A disconnect between percieved and actual playing speed.

July 9, 2013 at 03:32 PM · Kinda blew me away in a nice way!

I'm playing a passage with 1/32nds in it and I could not understand why I'm always speeding up from the tempo of the piece (~50/quarter note). The thing is that when I play it seems so laborious as if I'm hacking through it.

But I was astonished to find that when I recorded it I was playing about as fast as any recording - faster even.

Do others get this - the passage feels so much slower when you play it than it is in reality? Its weird time distortion. Fortunately, I can stay on tempo once I realized what the issue was but its still strange.

Replies (27)

July 9, 2013 at 05:59 PM · Yes! For many people this happens mostly in performance, when there are nerves. You're playing along and afterwards somebody says, "Wow! Why did you play it so fast?" But it can happen in ordinary practice too. Glad you're looking to even out your perception with reality. That's a lifelong goal!

July 9, 2013 at 06:19 PM · It happens to me every time I play - I feel as if my fingers are so sluggish - I then thought that the recording was someone else!

I suppose it could be useful too - I mean if time perception slows down maybe you can do more things in that interval. Its totally weird...

July 9, 2013 at 09:20 PM · e=mc2

Someone has just entered another reality!!!

Greetings from Rocky.

July 9, 2013 at 10:56 PM · Picking up on Rocky's comment. It does sound like time dilation.

Since you feel you are playing more slowly than others observe, you must be in a comparatively very weak gravitational field. Do you feel light headed when you play? Are you floating in deep space?

More seriously, this does seem to happen when one is focussing on something or approaching Nirvana.

Do you notice the effect with vibrato speeding up too?

July 9, 2013 at 11:29 PM ·

More bow and higher volume may give us the impression that we are playing at a faster speed.

July 10, 2013 at 02:41 AM · I sometimes do this during a performance under pressure. I feel like I'm not playing too fast during the concert, but when I listen to the playback sometimes, I am horrified to find that I was rushing.

One thing Heifetz used to say to my teacher is that a passage played more evenly at a slower tempo, can actually sound faster to the ear, than when a passage is played faster and unevenly...

July 10, 2013 at 06:17 AM · Time's a social construct so yes, it varies.

July 10, 2013 at 09:20 AM · Bud - I think its way more than that. For example you can't conceive of a social context where time stops! How we deal with it is certainly social but not the phenomenon itself.

where the error is I think is in the concept of now. We think of it as an instant but our brains do not deal with it that way even if that is true: I think we sense time as more of bell curve - part of whats going to happen, part of what is happeneing and part of what has passed. we also pay more or less attention to it and what we are doing.

thus there is flexibility in our perception as time passes and I think its that that's changing. As I play the fast sequence my brain is maximally turned on controlling my fingers and listening to the outcome. Perhaps this intense effort makes it seem as if time has slowed down.

The prediction is, therefore, that as you get better at playing a fast passage and have to concentrate less it will start to sound to your brain as it does to everyone else.

July 10, 2013 at 11:24 AM · I think our perception of time and speed is very subjective, perhaps especially so for those who are musically sensitive. The metronome can be very helpful. just a couple of minutes, checking out the tempo in few representative passages often sets me straight and clarifies things. Then I will repeat the process a few days later and again a few days later. By the third or fourth time there are usually no surprises.

July 10, 2013 at 12:57 PM · I wonder if you are right Roy. I certainly have that 'problem' and when I get into the music I lose all sense of timing.

July 10, 2013 at 01:39 PM · A violin-playing psychiatrist friend attributed it to what she called narrowed consciousness. It has its uses: no fast passages any more!

July 10, 2013 at 02:33 PM · I think that's what I am trying to describe Bart - nice name, works well with my bell shaped time curve too - just reduce the variance... and it predicts that you will be less aware of the future and of the past ... wow...

July 10, 2013 at 05:16 PM · decreasing the fwhm only helps if the peak is in the right place. :)

July 10, 2013 at 06:48 PM · The peak is at the correct moment in time (delayed only by your neural circuit processing time - least I think so) - I think that's a tacit assumption.

