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Thread: Hitting a tempo wall, will this work?

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    Question Hitting a tempo wall, will this work?

    I have practiced pieces where I need to play it presto. Now with Grande Valse Brilliante, this just came naturally on the first try, full speed, no mistakes(which is unusual for me, especially for a Chopin piece), but with most pieces this starts slow, literally.

    For example right now with the third movement of the moonlight sonata, I am playing at about 60 bpm if you go by the time signature but I feel as though I am at 120 bpm with an eighth note beat. Super fast 16ths already and I'm not even near presto and I feel the burn when I finish this movement. Obviously, I'm getting tension but I'm not sure how I can avoid it with fast playing. My wrist is in the right position, I rotate my arm when I come across alberti bass, I have strong but nimble fingers, I lift my hand up to release when I get to slower notes. Everything seems right but I'm still getting tension at fast speeds. Why though, if I have the right technique and everything?

    But that isn't the focus of this post, would still love to have an answer though to why I'm getting tense.

    But here is what happens as I speed up from Larghetto to Presto if I try to without micromanagement:

    Larghetto -> Andante

    All good, no problem

    Andante -> Allegro

    Again, no problem

    Allegro -> Molto Allegro

    Mistakes start cropping up

    Molto Allegro -> Presto

    Forget it, 100% wrong

    Now I tried micromanagement with the Solfeggio in C minor and I'm still not there yet but here are the steps I took towards no mistakes at full speed:

    1) Divide each beat into 2 beats so that I think of it as 8/8 instead of 4/4. This can get me to Molto Allegro with no issues just by itself.

    2) Think of the sixteenth notes as 1 trill the length of the piece. This got me to Presto tempo easily but mistakes eventually happened and it was as if I hadn't progressed past Allegro, even though I have.

    3) This was the crucial step towards no mistakes, stop trying to play the whole piece. Just go 1 beat at a time until it is in my muscle memory and correct any mistakes I make before I go to the next beat. Then progressively merge more and more beats. So far, I'm at 2 beats per passage practiced. But I think I am ready to move on to 1 measure per passage practiced.

    But this is an incredibly slow process and I feel the burn and have to take a few minutes of a break to let my hands rest before I go on to my next piece or at least play a slow piece as my hands relax.

    But will this beat by beat micromanagement work for any piece? In particular I am questioning whether it is worth doing it for whole movements of sonatas like the Moonlight Sonata I am learning. As I said, without this it is like I hit a wall at Allegro that I can't get past unless I think of the beats as being eighth notes rather than the actual quarter note beats. But for movements of sonatas, this would mean like at least 3 months of practice at Presto with progressively more and more beats(doubling each time, the length of the passages I practice) before I can play the whole movement with no mistakes. Is it worth it doing this beat by beat micromanagement if it will take months to years for a whole movement? I'm not so sure that it is. But at the same time without it, I hit a wall.

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Never mind the speed. I was playing a Bach 3 part invention incredibly slowly for a long time. Got it exact - notes, dynamics. timing all very comfortable and relaxed. Teacher said speed up and I did.

    Basic point is take it slowly. The tension is not your technique but your mind telling you you're not ready for it - yet. When you can play the piece totally comfortably and relaxed then you have it and then you can speed up. My teacher says speed is the last step not the aim and not the thing to be concentrating on.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Yes, I know speed is the last thing to get in a piece but that hitting a wall in tempo has happened to me a lot. There always comes a point(usually when I have everything but the tempo at 100%) where I am more focused on the speeding up than anything else. For an Allegro piece or slower, that's no problem for me. And there are some tempos that are so slow that I can essentially get everything right on the first try(like the Prelude in C minor by Chopin).

    Some of Bach's easier fugues, especially his C minor fugue from Book 1 of the WTC, I can get everything right on the first try even though it is at a fast speed.

    But there are some more complicated slow pieces I don't get right on the first try such as the Funeral March from Chopin's Piano Sonata no. 2. On the other hand I would say the slow part of the first movement of the Pathetique sonata is equally as complex and as slow but I got the notes right on the first try and it only took like 4 days to get the dynamics down.

    But for most pieces that go past Allegro in tempo, like I said, I hit a wall at Allegro that is hard to get past and I haven't found a strategy better than micromanagement yet.

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by caters View Post
    Yes, I know speed is the last thing to get in a piece but that hitting a wall in tempo has happened to me a lot. There always comes a point(usually when I have everything but the tempo at 100%) where I am more focused on the speeding up than anything else. For an Allegro piece or slower, that's no problem for me. And there are some tempos that are so slow that I can essentially get everything right on the first try(like the Prelude in C minor by Chopin).

    .
    Great. You know you have the speed. Check that with Hanon or scales or whatever. So it's not technique. What you have to do is relax and let the speed happen. Forget the speed and think about the music. Listen to a performance. Relax and let it flow. It will happen if you have the music in your mind and the notes in your fingers.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Senior Member JeffD's Avatar
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    I don't know how generalize-able this may be, but I have found playing mandolin that there is something fundamentally different, mentally and/or physically, above a certain speed. It is not, to my experience, just a matter of incrementally increasing the speed from slow to fast. Above a certain speed playing the phrase or the piece requires for me a kind of rip of faith, a kind of spilling of notes in whole phrases, as opposed to a note at a time, in a kind of launching, like a bowling ball, letting go of the need to consciously control the details. Kind of like a musical saccade, where I am not tracking one note at a time but whole phrases or whole lines.
    Last edited by JeffD; Aug-31-2018 at 08:29.
    How did I become a senior member? I only recently figured out where the restrooms are.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I cant speak for piano, specifically, as i (attempt to) play the guitar. I think Taggart is right. Practise a piece at a manageable speed and learn to relax with it until you can play it really comfortably and then speed up. I couldnt play a riff in a rock song i was trying to learn so l played it at half speed for ages. After a few weeks i began making it faster and faster. When i returned to listening to the track again i found that i was actually playing the riff too fast. Now i can play it easily. Unfortunately everything else i play still sounds crap. Lol

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