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Topic: Half Speed  (Read 3102 times)

Offline nick

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Half Speed
on: January 17, 2005, 09:11:18 PM
I have read where numerous pianists say they mostly practice at Half Speed. Does anyone know for sure what this means? Half of the goal tempo perhaps?

Nick

Offline SteinwayTony

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #1 on: January 17, 2005, 10:03:55 PM
The American pianist John Browning, who was renowned for his strong position against even one wrong note in a performance, prepared pieces by first learning the notes, then playing it through at what he called a "middle tempo," halfway between slow practice and full speed.  He considered this "middle tempo" to be the most difficult and also the most efficient way of practicing.  Of course this philosophy was most likely reserved for pieces with a relatively quick tempo.

Offline dinosaurtales

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #2 on: January 17, 2005, 10:14:21 PM
My first goal in learning a piece to get through it at one consistent tempo (tempo changes modified somewhat) which might be considerable LESS than half speed.  I set a metronome tempo for whereever it is, and start notching it up from there, keeping my "fantasy" tempo in mind.  I may never reach it, for instance, I never got the Appassionata final movement up to 138, where all muy recordings are, but I nailed it at 124, which is ok for me.  That last few notches will drive you insane, though!!!!!
So much music, so little time........

Offline nick

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #3 on: January 19, 2005, 03:52:21 AM
The American pianist John Browning, who was renowned for his strong position against even one wrong note in a performance, prepared pieces by first learning the notes, then playing it through at what he called a "middle tempo," halfway between slow practice and full speed.  He considered this "middle tempo" to be the most difficult and also the most efficient way of practicing.  Of course this philosophy was most likely reserved for pieces with a relatively quick tempo.

I think I remember that quote and also the same for Andre Watts, amoung others, who said he mostly practices at "half speed". I was wondering on the metronome what this would be. Half of what? If it is as John Browning said, what would he consider slow speed? Let's say your goal tempo is 100. If slow speed is 40, would you take the difference between 40 and 100, which is 60, and half that, which is 30, and add the 30 to the 40, which is 70, and that is half speed? Of course that number would be different if the slow speed was different. What do you think?

Nick

Offline brsmpianist

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #4 on: January 19, 2005, 05:30:21 AM
When im in the process of polishing a piece i generally will never play it up to speed but rather slowly, in very small sections with the metronome trying to perfect every last detail.

Offline steinwayguy

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #5 on: January 19, 2005, 06:30:13 AM
Many people practice half-tempo witlessly and think it's really helpful. You can practice a Chopin etude half-tempo for a month and still not be able to play it full speed. There are only a select few situations at which I practice half speed. These are all after I have learned the piece. Occassionally I will practice very very meticulously, examaning every tone before proceeding to the next. Also, when practicing something very technically challenging, I will figure out the types of coordination needed to play it at full tempo, begin at half-tempo and exagerrate the gestures until they are almost instinctive, then one can think exclusively about "the music".

Offline anda

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #6 on: January 19, 2005, 07:53:12 AM
teh "perfect practice tempo" varies from one pianist to another as well as from one work to another. sometimes it's "half-tempo", but not always. but keep in mind that for a work you say it's "well-known", you should be able to play it in any tempo, ranging from very slow to comcert-tempo.

choose yourself your practice-tempo: the best one is the one allowing you to correctly learn the work (not just the notes, but everything written and everything not-written - moves, fingering, ideas, personal feelings, etc.)

Offline nick

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #7 on: January 19, 2005, 01:47:10 PM
Thanks to all who gave some thoughts on half tempo. My question really is what speed this means in relation to the goal tempo. For example, if the goal is 120, half tempo cannot mean 60, can it? Any thoughts on what speed half tempo is I would be interested in.

Nick

Offline pianobabe56

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #8 on: January 19, 2005, 02:23:29 PM
I doubt that when someone says "play this at half speed" they actually mean "beat yourself to death by worrying about the politically correct half tempo." More likely, they mean "practice this at a slower tempo where you can play EVERY NOTE perfectly." Find a slower tempo that works for you. Personally, I take the tempo that I can currently play it at a performance level, and then I take 75% of that tempo- if I were able to play it at a reasonable level at 120, I would practice it at 84. Just don't stress out over it! I don't think a precise 'half' speed is necessary. Spend the energy practicing!  ;D
A bird can soar because he takes himself lightly.

