How Practicing Slower Will Get You There Faster

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Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how practicing slower will get you where you want to be faster. It seems counter-intuitive. I have seen so many students falling into a trap. Maybe you’ve had this experience. Or if you’re a teacher, you’ve seen students succumb to the false promise of solving problems by playing too quickly. They’re playing a piece and they miss something so they go back a little bit, and then they miss it again. Then they get more and more frustrated. They’ll say, “No, wait. I can get this. I know I can get this!” They just want to have the satisfaction of getting it right once. But they keep reinforcing the mistake because every time they play it again, they miss it. After many failed attempts they get it right, and they feel so good that they’ve finally gotten it. Of course, then they move on and do exactly the same thing with the next section. This is akin to someone who gets stuck in quicksand and they struggle to get out moving furiously. And what happens? They sink deeper and deeper! If they keep doing that long enough, they will end up so deep in the hole they cannot get out. And the same thing can happen in your practice if you’re not careful.

Practice the correction, not the mistake.

The more times you repeat a mistake, the harder it is to ever play it right again. And even if you manage to play it correctly after missing it again and again, you’ve still practiced the mistake far more than you’ve practiced the correction. So next time you play that section, the same thing is likely to happen again. How do you get out of this trap? I’ll answer that, but first let me tell you a story:

There are two men in the woods and they are chopping wood. They need the firewood. It’s very important they get this done before the day ends because it gets intensely cold at night. One of the men is chopping furiously. He sees his friend taking breaks, sitting there with his ax. Inside, he’s kind of peeved, but he knows they need to get this done because it’s going to get very cold and they will need the wood. He’s working as hard as he can, but he keeps seeing his friend taking breaks with his ax. He wants to say something, but he’s just too busy chopping the wood. At the end of the day he’s exhausted. He looks over, and much to his shock, his friend’s pile of wood is much larger than his own pile! He couldn’t imagine how this could have happened. So he says to his friend, “I don’t get it. All day long, I’ve been busy chopping wood while you took several breaks just sitting there with your ax, but somehow you chopped more wood than I did.” And his friend replied, “Yes, I like to sharpen my ax.”

Use a ‘sharp ax’ in your piano practice.

That’s a funny story. But the same principle applies to your piano practice. It’s not so important to keep charging forward as fast as you can. Be sure to reflect upon what you’re doing. Take that time. Slow yourself down. When you miss something, the temptation is to just charge forward and get it right. But if you do that, you’re missing a tremendous opportunity to find the correction, to find what you need to do differently, and to slow down so you can get it right the next time.

Once you miss something, it’s critical that you get it right the very next time.

Once you miss something, make the correction and play it perfectly at least three times in a row. Solidify the correction! Reinforce it using different practice techniques. Use progressive metronome speeds, or other techniques to cement the correction. Remember to slow down in your practice and you’ll end up with much more to show for your time. Just like the men in the woods. The man who sat there sharpening his ax had a better tool to be more productive. You want to take time in your practice. You don’t want to keep going back over mistakes hoping to get things right, because that’s not what practicing is about. It’s a matter of cementing corrections right from the get-go, to play accurately the very next time. And how do you do that? Study the score and slow down so you play perfectly the very next time. Then repeat it until you can play it correctly again and again consecutively.

So make the correction! You’ll find your practice will take on a productivity that you can’t even imagine if you haven’t used this technique before. Repeating mistakes in hopes of getting things right is like sinking into quicksand. It is anti-practicing. Repeating your mistake again and again, and thinking just because you got it right once, even though you missed it a bunch of times in a row is destructive work even though it may have been done with the best intentions. You know you can play it right because you played it right before. Why shouldn’t it come out right now? Well, that’s not an important question to ask yourself. Instead, focus on the correction. Get it right and get it done! You will be so much more productive in your practice and avoid frustration. Thanks again for joining me! I’m Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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