Can slow practice ever be exciting?

Now there’s a question to ponder… Most pupils equate slow with boring. But if we can help those pupils to enjoy a bit more active engagement with their practice, we can begin to change this age-old attitude. For many, practice is done with the brain remaining in a fairly low gear, with brain power only just in the on-position, playing through pieces or singing songs, possibly correcting the odd mistake along the journey. Energy levels tending to stay quietly and pleasantly subdued. For others, maybe practice is more active – making connections, and being more imaginative and creative.

For those who might be having a go at introducing more Mini Outcomes and Personal Bests into their practice, they might be finding that it can actually generate a lot of fun and cause a real rise in those energy levels.

So what about slow practice?

Once we’ve programmed a computer to do something, it will always do it. As we practise, we need to programme our brains in a similar way. If we do this programming carefully, the consequent progress will be significantly enhanced. Here’s a thought:


As we are carry out our next activity let’s put our brain into high gear. Maybe the decision is to play a four-bar phrase (we often simply set off to play too many bars). Choose a slow pulse – it’s not slow really, it just means that it will take longer to get to the next pulse or beat – the next event. But in the time we’ve given ourselves in the journey to that next beat we can think! We can do a lot of fast and really focussed thinking on what we are about to do to get to that next beat successfully.

So what might we be thinking about, and what might we be working out (fast!) in that extra moment we now have?

  • Which finger is going to play the next note?  Is my hand shape correct to play it?
  • Exactly how will I make the change of hand position for the next note?
  • Are the correct fingers ready and energised to play the next chord?
  • Which part of the bow should I be in?
  • Exactly what am I going to do to the bow speed?
  • What will I do to make a change of dynamic?
  • How will I control the staccato/legato/accent?
  • Can I hear the pitch of the next note really accurately before I sing it?

There are literally endless aspects of playing or singing we can prepare as we get ready to move to the next beat. By making that preparation, whatever it is we have to do on that next beat – we will certainly do it better!

Maybe we then repeat those four bars. But let’s not repeat them mindlessly. In the extra moment we now have we can polish our previous thought and action or we can consider a different thought in perfecting the journey to the next beat. We can repeat the phrase many times, each time with a different thought in our active minds.

We are carefully and effectively programming our brain. And once programmed, we will find that, like any computer, our brain will begin to do the job on its own and do it accurately and with understanding. Then we can begin to shorten the time it takes to get to the next beat (‘play faster’). Our brains have got it. Putting the next thing sooner (‘playing faster) is no problem for our well-programmed brain. And, because of this thorough preparation, we are then able to apply it to other similar situations. Our learning is advancing in every possible way.

Similarly, when we are preparing our Mini Outcomes the outcomes will be even more effective with occasional slow practice. And that will ultimately cause even more success in our Personal Bests.

We are actively engaging our minds. And when minds are actively engaged they don’t get bored! Slow practice is far from boring – it’s quite the opposite. Slow practice is exciting!

This article first appeared on the blog section of the author.