The Value of Slow-Practice & Progress


Over the past few months, I’ve been working with several students on speed, accuracy, control, and performance anxiety. What I’ve noticed is that each of these areas is tied together by slow incremental progress (when you actually work on the area consistently). This common point of intersection also is what makes the progress elusive to most people. The work you put in doesn’t pay off in a week. It pays off in months and years. It is, in fact, slow in every respect.

Student finishes playing the piece they are working on:

Student: Well, I worked on this for a whole week. That’s a long time. It’s not better.

Me: I disagree. You have more control over the work as a whole, which is progress.

Student: But I missed these notes and those notes (pointing at various areas of the page) and it’s not perfect.

Me: True, but you could actually play through the entire piece this week. Were you able to do that last week?

Student: …..(silence: Guitarist melting me with lasers shooting from their eyeballs)…..

Me: So, there is progress. Cool. Now let’s look at those tricky bits you mentioned. How did you practice them?

Student: I played it slowly a couple times and then I tried to speed it up.

Me: Let me see you play this passage slowly.

Student: (At full speed)

Me: Wait, slow down.

Student: (Same tempo)

Me: No, slower (now clicking the tempo).

Student: You want me to go that slow?!?!?!?

Me: Yes, that slow.

Student: I can’t do it at that speed. It’s too slow.

Me: Ah, we’ve found our practice tempo for the week.

So, what does slow give you? What’s the value in doing something slowly? Why does everyone say to go slow? My teachers told me to go slowly, build gradually, and the piece will develop (insert eye roll here). Yet, at some point, I figured out that it was true. The funny part about progress, you can’t always remember when that light bulb went on (or may have inadvertently shut off…seriously, it’s an easy thing to forget in the throws of all the other plates that are spinning).

Before I say more, I’d like to say that going slow does not allow you to play fast. I repeat: Going slowly does not allow you to go fast. You have to build speed (over time—aka: slowly). Here’s what going slowly offers me in my work as a musician:

•The chance to observe in detail what my hands are (or are not) doing as I play.
•Provides the environment to develop smooth, coordinated movements of the hands
•The ability to listen critically (in detail) to the quality of the sound I’m producing from the instrument and all the extraneous noises, too (those of you that have spent time recording understand).
•Allows me to work in detail on a particular element, concept, goal.
When targeted = deliberate practice.
•Provides the chance for my head to be directing my hands. Autopilot is not an option. I’m fully engaged in the process of music making

Why is it so hard to do/follow through on a consistent basis?
Perhaps because we all want everything to be fast…

What else is slow?
•building a career
•building a relationship
•learning a piece (well)
•evolution
•getting in shape
•improving a technique
•learning a new language
•defeating the NYT Crossword Puzzle
•cooking through a cookbook
•raising a child
•aged bourbon
•getting over loss
•playing a game of monopoly
•reading a book
•making anything from scratch
•writing a letter (by hand)
•sailing on a ship
•living a life
•building trust
•starting over

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the value of slow practice, thinking, and living. You can reach me: @zaneforshee on Twitter and Instagram.

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