Using Slow Practice Before a Piano Recital

Our February recitals are coming up, so we’ve been hearing lots of practice performances around the Academy lately! Students and parents sometimes ask us, “What’s the best way to prepare for a piano recital?” Of course, there are lots of great answers, but one that sometimes gets overlooked is slow practice.

Why use this strategy?

  1. It improves accuracy, by keeping the fingers from “running away” with the music
  2. Slow practice aids memory: If you can remember every note at both slow and fast tempos, there is less chance of a memory slip!
  3. This helps you practice phrasing and dynamics – your brain can work faster than your fingers to plan a beautiful crescendo or decrescendo, execute flawless voicing and phrase-endings.
  4. To counter nerves, which will naturally make you play faster!
  5. Because it’s what Rachmaninoff would do – no, seriously! Check out this quote from a pianist who studied with Rachmaninoff himself:

Rachmaninov was a dedicated and driven perfectionist. He worked incessantly, with infinite patience. Once I had an appointment to spend an afternoon with him in Hollywood. Arriving at the designated hour of twelve, I heard an occasional piano sound as I approached the cottage. I stood outside the door, unable to believe my ears. Rachmaninov was practising Chopin’s etude in thirds, but at such a snail’s pace that it took me a while to recognise it be- cause so much time elapsed between one finger stroke and the next. Fascinated, I clocked this re- markable exhibition: twenty seconds per bar was his pace for almost an hour while I waited riveted to the spot, quite unable to ring the bell. Perhaps this way of developing and maintaining an unerring mechanism accounted for his bitter sarcasm toward colleagues who practised their programmes ‘once over lightly’ between concerts. (Chasins, Abram. 1967. Speaking of Pianists. New York: Knopf, 44.)

Try playing your recital piece alternately at a slow/medium tempo, then at performance tempo. Doing this with and without music will help reinforce your memory and improve your confidence during the performance, especially for fast songs.

Be sure to perform for friends and family a few times before Saturday, and most importantly: have fun!