Slow practice works a little like aspirin – it makes you feel better but does not cure your problem by and itself. Doing slow practice is just like walking into a doctor’s office knowing that you have a health problem. Just by sitting there doesn’t get you better. You need a proper examination and diagnosis, so that the best combination of drugs can be prescribed to specifically tackle the virus or bacteria your doctor thinks you may have.

“Respond to stumbling by slow practice〞?

Stumble we do. I am sure it resonates with you as much as to me that we find ourselves “stumbling” over a difficult passage, especially in a piece that we are only just learning. No one is exempt from that and we all know what we should do: practice it again, slowly. We are taught and drilled to respond to such stumbling by slow practice. Slow practice never fails us.

I am not trying to argue against this golden rule of practicing. But in truth, practicing slowly may or may not fix the problem. It probably gives you a higher chance of “avoiding” the problem; but by no means, a sure bet. That’s because there could be multiple factors why you stumble where you do. It could be due to poor fingering, hand coordination, wrong rhythmic alignment, or a problem with technical execution at the speed required, just to name a few hypothetically.

Let’s say the culprit is poor fingering. By repeating it slowly using the same poor fingering, you would probably manage to play the passage without stumbling at this slower speed. And after 5 minutes of repeated attempts, you feel victorious and confident that you have done good work and move on. In truth, you have achieved nothing and are as likely to stumble again the next time you play it up to speed. The vicious cycle continues, myelin built over the wrong circuits, and frustration builds up.

Of course, if you are alert and switched on mentally when you practice, doing the passage slowly affords you more time to think, and therefore it is much more likely that you would discover the poor fingering that is hindering your execution.

Next time you take an aspirin, look for a diagnosis.