Not true.

bearWhy do we rush? For some, it's simply a fear of the fast passage, as if that passage is a bear in the woods. Oh no, I can see it up ahead, a BEAR! That bear is bigger, stronger and faster than I am, and I think it's going to chase me. I have to outrun the bear, I can't breathe, ahhhh! Here comes that fast passage -- it's faster than I can go! I have to go faster! I think I'll hold my breath until it's over -- hellllp!

Many students are surprised to learn that their problem is not that they need to speed up, but that they need to slow down.

For my student, I took out the handy metronome, "What speed are we trying to take this?" We agreed on the speed that the passage should be, at full tempo. I set the metronome ticking, "Let's hear it!"

Though she was clearly making a lot of adjustments, she had no trouble negotiating the notes at this speed. When she finished the passage, I asked a question, though I knew the answer:

"How did it feel? Did the metronome slow you down, or did it speed you up?"

She thought for a second. "It mostly slowed me down," she said.

"Well that's good news!" I said. "You can handle it just fine at this speed, and certainly it doesn't need to go faster."

Of course, knowing these things doesn't cure the problem, so I gave her our metronome marking and advised her to practice it at that speed and other speeds in the few days left before the recital. When the day came, she played it impressively fast, but she didn't rush!

So if you have a difficult fast passage and have to correct your rushing ways (or a student's), here are a few ideas:

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Replies

April 30, 2015 at 09:56 PM · Well put! It often becomes a deadly feedback loop: you feel nervous about a passage and speed up, which makes your playing sloppy, which makes you more nervous, which makes you speed up more... until the whole thing collapses. It's hard to force yourself to slow down, but good if you can.

At yesterday's rehearsal we got to one of those nervous passages full of sixteenth notes, but the conductor slowed us down and wouldn't let us rush - and lo and behold, we got through it cleanly. Well, fairly cleanly anyway...

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