One of the benefits of slow practice is that it can be part of a varied and structured session of piano practice. The piano teacher, Joan Last affirmed that ‘all wise pianists practise slowly, indeed it is a vital factor in the overcoming of technical difficulties.’ A further benefit of slow practice is that the visual, aural, analytical and tactile aspects of the memory can be improved, while also providing a way out of the trap where learned movements become so automatic that the mind is no longer actively learning.
An abundance of slow and deliberate practice as part of a balanced practice session helps a pianist to combat performance anxieties because it forces the pianist to get out of playing through a piece of music without thinking. This is due to all the learned movements being slowed down to the point where the tactile memory cannot be relied on all the time.
This would mean that the visual memory of the keyboard (where to put the fingers, changes in hand position, visual landmarks on the keyboard), analytical memory (of structure and tonality, for example) and the aural memory of the music (such as direction of the melody, or the changes in harmony) can be consciously absorbed to supplement the tactile memory, which is the first kind of memory a pianist acquires in the memorisation of music.
I will now explain the pitfalls to be avoided during slow practice. The solutions to the problems encountered when using slow practice as a method of practice are easily found in the correct application of the benefits previously mentioned.
One of the pitfalls of slow practice is that the movements used when playing slow are different to that of playing fast, resulting in an inability to increase the speed. Obviously, playing at a slow tempo with the wrong technique will not benefit you. However, if the right technique is exaggerated when playing slowly, when the movements become faster, those movements can become smaller and more efficient.
A student may become bored with practising slowly, and the mind can become passive as the tempo is slowed, which is linked to the other common pitfall of losing the character of a lively piece of music when the tempo is slowed. Articulations become lazier, and the mood of a bright piece of music is turned into a dull interpretation because of a slow tempo. One of the benefits of slow practice is that details in the music can be absorbed by the mind more easily, and that the artistic image of a piece can be worked on from the beginning to the end of learning a composition. If this is kept in mind, boredom and incorrect interpretation can be avoided.
Another pitfall of slow practice is that progress may be stalled if slow practice is used as the only way of practising. The answer is to include other practice techniques like hands separate practice, structural practice, mental practice away from the piano and to alternate slow practice with faster playing. The most productive way to practice is to be motivated to improve, listen critically to one’s playing, and keep the goal of the artistic image clear.