Imagine that you're walking down the street, going about your day, enjoying an ice-cream. Suddenly there's a screech of tires - a car comes around the corner and races up the street as fast as it can go! A few seconds later a police officer runs up to you with some questions. They're very important questions, they say, as it will help catch some bank robbers. They want to know all the details you can remember about the car. There's a problem though, that car was going so fast that all you can remember is that it was... a car. Maybe it was blue? Who can say for sure.
So... what does this have to do with learning to play the piano? Some of you have already heard this analogy from me, some of you might be hearing it for the first time. In this example, the police officer is your brain. It wants as much detail as possible in order to paint a proper picture so that the right course of action is taken. The speeding car? Well, it's your tendency to practise too quickly while you're learning a piece.
Playing things quickly and correctly is undeniably satisfying, so there's an obvious incentive to try to practise playing quickly. The issue is this: more mistakes are likely to happen and you're not giving your brain enough detail about the movement and coordination required to play the passage comfortably and confidently. The opposite is likely true - through repetition, you're teaching yourself to play a passage with tension, apprehension and reinforced mistakes.
So, how slow should you go? Let's get back to the speeding car. In a different scenario, imagine that as the car comes around the corner, two of its wheels fall off, so it's now scraping along the ground, travelling slower than you can walk. Imagine all the details you'll be able to see this time: make, model, colour, number plate, occupants... all the details that the police officer would need to file an accurate report. There is no such thing as too slow.
Finally, let's imagine that you're standing beside a roundabout, and the car crawls past you 10 times in a row. After a few times, your knowledge of the details will start to become automatic and you might be able to recite them without thinking.
After all, that's the goal: automatic coordination achieved by deliberate, repetitive, detailed movement.
Things I've been watching/listening to this week: