But can you do it slowly?

I’ve noticed something interesting about ViolinGirl and fast tricky passages. It’s interesting because I did the same thing as a young musician.

When confronted by a passage that’s fast, particularly if it doesn’t fit well under the fingers, she plays it even faster than written and blurs the articulation. I recognize it instantly because it took me years of being picky and hard on myself to get rid of my own version of the habit.[1] The only cure for this malady is to ask yourself whether you can also play the passage slower. Camille Saint-Saëns, the famous French Romantic composer and pianist said:

“One must practice slowly, then more slowly, and finally slowly.” - Camille Saint-Saëns

Sure you can play it fast; but can you play it slowly?

For me (I’m wearing my pianist hat, not my violin practice parent hat…), the telltale sign of a passage that’s fingered correctly and really learned is one that is susceptible to being played at any tempo from 0 to the final performance tempo. If I’ve begun to suspect that a fast passage isn’t quite right, I’ll slow it down considerably and listen for evenness. Sometimes, if I’ve rushed to learn a piece, I’ll find that I cannot even play it at a slow tempo. This is a telltale and painful sign that the piece isn’t really “in the fingers.” There’s a sort of automaticity that takes over at some point in learning a piece of music. But this sort of learning seems to be very kinesthetic. Once the kinesthetic and proprioceptive inputs become disrupted by slowing a passage down, it can unmask a defect. I’ve gradually taught myself that relearning is slow and frustrating work. Better to do it correctly the first time around.

I definitely wish someone would have challenged me more as a young person and said: “Yeah, that’s fast; but can you also play it slower?”

  1. I'm referring to my own habits at the piano. The same thing must also be true of the violin; but I'm not qualified to say much specifically about slow practice on the violin. Ask your teacher.