Are you struggling to get your child to practice their music slowly? Parents and teachers often say, "Slow down," but beginner students rarely respond as expected. The trick is to give them a concrete speed to play at. A "Speed Limit," if you will.
Since discovering this one simple game, I have yet to have it fail me.
Why it's hard to play slow
My guitar students all have different personalities. Some play their pieces at just the right speed, while others blaze through them as quickly as possible. However, almost all of them need help learning to play their music slower. This is true for all my students, regardless of age group.
The ability to randomly modulate the speed at which the fingers on your left and right hand, as well as the general movements of the shoulder, arm, elbow, and wrist, while maintaining proper coordination and synchronization between them all, is actually a complicated task. Now, that's just a very long way of saying "playing slow"; this is done intentionally to point out how much actually needs to happen when we play slower. It's more complex than many people think!
Beginner students tend to develop muscle memory at only the speed they've practiced. You can see evidence of this when students try to slow down, but their hands lose coordination and synchronization. Indeed, sometimes they even begin "forgetting" notes that are never forgotten when playing at full speed.
Why it's essential to play slow
Playing slowly gives musicians time to notice and correct errors. Unfortunately, it's common for younger players to blitz through their pieces without noticing mistakes. Then, when they are asked to play slower, they notice the mistakes more. This can lead them to the false impression that they play the piece better when they play it faster (dealing with that is outside the scope of this article).
Once they've identified an error and strategized how to correct it, playing slow gives their mind time to "play-call" or coordinate the choreography of their fingers.
Frequently, students can play their piece at tempo with only a few errors, but then it falls apart when played slower. In this situation, playing slow may be done to solve problems. However, playing slow also tests the performance's memory and security. Therefore, the ability to play through a piece should be separate from tempo, especially slower tempos.
Finally, some students who play fast have jerky and stabby movements; these movements tend to be inaccurate and are tenser than the ideal smooth movements. This is just another level of choreography. As mentioned, playing slow allows the student to call out the choreography for their hands.
How to get an adult to play slow
Tell them to play slower. They probably won't. Tell them to play half as fast. They'll play slightly slower, an almost imperceptible amount. Tell them they could have played slower. Tell them this time to play half as fast as what they thought was half as fast (so, a quarter as fast). That usually works.
How to get your child to play slow
Follow these steps:
- Ask your child to list 5 animals, from the fastest they know to the slowest they know, with an average-speed animal in the middle. We'll say the list is Cheetah, Bear, Human, Turtle, Slug.
- Tell your child to play as fast as a cheetah. Expect more wrong notes than usual. At this speed, it is more about allowing your child to be silly. So let them be silly, as long as they're paying attention to the notes, etc.
- Work your way down to slug.
- To reinforce this, bounce around between different animals on the list. Slug, Cheetah, Bear, Turtle, Human, etc. Doing so will force your child to think on their toes; this will help reinforce this skill.
Now that you know how to get your child to play more slowly, do it! See how their tone and consistency improves with this simple trick.