I was perusing my Instagram feed the other day and I saw a post from a dedicated motorcyclist that mentioned the term “Slow is Fast” regarding improving one’s skills cornering a motorcycle. When faced with a challenging or stressful situation our first inclination is often to tense up- which is the exact *opposite* approach that we should attempt to successfully complete the task.
When learning to turn a motorcycle many people become tense due to the sensation of “leaning”. However, a motorcycle turns because you lean so resisting leaning is counter-productive to comfortably and correctly turning a bike. Until we can become comfortable and relaxed with the sensation of leaning turning a motorcycle can be scary and a bit dangerous. We often do this as instrumentalists as well.
As instrumentalists we spend many hours developing our technique and our speed. Developing speed can be one of the most elusive and sought-after elements of playing. In order to play cleanly and correctly at fast speeds we must be able to play flawlessly at slow speeds as well. In order to learn playing techniques we need to develop our muscle memory. Muscle memory comes from repeating physical actions so that they become “memorized” by the brain and so that they can be repeated without the need for conscious thought to guide the process. The faster the action the more dependent on muscle memory that we become.
Our brains tend to reinforce whatever actions that we perform and turn them into habits and memorized movements. If you practice incorrectly then you are reinforcing incorrect technique. That will translate into sloppy and/or non-musical playing as well as set up a situation for playing with tension that not only stunts our musical performance and progress but can also lead to injury.
Getting into the habit of playing difficult passages slowly at first until they can be played correctly and comfortably at higher tempos can actually help us to progress more quickly than constantly pushing (or surpassing) the envelope of our technique. Using a metronome when practicing is a tried and true method of not only improving our timing but also helping us to be disciplined with developing our technique.
I also like to play difficult passages slowly to help to improve the timing or “feel” of them. Not all “correctly” played passages are created equal and becoming comfortable with not only the initiation (attack) of notes but also the dynamics, articulation and length of the notes is important to develop the musicality of the parts.
The next time you run into a challenging passage that you can’t seem to get under your fingers try playing it very slowly and correctly until it is relaxed and committed to memory without the need for much conscious thought. Then try to speed it up until you feel tension then slow it down again. As you get more comfortable with the performance of the passage you will be able to perform it correctly, musically and at the right tempo. Good luck!!!