“To escalate the tempo of newly learned material, you first have to reduce the effort required to play or sing it at your initial tempo.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 73

Some of the thorniest challenges we encounter in practice surround increasing the tempos of newly learned pieces.

All too often, we start off slowly but then hit barriers as we hike our speed.

Here are 7 expert practice strategies that enable us to transition from slow to rapid execution.

1. Isolate Problems
When a passage causes us trouble, we should isolate its tricky components and solve the problems that trip us up. We might employ strategies such as omitting then reinserting pitches, varying rhythms, and modifying the rate of change (see p. 54-70 of The Musician’s Way).

2. Step Up Incrementally
Instead of abruptly increasing tempo, we should step up gradually, maintaining ease, and trusting in our ability to master the music over time. A metronome makes for a handy tool to gauge our progress.

3. Image Ahead in Larger Chunks
To perform at brisk tempos, we have to sense passages in chunks, mentally imaging ahead. Problem is, when we initially learn unfamiliar music, we tend to perceive in smallish groups of notes. So, as an illustration, if in a 16th-note passage we first conceived of individual beats, we should promptly sense two or more beats at a time.

4. Simplify Technique
Sometimes our technical choices don’t work at high speeds. In such cases, we should simplify fingerings, tonguings, bowings and so on to support fluency.

5. Invent Exercises
If a technical weakness hinders us, we do well to concoct relevant exercises and integrate them into our daily practice.

6. Balance Practicing Small Bits and Large Spans
Isolating problem spots is essential, but to foster continuity we should balance tackling excerpts with running through sizable spans of music. Self-recording helps too.

7. Manage Repetition
Deliberate practice entails lots of repetition, but we need to manage repetition so that we work efficiently, avoid overuse injuries, and steadily ripen our music into fine art.

See The Musician’s Way for more about these and other techniques to practice creatively and productively.

Related posts
Beautiful Repetition
Building Technique
A Different Kind of Slow Practice
Habits of Excellence

© 2013 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © BortN66, licensed from Shutterstock.com

Back to Top