What Practicing Slow Really Means
Every music student has heard, “You should practice slowly.” I’ve received this advice as a student and given this advice as a music teacher my whole musical life. However, I am just discovering the benefits of slow tempos. In other words, I have just begun to understand the true meaning of slow practice. Slow practicing is a vague expression, and I will try to explain it so you can use it in your next music lesson, whether it is saxophone lesson, clarinet lesson, flute lesson, or any instrument.
Why should you start practicing super slow? The answer is pretty simple: because you will have enough time to cover all the small musical details. For instance, if you are practicing scales, reducing the tempo will give you extra time to double-check your fingering and look for accuracy and relaxation. Additionally, you will have extra time to prepare for the notes that come next. However, to achieve these goals, you need to be in the right mindset. What this means is that just playing slower than usual does not mean slow practicing.
The most important aspect of slow practicing is to set goals. You need to have a realistic and challenging goal, such as a specific excerpt from your repertoire. Playing the fragment is the final result, but goals come from the skills you need to play that portion proficiently. I will illustrate that with the most common example: you need to play faster. The final result will be to play the excerpt fast enough, but the skills you need to improve are: playing relaxed, having a good tone, being rhythmically accurate, and so on. To be successful at this, you will be able focus only on one skill at a time. Play the chunk but be mindful of just one aspect at a time. After this, you can move to the next element. As you improve, you will be able to be aware of different aspects at the same time.
Here are some examples of places to focus your attention:
- Thinking of the name of the notes
- Hearing the notes before you play them
- And more!
Practicing slowly is similar to meditating. You need to be aware of every detail, embrace it, and enjoy it. I hope that this helps you in your next practice session.