Stuck? Play it faster...

November 10, 2010 at 03:16 PM ·

OK, bit tongue in cheek here.  We all know that when you are learning a new piece its great to slow down, sometimes a LOT to get the notes and then gradually speed up.  Well, what about the pits (I meant to write 'bits' but that works better) where that does NOT work despite 100X repetition.  Seems you get a brain burp each time that particular sequence comes up.

My solution - play it as fast as you can bow.  Get used to that and VOILA its easy.

Patent Applied for :)

Replies (24)

November 10, 2010 at 03:21 PM ·

 Actually there is truth in this, with a big if! Fast practice works well if it is correct practice.

Slow practice is great, but eventually you need fast practice for a fast passage. But you still need correct practice. So to accomplish this, break the passage up into bits, however small you need to play the notes correctly. Then just put in stops between the bits. So maybe you will do groups of four notes, up to speed. Then groups of six or eight, etc. Then make the stops smaller and smaller. Practice in rhythms, too. But yes, there is more than slow practice, for correcting a passage!


November 10, 2010 at 05:30 PM ·

Thanks Laurie, that makes a lot of sense - I might give you a percentage of the patent income :D

November 10, 2010 at 06:06 PM ·

I like to do what Laurie said.  It works consistently for me.

"… where that [slow practice] does NOT work despite 100X repetition."

Here's the rub: "100X."  I follow this rule: At any given speed, two strikes -- you're out.  Not three strikes, not five, not a hundred.

If my target in a new piece is 144 bpm and I can't manage a troublesome measure that fast, I'll try it and the immediately surrounding measures at, let's say, 120.  If no problems, then 125.  Still no problems?  Then 130.  When nearing my max for the passage, I'll go up only 2 or 3 bpm on successive takes.

If my form starts to fall off at, let's say, 135, I stop, isolate the problem, then try again at 135.  If I still don't have the problem licked at 135, then 130 is my max on the passage for this session.  Stop.  Play something else.  Come back later to the piece.

Bottom line: If you get something wrong three times at a given speed before you get it right once, you're reinforcing incorrect auto responses -- what Leopold Auer refers to as perfecting our faults.

The metronome is great -- and unforgiving -- for instantly spotlighting hesitations.  And speed-building and evenness, as I know from experience, come in part from eliminating hesitations.

Then, too, I often find that it's a tricky or unexpected bowing or phrasing that throws me off -- not the left hand at all.  I may find myself following proper technique; but then, when I get to 135, I may find myself swinging the right shoulder -- the very thing I shouldn't be doing -- and throwing myself off stride.  In mastering new material, I'm usually quicker at solving left-hand problems than bow-arm ones.  And I'm decidedly right-handed.

November 10, 2010 at 07:27 PM ·

This is from an interview with Ruggiero Ricci as published in The Strad :

Question ;  Should one practise slowly first?

Answer   :   You should practise slowly first, second and last.

Question :  How much finger pressure should you have on the string?

Answer    :  You only have to press the string down enough to get the note. If you press down to the fingerboard, it slows you down. If you want to go fast, press the string only part-way down.

This was in a special anniversary feature of The Strad in which Ricci gives his top technique tips.


November 10, 2010 at 10:55 PM ·

In many of these ascending and descending octave runs, eg Vivaldi's "Spring", bar 46, often only the first and last notes are accented and the rest are "fluffed". Maybe it just sounds that way, eg if individual members in a section are playing slightly out of time :)

November 11, 2010 at 05:59 AM ·


the majority of slow practice people do is a waste of time because they have not been taught the basic principle that slow practice requires incredibly intense ,  possibly even rapid, mental work.   Without this `yin` to the yang maxim `practice slowly` one is truly wasting time and learning very little.

The badly explained and often harmful maxim (practice slowly) which is interpeted as repeat soemthign over and over slowly without thought,    also has the effect of blinding the player to an equally significant kind of practice;  fast slow practice.     This is practice in which one takes all the time in the world to mentally prepare a tiny chunk and then plays it more or less up to tempo,  including a link into the next chunk.  a procedure thta is rpeeated many times. (as Laurie pointed out)



November 11, 2010 at 01:32 PM ·

Well said Buri,, and very good spelling might I add.

Elise, you can't patent this.  It was taught to me by David Nadien who said that you practice slow, and you practice fast, and nothing in between.  He thought it was a waste of time to gradually increase the tempo on any passage bit by bit. 

Back to agreeing with Buri.  Slow practice is a waste of time unless you're actively teaching your fingers to react quickly.  When playing fast 16th note passages for example practice note by note, as slowly as you like and in martele strokes.  At the end of the martele stroke your fingers and bow should be down and ready for the next stroke.  It might sound like slow practice but your fingers are thinking and working furiously at breakneck speed.

November 11, 2010 at 01:58 PM ·

Marina: fantastic - the addition of the martele stroke to the equation as a practical way to achieve Bui's 'active' slow learning. Obviously both you and Buri get shared in the patent too (so what if your teacher came up with the idea first: since there are no shares left for me now you all get to 'share' the cost of the ensuing law suit... :) ).

Funny what comes up when you start a topic: the answer (to paraphrase) is to play the notes at their normal duration but in a slow sequence.  Thus, the 'speeding up' reflects not the note itself, but the gap between the notes.   This makes a lot of sense since otherwise you have to actually relearn the note each time you change the tempo.  I'm going to try that this morning....


November 11, 2010 at 04:32 PM ·

No wonder I can't play fast.  I've been doing it all wrong.  Good points.