Offline nick

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #9 on: January 22, 2005, 01:18:52 PM
Many people practice half-tempo witlessly and think it's really helpful. You can practice a Chopin etude half-tempo for a month and still not be able to play it full speed. There are only a select few situations at which I practice half speed. These are all after I have learned the piece. Occassionally I will practice very very meticulously, examaning every tone before proceeding to the next. Also, when practicing something very technically challenging, I will figure out the types of coordination needed to play it at full tempo, begin at half-tempo and exagerrate the gestures until they are almost instinctive, then one can think exclusively about "the music".

Again, do you have an estimated metronome number for half speed? As an example, the goal is 120, what would the estimated half speed be?

Nick

Offline nick

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #10 on: January 22, 2005, 01:24:40 PM
I doubt that when someone says "play this at half speed" they actually mean "beat yourself to death by worrying about the politically correct half tempo." More likely, they mean "practice this at a slower tempo where you can play EVERY NOTE perfectly." Find a slower tempo that works for you. Personally, I take the tempo that I can currently play it at a performance level, and then I take 75% of that tempo- if I were able to play it at a reasonable level at 120, I would practice it at 84. Just don't stress out over it! I don't think a precise 'half' speed is necessary. Spend the energy practicing!  ;D

Not interested in "politically correct half tempo", or beating myself to death. Little snotty comments are useless. Also, to practice at a slower tempo where every note is perfect means little with regard to the question, since there is a huge variance in speed. Thanks anyway.

Nick

Offline bernhard

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #11 on: January 22, 2005, 09:02:30 PM
One must practice at different speeds. But one must also understand why one is practising at different speeds. The actual speed is not that important. What is important is the effect. So you will not get a clear-cut answer: half speed is MM=60, say, because this may or may not be the speed that for you the half-speed effects are going to be in effect.

So:

1.   Tempo is variable. Think of it as in speech. Some people speak slowly; some people speak very fast indeed. Still the meaning and the emotions still come through as long as the tempo is neither too fast nor too slow. If someone starts speaking at a very slow rate, you will not be able to connect the words into meaningful sentences. Likewise, if they speak so fast that you start missing words communication will not really take place. So when approaching a piece of music, the most important question in regards to tempo is to define at which range of tempos the piece will still be effective. And which range of tempos the piece is effective, but its meaning changes. Again think speech and you will get the idea: Someone speaking frantically fast may still convey meaning, but there will be overtones of danger and urgency in the message, while by speaking slowly a calming effect result. I use to show this to may students by playing for them Bach’s Little prelude BWV 939 first at top speed then at a peaceful and measured tempo. Then I tell them it is a conversation between Bach and his wife and I ask them to tell me what is going on. The fast version is always interpreted as a domestic argument, while the second, slow version is always interpreted as a lovers’s dialogue.

2.   With that established, I find useful to practise in six different speeds:

a.   The slowest speed at which the piece is still effective. This means a speed at which you could perform the piece and it would still be a valid speed. Bach in particular allows a huge range of speeds, and depending on the tempo you choose, the piece may even sound completely different. A very good example is the Giga from partita no. 1 which some pianists (Gould, Tureck) play at light-speed, while others paly it so slow as to sound a different piece altogether (Arrau). In fact, Arrau is a good example of a pianist that more often then not performs pieces at this lower tempo boundary.

b.   The fastest speed that the piece will allow. Practice is (a) and (b) will inform you about what is effective and how much you can stretch the tempo in one way or the other. This will inform your decision of the final tempo at which to play the piece.

c.   Faster than the fastest tempo in (b) above. Arrau would recommend this practice trick to his students: to play 1/3 faster than the recommended fastest speed, since in this way you always had a “reserve” of speed, and even at the top speed (b) your playing would look easy and sound effortless. Now, 1/3 here does not really mean 1/3. (The piece fastest tempo is MM=120, so practice at MM=170). That is not the point. For a start you may not be able to play at MM=170 (it may even be impossible) and trying will just make you ingrain mistakes and get injured. It simply means to practise in order to be able to play faster than you intend to play the piece at its final tempo. If you can play faster than you intend when performing, and yet perfectly and effortlessly, than when you actually perform the piece at your chosen tempo it will be a piece of cake. The corollary here is, always perform a piece at a slower tempo then the fastest perfect rendition you managed during practice. If you are having trouble with speeds (a), then this piece is not ready for performance.

