This is part one in a four-part series of posts designed to help you solve difficulties you may come across in your everyday practice. With a repertoire of techniques at your disposal, you can learn to solve nearly any practice difficulty. This post shows you ways to pull a passage up to tempo when inching the metronome up isn’t getting the results you want.
Why this works: Continual slow practice doesn’t give you the opportunity to make sure your technique, fingering choices, etc. will work at the correct tempo. You need to practice each hand at the desired speed to make sure. Also, until you can play each hand at tempo, hands together will never work.
What to do: Work each hand alone until you can play it at tempo fluently. Also practice hands together, but at a tempo as slow as you need to play it correctly, possibly half tempo or even slower. You will find that as your hands separately practice speeds up, your hands together will too.
Why this works: One of the most surprising techniques for speeding up a section is to practice it in rhythms. There are many rhythmic possibilities, but the two most useful are long-short (like a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth note) and short-long (like a sixteenth note followed by a dotted eighth). When you practice in these rhythms, you are effectively speeding up half the piece, playing every other note faster. It’s a great way to “sneak up” on a faster tempo.
What to do: Pick a fairly slow speed, at which you can play all the notes. Then, keeping the same tempo, play each pair of notes in the rhythm. Then move your metronome up a few notches and play the regular rhythm. Without moving the metronome, play the passage again in rhythm. Then speed up the metronome a little and play the correct way again. You can practice almost any passage, hands separately or hands together, this way and you will get almost immediate results. It really works! (Extra benefit – this technique also makes your scale or arpeggio passages more even!) The Mozart excerpt at the top of this post is an example of this technique.
Why this works: One of the difficulties of speeding up a passage is having less time to pay attention to all the details, or even to both hands. By playing only one hand, but forcing yourself to sing the other while you play, you begin the process of incorporating all the elements of the passage into a faster tempo.
What to do: Play one hand at the desired tempo. While you play, sing or hum the other hand along with it. Do this for each hand. You will probably find it easier to sing the melody line, usually the right hand, than the bass, but you need to do this both ways for the best results. If the line is too complicated to sing, you can just say the names of the notes, or even just the names of the notes on each beat, if the passage has a lot of quick notes. This can also be used to help you memorize a passage.
Next post in this series: I can’t put this hands together! If you would like to receive the next three posts in this series automatically in your email inbox, email me and ask!