November 11, 2010 at 04:39 PM ·

When I play too fast my left hand goes faster than  my right and can finish the tune before the bowing has ended.

November 11, 2010 at 05:57 PM ·

Julian - thats pretty funny.  Does it happen with your legs too when you run?  I mean you go in circles at top speed? :D

November 12, 2010 at 01:36 AM ·

For me, the classic Galamian rhythm patterns avail the best of both slow and fast practicing.



November 12, 2010 at 05:40 AM ·

 I found that when i am stuck, playing the difficult passage with different rhythms helps tremendously and much more than just trying to play it as fast as i can. I start with 

short - long, long - short, short - long - long, ...



November 12, 2010 at 09:47 AM ·

Marc: "I found that when i am stuck, playing the difficult passage with different rhythms helps tremendously"

I suppose thats similar to playing it faster - the idea is to put it in a different mold, one that is more difficult than the original.  When you return the original seems strangely easy.

November 12, 2010 at 04:32 PM ·

Don: I read your post several times and I'm afraid I cant get all the bits! Can you rephrase perhaps?

November 12, 2010 at 06:39 PM ·

Ah.  What triggered the post was Kreuzer I with the position shifts in the latter third.  They are not difficult but I seemed to have developed a hard-wired brain hickup every time I played through them - I could do it slowly but back to speed, back to problem.  So I tried playing the etude much faster - which was at least fun - and then found that the shifts seemed rather easy.

Hence topic!

I'm now playing with some of the ideas above to get the rapid runs in Mozart 137 Presto.  Speed does not work by itself.  Gradually increasing tempo was hit-and miss.  However, doing Buri and marina's suggestions - slow rapid notes, followed by fast very short segments is a winner.  That works for me.  For the latter I take about 4 notes at speed and play over and over.  Then four more - but overlapping one or two of the previous ones (depending on the passage).  What it does is to make the rapid fingering very familiar and normal. 

The problem with trying to play it all in one go fast is that you don't get consistency - indeed inconsistency is built into the attempt and without consistency you can't learn a motor action.  By playing just a few notes you can be consistent and fast QED.


November 12, 2010 at 07:25 PM ·

"Ah.  What triggered the post was Kreuzer I with the position shifts in the latter third."

Eloise - you should do the Rode Caprices instead - much easier!

November 12, 2010 at 07:30 PM ·

 It's almost inevitable, if a passage isn't going well at a fast marking, you'll find the mistakes when you play it slowly as well!

November 12, 2010 at 07:33 PM ·

"Pure motor skill on the violin" .  Yes it is called polishing. 

November 12, 2010 at 10:30 PM ·

Yes, and under the finger board also.

November 13, 2010 at 12:17 AM ·

"The badly explained and often harmful maxim (practice slowly) which is interpeted as repeat soemthign over and over slowly without thought ... "

Practice in general is usually reduced to "do it over and over without thought" at any speed.  It's incredibly damaging.

November 13, 2010 at 01:15 AM ·

Perhaps playing a piece with a different rhytm or speed is an artificial way to pique the interest and hence, to get you back to 'thought'.  Maybe thats really what its about - the inability to see and address the mistakes becaue the piece has become rote.

November 13, 2010 at 01:36 AM ·

Pick up the violin, and set out to master one aspect of a piece that's bothering you.  An annoying string crossing (my annoyances are pretty basic at this stage, but it goes for any instrument).  A squeak you ALWAYS GET on one sticky bit.  One stretch that always kills you.

Try it.  Analyze why it went wrong.  Ask yourself how you can fix it so it doesn't go wrong anymore.  Try that solution.

Did it work?  Great, then do it a couple dozen times to program it in.  Did it not work?  Ask yourself why.  Propose another solution.  Try that one.  Repeat as necessary.

Then, once you have hammered out the annoying bits, try the whole piece with deliberation.  Pay attention the whole time.  Do it enough times to program it in so that it's the natural, instinctive way to do it.  Make sure you remember how you solved that problem, because it might be applicable to another problem down the line.  Take notes.  Write down what you did right, what you need to work on, and what is on the fence to get picked off next time.

Then, pick off that next problem.  (There's always one more round of annoying bits in every piece, even after you stomped out the first round.)  You cracked the squeak on the string crossing near the frog.  Now, what about that irritating thing where your third finger creeps sharp after you've used your fourth finger on the A string?

Practicing is problem-solving.  Always sit down at the instrument (or pick it up) with an idea to solve a problem, with a clear goal in mind that you will meet during that practice time.  Then, program it into yourself so that you can claim that new millimeter of territory in front of yourself.  Get comfortable enough to pitch a tent there, then look at the next millimeter ahead of you.  Enough of that, and the next time you look up, you're a mile ahead of where you started.

I say all this, but I'm still a n00b on the viola, and I didn't realize all this until much later on the piano.  As a kid, I just knew that practice meant "do it a million times."  I could analyze and problem-solve in math and science and languages, but music was a rote mechanical exercise to me.  I'm still shaking it off, but the difference is incredible.

November 13, 2010 at 06:44 AM ·

Janis - you are dead right - every piece DOES have a passage that is murder.  And the nicer the theme and the more you love it - the more deadly the murderous passage is.  No idea why it is like that. 

I suppose if the murderous passage wasn't there the piece would be easier and then you would not be trying to play it!  Wait a mo: here's a piece thats gorgeous but lacks the homicidal passage: Thais!  Everymans virtuoso performance piece :)

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