July 10, 2013 at 10:09 PM · There was a study done somewhere, I recall, that revealed that a researcher watching brain waves of another could see what choice they were going to make before the actual person was aware of it, and accurately predict it!

In any case all our perception of life is subjective, which is why objective sciences are so important as a reference.

How does our time perception relate to our heart rate as a baseline?

July 10, 2013 at 10:11 PM · Elise, I too suffer the disconnect. but the inverse ratio.

I am convinced I am playing those demi-semis at cracking speed, but they are awfully sluggish to listen to :(

July 11, 2013 at 08:35 AM · That is interesting Sharelle. I wonder if its possible to control the effect - it could be quite a power.

Come to think of it, if I don't mentally count I often play long notes too short - that could be the opposite effect; the compression of time. When my teacher pointed that out to me yesterday he mentioned that that was also common.

What it means practically is that I need to have a disciplined concept of timing because I can't rely on instinct. Someone mentioned using a metronome above - I guess the obvious treatment. However, what I find is that when the metronome is on I follow it religiously - but that does not solve the timing when its off. Well, maybe a bit because I have at least experienced what the tempo should be like.

What works best is to initiate a metronome either by tapping a foot or by a mental or 'conscious metronome' (CM). Tapping the foot is a musician-no-no, and has its own liabilities and hence, is not a good habit to get into. Obviously the CM is the way to go - but there the difficulty is that while it works pretty good to lengthen the long notes, you are liable to ignore it or turn it off when you play fast difficult passages.

The only solution really is to know the fast passages so well that you can start to bring the CM into play.


July 11, 2013 at 09:24 PM · now, seriously.... do you close your eyes while playing fast?

Perhaps the redundancy of visual input can affect one's perception of speed. I mean, your brain already has to process a myriad of tactile and proprioceptive stimuli, plus a complex auditory input.

July 11, 2013 at 09:54 PM · I've always thought of myself as kind of a nerd, but thankfully I don't have a clue what you people are talking about. Maybe there is hope for me after all. As for the rest of you who posted to this thread, no comment :-)

July 11, 2013 at 10:23 PM · smiley's post went by so fast I didn't actually see it.

If I've memorized the music I prefer to play with my eyes closed all the time Rocky. I've actually been trying to train myself to keep them open - its odd watching your fingers DO that!

I dance with my eyes closed too... I think closing my eyes open's my mind.

July 11, 2013 at 11:12 PM · But I typed the message reeeaaallly slooowwwwly. Elise, maybe you are lost in a time warp.

July 12, 2013 at 12:01 AM · tap, tap, tap...

tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap...

tap, tap, tap...

Smiley is your post EVER going to finish???

tap, tap, tap...

July 13, 2013 at 04:35 AM · Elise, me it's the contrary and I have to check myself with the metronome and recording machine to be sure I play it fast ennough (similar or very close to the the official recordings)

Onstage, it's the contrary however, I play much faster than I can imagine and then it matches the recording lol (but not always as precise)

You have a great point Elise and I beleive every serious violinist preparing a solo performance (even amateurs) should record themselves to be aware of such things, how they sound etc.


July 13, 2013 at 10:10 AM · Ann-Marie: 'even' (solo) amateurs? I'd say mostly amateurs - pros must have to figure this out and how to deal with it. For us its a stage of weirdness to go through.

But pro's obviously have an issue too (e.g. all the posts above). I have a music minus one CD of the Beethoven F romance which has a full performance as well as the version without the soloist. There is a notorious fast passage of 1/32 notes but when I tried to play it with the pro I kept going off time - getting too slow. Of course I thought I was slowing down but when I checked with the metronome tap feature the pro goes from ~86 to well over 100 through the section! Fortunately, the orchestra is a lot better alone :P

I'd very much like to hear if anyone has any tricks to staying on time through such passages in the stress of the performance?

July 14, 2013 at 11:55 AM · Have you tried the Music + One program?

It has a free version of that Romance in F you can play along with and it follows you.

July 14, 2013 at 01:47 PM · Great catch Eric! I've just downloaded the program/piece and will give it a go...


July 15, 2013 at 12:31 AM · Let us know how it goes? I've seen the demos but am not ready to try it myself yet. Am curious if it works as well as they say.

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