Slow to Fast

November 23, 2017, 3:04 PM · Greetings,

I’ve been rereading some old threads on practicing, and noticed a lot of v.commies practice in the following way: they mostly practice slowly or very slowly, and then just try to play things at tempo. They often don’t indulge in progressive acceleration, and mostly practice very much under the tempo.
I can see the benefit of such practice. Practicing at a pace where you can consciously control everything, and slowly making things unconscious through repetitions.
Of course when you practice slowly, you must use the same mechanics you will be using in the fast tempo, but I was still wondering, does this (mostly) slow practice really work?
Can you really just practice slow, slow, slow, and then hop suddenly you play everything at tempo flawlessly?

Please enlighten me!

Replies (18)

Edited: November 24, 2017, 2:22 AM · No. I do the higher speed practice in "chunks", maybe two notes, not more than five.

I have two slow modes:
- like a slow-motion film: notes and transitions are slow, and can be gradually accelerated together; or
- fast notes, groups of up to five notes, and transitions at speed, but separated, before re-assembling pairs of fragments.

In the slow motion version, the tone is poor; in the chunked version, the notes have their real tone.

Edit: and the long slurs have to be stopped between notes.

Edited: November 23, 2017, 5:12 PM · This is one of my current challenges. From my experience so far, practicing slow doesn't enable me to play faster. I mean, if my fingers can only go so fast, the slow practice doesn't develop faster playing. It does enable me to learn the notes and develop better muscle memory and rhythm, but if I can't play fast to begin with, it does nothing to develop the necessary technique and proficiency I need to play at tempo. I suppose when you're 10 year old, moving the fingers fast and furious is not so much an issue, but when you're over 50, it does require a lot of time to teach those old left hand fingers moving at speed in small motion, develop the necessary right hand bow control and left/right hand coordination. I have to practice fast and in increments too, listen to my body and take many breaks to avoid stress injury. Once you're capable of playing fast, then I can see only requiring slow practice and small chunks like Adrian said before jumping to tempo.
November 23, 2017, 5:17 PM · What Adrian said.
November 23, 2017, 5:28 PM · Hi,

I do the slow practice to fast, as do most soloists that I know, and most good professionals too. It works. You of course have to practice slowly well, and your movements have to work. You do check in tempo to see if your slow practice has worked, but the basic practice is slow by default.


November 23, 2017, 6:42 PM · Importantly, when you practice things slowly, you must still use fast motions.
November 23, 2017, 6:57 PM · Learn to walk before trying to run. Here is my routine for those fast running note passages. Slowly work out your version of efficient, safe fingerings. Slowly; analyze all the shifts, when to lift fingers, when to use advance, prepared fingers. Dotted rhythm long-short, reverse-dotted rhythm, short-long. Triple notes, doubled notes, that forces the fingers to move faster, while the music stays slow. Reversed bowings; to expose awkward string changes. Final step; as written, in tempo. And, when things are really fast, try not to think about individual notes; look for groups, scales, chords.
Edited: November 23, 2017, 7:06 PM · Practice also with short motion to add to Lydia's tip.
November 24, 2017, 2:24 AM · To speed up my reflexes, I do mordents and short trills, slurred and détaché.
November 24, 2017, 4:39 AM ·

I've always found the time between notes is more important than the time length of of the note. Long bowing every note doesn't really work, IMO. Stay at note value, but have 1/8 or 1/16 rest between notes. This only needs to be done at trouble areas. Variation is the key to learning things quickly: play the bar in different rhythms, backwards, different positions etc... Also singing the melody(bar or phase, not necessarily the whole piece) in your mind 3 times before playing it also helps.

November 24, 2017, 5:28 AM · I agree. I find that two thirds of our technique is before and beween the notes.
Edited: November 24, 2017, 3:43 PM · I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned to use metronome to slowly crank up the speed.

Add to what Lydia said, practice with varied dotted rhythms is also a good way to practice faster notes (and what's between notes) at a much slower tempo so that you won't be stuck at a certain tempo due to slow practice. This is best explained in this video by Nathan Cole:

November 24, 2017, 4:05 PM · Roger, I don't see why people over 50 year old with healthy hands and with no neuro damage can't move their fingers as fast and furious as young people do. I'm in my late 50s and I can play fast notes much better than I ever was. I've also heard people saying they can't play higher positions because they didn't learn it when they were young. This is entirely false. I didn't learn that until in my late 40s when I was made to practice 3 octave scales and arpeggios everyday. Then voilà! One might think we are training our hands to do thing when we practice while in fact we are making changes in the brain.
Edited: November 24, 2017, 6:06 PM · Yixi, I am not saying older people can't play fast, we have players in the Hampton Concert Orchestra in their 80's who played all their life that can leave me in the dust! What I'm saying is when you start playing at an older age, you simply can't all of a sudden play at 500 notes per min for a half hour. You have to work slowly at it or else face some stress injuries. A nimble kid doesn't have such issue. I started at 50, and comfortable at 400, but things tend to fall apart after that, but I'm working up the tempo and will get there eventually.
Edited: November 24, 2017, 6:36 PM · Roger, 500 notes per min = 16th notes at 125bpm, right? Oh I'm sure you can play them "all of a sudden", especially if they are more or less the same note ;) Seriously, good for you being a late starter! I'm familiar with the Hampton Concert Orchestra. Charlie is a good conductor and you have some good players.
November 24, 2017, 7:32 PM · You are right Yixi, right hand not a problem, I can probably keep it going much faster. It's the left hand and coordination with the right hand at high speed (you are correct 1/16 @ 125) that is my main challenge. All about technique, but I do find (now 57) that I can't practice at that speed much more that 1/2hr at a time, then I start feeling the stress in my wrist and fingers, so I got to be careful. The community orchestra is challenging me in a good way, very accepting and I do like how Charlie is conducting, we're very lucky to have such an experienced conductor. I know some people think orchestral playing isn't helping much your technique, and can even be detrimental, but I beg to differ, it's been good for me.

Edited: November 24, 2017, 8:30 PM · Roger, left and right hands coordination at any speed, the key is the timing -- because this is the only thing in common for both hands. Have you tried to practise with a metronome and practise dotted rhythms on these passages? Start the metronome at 40bpm and slowly (about 5bpm each time) speed up. Dotted rhythms really does the trick for speed and LH & RH coordination. Do take a look at Nathan Cole's video I linked above.

Age shouldn't be an issue at this tempo. You and I are about the same age. Having a good teacher and years of practice properly makes the difference. I'm glad that you find playing in orchestra has been good to you. I've been with the conservatory senior string orchestra (among the young players who are in the postsecondary music performance diploma program) for two terms. We don't expect to learn technical stuff in the orchestra, but we learn how to play and perform in an ensemble.

Edited: November 24, 2017, 10:26 PM · Tx Yixi, that's pretty much what I am doing right now (well, try to any way ;-). I think the more difficult part for me is to learn to engage the fingers more, relax and minimize the length of my stroke, even on the dotted rhythms. It's getting there, finally. I think I recently crossed a mental threshold that was holding me off recently after spending a good part of the summer "torturing" myself (just kidding, I actually like playing exercises) with Sevcik. I do learn technical stuff in the orchestra if only because the program is consistently 1-2 levels above where I currently am, and have to learn the techniques that enables me to keep up.
November 28, 2017, 1:00 PM · When I practice slow, I play passages in rhythms (long-short, short-long, long-short-short-short...) so that while I pay attention to details my fingers and my right arm still know what to do. My school teacher, who is a percussionist, uses a metronome to practice five clicks faster each time.

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