I’m sure that most all piano students have been told to practice a piece slowly at first. For me this seemed more like a chore than a pleasure. It took years before I learned the reason for slow practice. Our muscles have memory. When I practice a piece slowly and evenly, my muscles will remember not only the right notes and fingerings, but also the even flow of the rhythm.
Another admonition from my teacher was to count aloud. Counting is more than saying numbers. Counting can be uneven if we slow the count when we come to a difficult passage. Counting aloud is valuable when it’s done with strength and evenness of rhythm. Counting a full measure before playing establishes a rhythmic flow.
One day one of my fifth grade students said something that intrigued me. He compared what we were doing to riding an escalator. He said my piano introduction to the song was like the movement of the escalator. We were singing “If We Could Talk to the Animals” from Doctor Doolittle. After my rhythmic introduction, singing, for him, was like stepping onto an escalator that was already moving. Sometimes we learn from our students!
Something that has been extremely helpful for me is the playing of difficult passages twice as slowly as written, then as written. I applied this in learning Marcel Dupre’s “Prelude and Fugue in G Minor”, a piece that was challenging for me. In Session Four of these training videos you’ll note my emphasis on doing rhythms in both augmentation (half as fast) and diminution (twice as fast). My reason for this emphasis is based on personal experience.
In closing I would encourage us who teach, to give our students a good reason for such disciplines as “practicing slowly” and “counting aloud.”