Loving Slow

Instant gratification is probably one of the biggest trends of this generation. With the advancement in technology, most of us are used to getting what we want as soon as possible. While this is very helpful in many cases, especially in emergencies of all sorts, relying on it for everything can be detrimental not only in our daily lives, but in the long run as well. How many times do we rely on fast food instead of taking the time to make it ourselves? I know I gained weight relying on McDonalds, but as soon as I stopped going there, I lost 5 pounds and 2 inches off of my waste (haven't eaten it in 4 years almost). So taking the time, being patient is not only important to our health, but our development as musicians and people. 

Progress cannot be timed. It may take you one try or several, but you will learn how to do what you are practicing. I wasn't good at playing mallet instruments, and I got really frustrated at myself. I was great at snare drum, why wasn't I learning this faster? Who knows when you'll get over passed that wall, but when you do, you will both appreciate it more and have an experience that can help you figure out another problem. How did you go about solving it? What ideas worked or didn't work? What did your teacher tell you that helped or didn't? Failures, successes, mistakes, lucky breaks, they all are cumulative towards your development, and you cannot discount any experience that you have while getting better. The same goes for your daily life. We are exactly where we need to be right now, and we will continue to want to get better for the future, which influences what we do right now. It's not, "I'm not fast enough now, why aren't I fast?" It's, "I'm fast at this tempo, and that's good. Where do I want to be? What can I do to get there right now?"

Just as progress can't be timed out, our process to progress cannot be rushed. Just like going for fast food can be unhealthy for you, rushing through learning music and technique can be unhealthy for your playing. This is one of the big reasons that the majority of teachers tell students to practice slow. Slowing things down allows you to really take in all the information at one time. I'll use myself as an example. Let's say I see Shostakovich symphony #10 movement 3. I see that the music is generally loud, but with a type of waltzy feel, and phrasing that lends to a crescendo at the end of each phrase. For each note I have to consider, dynamic, length of sound, color, motion of the stroke, fullness and type of stroke used, articulation, placement in time and dynamics of the phrase, consistency and efficiency of motion between the hands, quality and consistency of sound, connection between the notes (making sure I don't stop just because I finished playing one note), etc. The goal tempo is dotted half note at 72, but I can't think about all of that for each note at that speed. So, I start at 72 to the quarter note. I play with a slow version of the stroke that I want, and generally I play as full as comfortably possible. To do this properly takes patience, and it rewards you in the long run. 

By taking the time now to observe things slowly, I can make changes faster than when I just played things through until I learned the notes and rhythms. My technique is better too because I slow the music down and focus on its involvement. My ear is better because I focus on the colors, timbres and articulations at a slow tempo. It's like a painting. When we are young, we only know how to use certain colors, so to draw a sunny day, we color the sky blue, sun yellow and grass green, maybe a couple trees. If we study painting, we soon learn how to create different shades and lighting within the painting to further express the picture in our mind, but to do this, we have to see how each component relates to each other. How does the suns light hit the tree? There are videos online of speedy ways to draw this, but when you compare those pictures to one that was drawn piece by piece, the fast version almost seems artificial. 

It's not the fastest way, and maybe it's something we aren't good at doing. I myself sometimes don't go as slow as I would if I was pressed for time, but I still go at a pace where I can focus on all of those things as much as possible. Maybe this doesn't work for you, but give it a fair shot and try it with an open mind. Also, realize that this mindful way of practicing is really useful in your everyday life. How many times have you left something at home because you rushed out the house? How many times did you forget someone's name because introductions were either blown off or hurried? Really becoming aware of what we do in both the practice room and life will help us better understand our strengths, and weaknesses, so that we can make plans on becoming better and progressing towards the future. Each of us at our own pace.