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How to increase tempo


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#1 Dotty old crotchet

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Posted 20 January 2018 - 14:46

How on earth do I get my pieces up to tempo? I can play my recorder quite nicely, at a very slow, steady sort of pace. I'm getting a bit dispirited by playing the same pieces/bars over and over, upping the tempo by 2 beats per minute each time and usually getting stuck some way off the required tempo.

My brain is a little slow, but I think it is my fingers which are really holding me back.

My teacher has suggested Hungarian dance number 5 Brahms as good practice but it really is just way too fast for me and that well-known video of Lucie Horsch playing it on Netherlands television when she was nine is not helping!

My completely non musical other half has suggested picking ridiculously easy stuff and just blasting away at it. Which actually doesn't seem like a dumb idea to me.

Any other suggestions would be welcome.
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#2 BadStrad

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Posted 20 January 2018 - 19:17

Can you identify what is holding you back?  I mean is it the time it's taking you to process the music and then translate that into finger movement?  Or is it that even when the music is "easy" and familiar you can't move fast enough (yet)?

 

One tip I was given is to do the action quickly but allow yourself thinking time between each action (so you don't fumble the notes playing them faster than you can process them and build mistakes into your learning of the piece).  So like interval training for runners.  To quote my friend "You don't practice for a sprint by walking."


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#3 Arundodonuts

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Posted 20 January 2018 - 20:05

Speaking from my experience, it's easy to think your fingers won't move fast enough but try something relatively simple (a scale perhaps?) and you may well find you fingers can indeed move quite quickly. I have found that once I  have memorised a section, maybe even as little as a bar or two, my fingers can move quite quickly. But, reading from the score and playing slows things down. So I'm pretty sure that it's the neural linkage to the fingers that is slow, not the fingers themselves. For example try comparing your "finger speed" in easy and hard keys. Any difference?

 

My teachers approach is indeed upping the tempo a click or two at a time. Can be tedious but it does seem to yield results. Mind you I will also often just bash through something at speed just to check if I still can't.


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#4 Dotty old crotchet

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Posted 20 January 2018 - 20:05

BadStrad, Thanks for the interval training suggestion, I can see what you mean. I think my problem is more of your second example, even when I know the music well my fingers just won't move fast. There's a technical term for it...late middle age!

Arundodonuts, Thanks for your comments. I'll have a think. I can see that sometimes it is my brain slowing things down as well as the decrepit fingers. I actually play more slowly from memory than with the music in front of me, because I'm using more brain just to remember where I am.
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#5 elemimele

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Posted 20 January 2018 - 20:18

I'd almost be prepared to bet that your fingers are fast enough; I'm sure you've managed a complicated accident played at a rapid rate (I have) - the trouble isn't playing notes fast, it's playing the right notes fast, at the right time.

I think your non-musical partner has a lot of common sense and has suggested something that will certainly help and is well worth doing.

Don't panic about speed. It happens gradually, when you're not watching. If, in 6 months, you go back to a piece that is currently causing you speed problems, you'll probably surprise yourself, and find it a lot more accessible. I think, though, you need to discuss this with your teacher. My method (play other things altogether and come back at it later) isn't going to go down well if it's the piece that your teacher wants you to learn!

Whatever happens, don't panic, and don't be put off. You can do it.


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#6 Arundodonuts

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Posted 21 January 2018 - 13:22

Do you really have decrepit fingers? Can you play an easy scale more quickly than you can play a "difficult" piece? The easy stuff will show how quickly you can move your fingers. I've been through the same thought process and decided it's not my 64 year old fingers to blame - it's what controls them.

 

BadStrad's tip is a good one too. Take a very short section (maybe even only a beat or two)  and practice it repeatedly allowing thinking time between repeats. I find fast semiquaver passages often take a lot of looking at starting with the first two notes, then the 2nd and 3rd, then the 3rd and 4th, and so on ad nauseam. Then start again with 3 note groups, etc. It's not half as tedious as it sounds and it very quickly shows up the changes which need attention.

 

Finally I am reminded of a quotation attributed to Saint-Saens

"One must practice slowly, then more slowly, and finally slowly".


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#7 BadStrad

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Posted 21 January 2018 - 14:28

Quote - Finally I am reminded of a quotation attributed to Saint-Saens

"One must practice slowly, then more slowly, and finally slowly".  - unquote

 

 

Saint-Saens makes a good point.  Sometimes it isn't that the fingers can't move fast enough, it's that we've ingrained a mistake by trying to play a piece too fast in the first place.  As my friend also says "Play as fast as you can, not as fast as you can't."

 


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#8 EllieD

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Posted 21 January 2018 - 16:31

 

 

Finally I am reminded of a quotation attributed to Saint-Saens

"One must practice slowly, then more slowly, and finally slowly".

