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What is "slow practice"?

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

A helpful practice strategy for learning new music, which you are well aware of if you have taken a piano lesson before, is slow practice. But what exactly does “slow practice” entail? It is not as simple as it sounds. To begin, A common memory strategy that should be contained in all of one’s practice sessions is chunking. This is done by sectioning off musical phrases, ideas, or even measures. The technique of chunking helps one learn music in two ways. First and foremost, it allows a performer to begin playing from different sections of the piece during a performance, in case of a catastrophe, kind of like road markers. It goes without saying that this is something you want at all times, even if you are confident you aren’t going to make a mistake. Secondly, chunking encourages you to practice a manageable section of music. This way you're not tempted to play through a full section of your piece, and instead you’ll work at digesting (memorizing and perfecting) a reasonable amount of music at a time. Once you have successfully chunked off phrases or ideas you can work on, slow practice is essential for learning these phrases efficiently. Slow practice requires only one thing, and it isn’t as obvious as it sounds. You must only go as slow as it takes for you to be ahead of the music. What does this mean? I’m glad you asked! At the start of your musical chunk, when you play the first note, your finger cannot leave or even hint at coming off the key, until you know where your next note is, which finger it is played with, and what kind of sound you want to produce from that key (loud, soft, staccato etc.). With practice at your piece, this will eventually be quite easy to do, however slow practice is not yet done. To continue this very necessary part of practice you will advance to practicing multiple gestures. Slow practice will now mean that you will then need to know the whole gesture before moving your finger off the starting line. With this variation of slow practice, you play from the end of one gesture (the last note or chord) to the end of the next gesture. This can sound like fast, staggered practice. This practice is very exhausting and requires more thinking than playing. Just know that it will be worth your extra energy in the end. If you are new to this technique, consider taking a 5 minute break for every 15 minutes of practicing you do. You will learn how much of this practice you can handle on any given day. It changes based on your energy level, sleep, and mood. Stay healthy, practice mindfulness!

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