How to Slow Practice: The Definitive Guide to Everything you Need to Know about Slow Practice in MusicNov 11, 2023
Slow practice is really a misleading name - I prefer to call it Stretch Practice.
Slow (stretch) practice happens in two parts:
+ doing the work in slowed-down time
+ speeding up time again
The dangers of Slow Practice
Very often, slow practice means that everything becomes a bit mushy, and we lose sight of the music we’re actually trying to learn (the groove, the movement, the general feel). Articulations become less sparkly, we use too much bow, practice the wrong breaths, etc. This is the WORST thing that could happen and is actually counterproductive to your progress. Yikes!
The Same Music in Mind
With stretch practice, we’re learning the same music (groove, intention, feel) but stretching it out so we have more time to really understand what’s happening. This means that more than anything else, we have to be aware of the music we’re learning and aiming for. When we keep the desired end result in mind, it’s easier to find the right path.
Slow (stretch) practice happens in two main parts:
+ Doing the work in slowed-down time
+ Speeding up time again
Why we Slow Practice (the nerdy stuff)
The goal of slow practice is to give ourselves a chance to get more information into our playing. We want beautiful, sparkly, muscle-memorized music-making with as much rich detail and as few mistakes as possible.
Throughout the PATH phases of performance preparation, we’re zooming in and out to learn, make decisions, and refine our interpretation across our MAPs: mentally, artistically, and physically.
The natural thing to do is slow things down to give ourselves more time to understand, anticipate, and integrate what we want. We’re reducing the immediate cognitive load to accommodate the huge amount of information we’re building into our practice and performance.
But this also means that we need to be careful of a few things:
Slow (Stretch Practice) Rules:
+ Exaggerate details.
From dynamic to groove/feel, phrasing, and all of the SPARK pillars, give at least 150% MORE intention to each element, especially when you’re stretching out time. 🎭
+ Articulation is super important.
This is a tale of caution- often when we stretch things out, they get less sparkly (they end up grey and flabby). Remember, we’re not moving in slow motion - we’re just stretching time around us.
Remember to use the extra time to get more clarity in the information you’re putting in! Articulation is one of the areas that suffers the most, so it’s where to send the most intention. 🙏
+ Anticipation is everything.
Because practice makes pathways, we have a choice about what kinds of roads we’re building. One of the magic tricks of stretch practice is to build in reflexes that will help us anticipate when we speed time back up.
This means intentionally practicing the mental pathway you’ll need at full speed: shifts, string crossings, hand frames, arm weight changes, etc., as well as phrasing, imagery, and supportive self talk. This is the K in spark: or Kinetic Integration
+ Speed time back up smartly.
When you’ve stretched out time to really get to know the details of what you’re doing, sometimes it can be challenging to put it back together. This is where varied repetition, and a lot of the strategies mentioned before are helpful.
At SPARK, we recommend a combination of varied repetition (metronome work with rhythms, sequences, patterns, etc.) AND other kinetic integration exercises like singing & walking to work on grouping the small details back together but also keeping the sparkly larger picture in focus.
What are you going to stretch practice today?
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