 

I need to get that quote framed and hang it above my piano!!! laugh.png 


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#9 sbhoa

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Posted 22 January 2018 - 17:03

What suggestions has your teacher come up with?

Sometimes what we think  is a difficult to execute 2 bars is actually a tricky move between two notes so being able to isolate exactly what is slowing things down.

Are you thinking of the music in chunks and identifying things like scale and arpeggio runs? This can help to keep things moving.


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#10 Dotty old crotchet

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Posted 24 January 2018 - 19:01

Thank you all so much for your advice. I'm hoping Elemimele is right and I'll speed up over time IF I'm not impatient, and let it happen naturally, so thank you for your encouragement.


My teacher has suggested that it's not all about the fingers. She's suggested:

Always use metronome to get started so I don't just plod along automatically at my customary 85 bpm

Varying rhythms eg swing quavers

Playing from memory whilst really focussing on relaxing my hands, in a very mindful way, feeling every movement. She's given me a gentle stretch to do.

Accepting that it is the imperfections in live music which make it interesting.

As a stepping stone to Hungarian dance no 5 this week I'm practicing 'Branle de l'officiel'. I love this title because to me it sounds like serious Renaissance repertoire. In fact its only 'Ding dong merrily on high' but it has some similar motifs to the Brahms just in quavers instead of semi-quavers.
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#11 elemimele

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Posted 24 January 2018 - 22:45

Swinging rhythms has a very real place: think French inegalite. This is a link to a recorder duet, some Boismortier, played by two people who've endeavoured to use the sort of rhythms believed to be correct for the period: 

The Gavotte en Rondo starting at 3min17 has very obvious lilt in it rhythm. The players have considerately provided the sheet music scrolling past as they play so you can compare the rhythm with the written notation. Note that the Gigue that follows is not swung - it doesn't work in triple-time.

To be honest, although it's very beautifully done, and Boismortier was a good composer, I find that huge amounts of Boismortier start to cloy after a while! All proof that we are lucky to have such a variety of instruments and composers on whom we can draw.

 

I pasted a link a few weeks back to a bit of Early Music Sources talking about early 20th C recordings of romantic music: 

This might also be interesting to you, because it discusses 20th and 21st C ideas of both tempo and regularity of rhythm. We live in an era that is rather less flexible than that of our forefathers.


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#12 Dotty old crotchet

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Posted 26 January 2018 - 09:44

Thanks so much for those two really interesting videos, although I did have to brush my teeth after the Boismortier! However I would not object to benevolent aliens zapping the ability to play like that straight into me

The unsynchronised melody and accompaniment in the old recordings was a revelation to me as I thought that would be a total no-no but they sounded wonderful. My concern as a beginner is that unlike me, when the musicians in those videos are varying the tempo or playing off the beat they are doing it ON PURPOSE for musical reasons.

I think I have been very much influenced by the advice to practice slowly enough so that you can get all the notes/rhythms ABSOLUTELY correct, which I've read in several books. It's easy to get bogged down in detail. And being a mathematician I do have rather a literal attitude towards reading music. My teacher is telling me to focus more on the big picture and on the overall performance.
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#13 elemimele

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Posted 28 January 2018 - 00:39

oh, I'm sure you're totally right to be influenced by advice to practice getting rhythms absolutely correct. A regular, accurate pulse, with correctly-timed notes gives you the foundation and structure, from which you can deviate deliberately when it's appropriate.

I could do with those benevolent aliens too. But I'm not sure you can book them from ABRSM.


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#14 EllieD

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Posted 04 February 2018 - 21:01

I was thinking about these posts as I am practicing a couple of (for me) technically fairly tricky pieces, and getting them to the desired speed will be challenging.

 

What I tend to do is work upwards from a slow tempo that I can manage. At some point I will break down, so I try a couple more times and if it keeps happening in the same place, then I go back over that section, probably slower again, to work out what it is that's causing the breakdown. Almost always with me, I find that what is causing the problem is actually a little bit earlier than when I first hear it - a sort of snowball effect from one microscopic bit of unevenness to something more obvious over a few notes. Then I'll often invent little exercises around the bit that I am not getting right, rather than carry on with the actual piece, and then try and reincorporate it when I'm happier with it. Takes ages, and might only increase the metronome speed by a small amount, but anything you do to help strengthen muscles and get the brain to work as you need it to all has to help.

 

Bizarrely, but probably not that unusual, what prevents me from being able to play quicker is a tendency to rush (aka panic) when a tricky bit is coming up, but of course rushing doesn't mean playing fast, rushing means breaking down and playing unevenly. At least I know that's what I usually have to look for, though, whenever I go wrong.

 

And yes, it is true, as we get older we are less likely to be able to do play as fast as a younger person, or someone who learned at a younger age. But I am sure we can all improve, and anyway, it's fun trying!


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