d.   Half-speed. This is not literally “half-speed”. But if you want to take it literally, then what is means is that if the piece is to be played at MM=120, you play it at MM=60. But instead of focusing on numbers, focus on what you want to achieve by doing it. Just like in (c) above, the point was not to play exactly 1/3 faster, but simply faster so that you would have a technical reserve, the point here is to play at such a speed that you have the time to hear each sound and check each movement making sure everything is perfect. This is a very difficult tempo – it is just below (a), the slowest tempo at which the piece is still effective. At this “half-speed” tempo the piece is not effective anymore. It is still fast enough for you to take advantage of hand memory – so your fingers will carry you through, but it is not fast enough for you to rely on your musical understanding of the piece. It will be too slow for phrasing (for instance) to be effective. This forces you to know your piece note by note, movement by movement. Which is why this is both one of the most useful practice speeds and one of the most difficult. You should not try that at the beginning. For this practice speed to be fully effective you should have already pretty much mastered your piece. You should know and have ingrained the right notes, the right times the right fingers and the right movements. The danger of doing half speed too early is that because it is fairly slow you will be able to get away with defective techniques which will not work at the pieces proper tempo. The main purpose of half-speed practice is to make sure everything is right by allowing you extra time. A lot of people use it as a license to practise everything wrong. Then they wonder why they can never get a piece at speed. So half-speed, is not literally half speed, but a speed slower than the slowest effective tempo of the piece, and yet not so slow as to destroy finger/hand memory. Another advantage of this speed is that you will be able to amplify your movements. For instance, certain passages need to be played by using a backwards circular movement of the arm/hand. Played at full speed it looks like the pianist is moving his hands up and down because at speed the amplitude of the movement must necessarily decrease. But in fact he is doing micro-backward circles. At half-speed you will be able to enlarge these movements and ingrain them, and acquire speed not by moving faster but by moving smaller. So when practising half-speed, remember that one of the purposes is to allow you larger movements. Aim for fluid/smooth/continuous large movements instead of jerky start-stop movements. Half-speed will be the speed that for you will allow this complex of results to happen: destruction of musical meaning, but not of hand memory; enough time to do everything right. Enough time to enlarge movements. Enough time to listen to individual sounds as opposed to sounds in a musically meaningful phrase.

e.   Slow speed. This is excruciatingly slow practice. How slow? Slow enough to destroy finger/hand memory. The purpose of this sort of practise is not technical. No one is going to acquire/improve technique by playing slowly. In fact, this is so slow (about a note per second) that correct movements are not so important (but keep to the right fingers and right notes!). The only purpose of this sort of practise is to develop other kinds of memory apart from hand/finger memory which is notoriously unreliable. So doing this sort of slow practice with the score in front of you completely defeats its purpose. If you can play your whole piece at this slow speed from memory, you know that you have truly memorised it (the slow speed stops you from relying on hand memory and at the same time gives you plenty of time for using other sorts of memory which a fast tempo make impossible to access, like the harmonic progressions and motif analysis)

f.   Ridiculously slow speed. Now you spend 10 or twenty seconds on each note. The only purpose for this kind of practice is to explore muscle isolation. See here if you don’t know what I am talking about:

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,4145.msg38568.html#msg38568

None of these practices is designed to investigate, develop or improve technique. For these you need other sorts of practice. All of these speed practices assume that you have already mastered your piece. They are aimed at perfecting the piece. If you are still in the learning stage they are useless at best and nocive at worst.

Just like it is not about the number of hours one practices, it is not about the notches in the metronome. ;)

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline jason2711

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #12 on: January 22, 2005, 09:53:43 PM
thanks bernhard, that's some really insightful information.  I was aware of some of those methods but others are new to me so i'll try them out tomorrow ;D

thanks

Offline nick

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #13 on: January 23, 2005, 03:17:12 AM
Thanks Bernhard for the half speed description. I have a speed that I am comfortable with in my practice and wondered if it was the so called half speed. From your description I am at half speed  most of the time,once the piece is learned. In a sentence or two, have you read any concert pianists description of half speed, and this is where you came up with the description?

Nick

Offline bernhard

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #14 on: January 23, 2005, 08:43:36 PM
Thanks Bernhard for the half speed description. I have a speed that I am comfortable with in my practice and wondered if it was the so called half speed. From your description I am at half speed  most of the time,once the piece is learned. In a sentence or two, have you read any concert pianists description of half speed, and this is where you came up with the description?

Nick

A sentence or two? From moi? :o You must be joking! ;D

Here is what some famous pianists have said about speed:

Claudio Arrau

Do you have any general advice for students?

Let me think. Off hand, I would say if you need strength in a certain passage, practise with more force than you actually need in performance so that the listener has the feeling, “Oh, he could play that much faster or more powerfully if he wanted to.” One should not only overcome a technical problem, but one must surpass it.

