Noa Kageyama’s Bulletproof Musician has long been a source of insightful, thought-provoking advice, so I wasn’t at all surprised when one of my students sent me a post last week talking about getting tricky passages up to speed that was well researched and really helpful. Here’s an excerpt:

“For instance, have you ever encountered a speed plateau in a piece you’re working on? A section that you can play perfectly at about 80-90% of the final tempo, but no matter how hard you try, you keep hitting a wall, and can’t seem to get over the hump?

This can be super frustrating. And make you wonder if you just don’t have it in you to make your muscles move quickly enough.

But there are some indications that the problem isn’t necessarily one of talent or ability. That the bigger problem may be related to how you’re approaching this tricky passage during the learning process. Where you may inadvertently be trying to get better at walking, instead of trying to get better at sprinting.”

[Bulletproof Musician]

The piece goes on to talk about a number of studies where different cohorts were asked to concentrate on either speed or accuracy, and that the subjects who worked on speed first were able to learn accuracy, but that the folks who were given unlimited amounts of time to learn accurately had a really tough time carrying that accuracy into a quicker context.

The only thing I want to add is that this approach largely applies to players who have all of their technique down– where playing the notes is not the main struggle. Otherwise, there’s no sense in practicing quickly. For many beginning and intermediate students, it’s the case that they’re learning to play the cello at the same time as trying to learn to play quickly. And it’s possible to do these things concurrently, within reason! But this is also why the general wisdom about slow practice still (sadly, unfortunately, for all of you impatient speed demons out there) holds true. You have to establish excellence at the fundamental skill of playing the notes in the right order with a sense of calm before you can speed up! But once that foundation is solid, then 100%, practice sprinting as a skill in itself!

Read the whole fabulous piece here:

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