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Playing too fast

I have just done my first rehearsal with the Meadows Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh for an upcoming performance of Rachmaninoff 's second piano concerto and I am glad it went well! I feel very fortunate to be playing with the orchestra again since I did my first ever concerto performance with them almost eight years ago! 

In fact, I had been very nervous and worried about this first rehearsal because there are some very tricky and awkward Più Mosso moments which the pianist has to be absolutely clear and lead the orchestra. I spent hours practising those passages thinking they weren't up to speed, especially when we have access to so many recordings these days on YouTube where you hear so many pianists playing with lightning speed. 

Then one day, I was teaching a student who was playing Chopin 's first ballade, and I realised he was struggling with some passages simply because he was playing them way faster than it needed to be. We worked out the basic pulse and treated the difficult passage melodically, and it became much clearer and easier to play! 

This led me to ponder, perhaps there is a difference in our perception of speed or time between when we listen to recordings and when we play? Perhaps when we listen to a recording, we get the impression that this passage has to be this fast, and so that when we are practising, we get the false idea that we must make it fast. I returned to my Rachmaninoff, and realised I was also playing way faster than it needed to be! 

In conclusion, I believe that we can only play as fast as we can think. Even in a fast passage, every note is just as important as the next one. Similarly, every letter is important in a word because if we start missing letters, the word won't make any sense! Eventually, only when we can hear or conceive the sound of each note running into the next one (like a string of beads on a necklace) at the desired speed in our head, then can we have the physical demand and control of the passage at that particular speed. Therefore, we should never try to play as fast as what we hear on recordings because we are all different at the end of the day! To avoid messiness, we should never play faster than we can think. It might be difficult and 'slow' at the start, but with persistence and practice, it will become easier! 

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