(David Dubal – The World of the Concert Pianist – Victor Gollancz – p. 31)

Jorge Bolet:

In your own teaching have you ever felt that there’s a certain common fault that many students have?

They play everything too fast. They have the misconception that speed creates excitement; and I try to get into their heads that nothing kills excitement like mere velocity. Hoffman used to say that the sensation of speed is not created by the rapidity with which one note follows another, but by the amount of space between one note and another – which is exactly right. Also, according to the acoustical phenomenon, the farther you are from the source of the music, the faster it sounds. It’s sometimes difficult to persuade the student of this, however.

(David Dubal – The World of the Concert Pianist – Victor Gollancz – p. 78 & 84)

Alfred Brendel

As you said, you had no regular teaching after sixteen, but I know you attended some master classes with Edwin Fischer, which you wrote about in your book. You also had a few classes with the famous pianist Edward Steuermann. Do you remember anything in particular about that experience?

I remember that I played Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and the Lizst Sonata for him. He had a wonderful way of teaching which still lives vividly in my memory. He did not like things to be worked out in a slower tempo. Instead he would split up passages into small units, have the student play, let’s say, five notes up to tempo, then continue with the next five or six notes – whatever was suitable for that particular phrase. After that, the student had to put the whole thing together in real tempo.

That sounds very helpful. Slow practice can be very misguided.

Yes, it can be a mistake to work out something in a tempo that does not really suit the requirements of the music. When I start to work on a piece it is important for me to work out everything – the suitable fingerings and the proper physical movements – in the real tempo in order to give the piece the right character.

(David Dubal – The World of the Concert Pianist – Victor Gollancz – p. 89-90)

John Browning

Can you describe your way of working?

Many people work with tunnel vision. They work on one little section for days and days – or they whiz through the whole work quickly. I learn carefully, conscientiously observing every marking, so I don’t have to undo bad habits. I then practise in middle tempo, not too slow, which is the hardest tempo to practise in. When I feel more or less ready, I play the whole piece straight through, three times in the day, no matter what goes wrong. I try to achieve a large arc, which is what you have to do in a performance. You cannot stop and correct yourself when you are onstage.

(David Dubal – The World of the Concert Pianist – Victor Gollancz – p. 114 - 116)

Just the tip of the iceberg, ;)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline pianobabe56

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #15 on: January 24, 2005, 02:41:40 AM
That sounds like a good book- "The World of the Concert Pianist" Would anyone seriously recommend buying it, or are there just a few main points to pick up that would benefit?
A bird can soar because he takes himself lightly.

Offline bernhard

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #16 on: January 24, 2005, 12:55:25 PM
That sounds like a good book- "The World of the Concert Pianist" Would anyone seriously recommend buying it, or are there just a few main points to pick up that would benefit?

It depends.

I doubt you will find much in it that is helpful in terms of technique or practice, since most of the answers are very short and superficial (as the excerpts above demonstrate). However it is a very interesting book in other ways. If, like me, you are interested in what makes pianists tick, then go ahead and read it. Some of the interviews are more interesting than others, as some pianists are more articulate than others. I wish they would elaborate more on several points (one of them mentions an infallible memory system he invented, but does not give any details, which is pretty frustrating to say the least). There are several books of this kind (most published by Dover).

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline sarahlein

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #17 on: January 25, 2005, 01:14:01 PM
Bernhard, you said something about "practises to develop and improve technique"
What would these be?- if I may ask.
Perhaps this is a different topic alltogether so I do apologise for that.( first time posting, you see :)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #18 on: January 25, 2005, 02:14:35 PM
Bernhard, you said something about "practises to develop and improve technique"
What would these be?- if I may ask.
Perhaps this is a different topic alltogether so I do apologise for that.( first time posting, you see :)


Have a look at the links in these two threads:

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/msg47078

https://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,5767.msg56133.html#msg56133


Just the tip of the iceberg. :P ;)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline pianowelsh

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Re: Half Speed
Reply #19 on: January 25, 2005, 04:02:37 PM
One of my teachers told me to structure my practice by date order and set a ratio ie Wk 1 = 100% slow, wk2 = 90% slow : 10% at tempo, wk 3= 80% slow : 20% at tempo etc. (when you reach 50:50 sit there for two weeks) When you get near a performance give min of 2 weeks (depending on how quick you learn) at full tempo. Sometimes you will find it helpful to return to a slow speed  ? for clarity /eveness etc (people will differ) but this way it is a progression and you know that you can control it at any tempo. ;D
 

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