Practicing slow vs practicing fast

A common question that seems to arise again and again amongst my students is this: “Should I practice slowly or should I practice quickly”? Usually the student is struggling with a certain technical challenge, such as a chord change or a picking exercise etc.

A common answer to this question is simply to practice slowly and work your way up, until you can play the passage or movement at your desired speed. To be honest, I don’t think this is the ideal way. I think the answer is not always to practice slow, or fast, but both. Simply put, both methods focus on different areas, but both are important, so one should always divide practice between ‘slow’ and ‘fast’.

Too many students make the mistake of practicing everything at full speed and therefore lack accuracy and feel in their playing. Practicing slowly is important, because it is only in this slow state that you have the ability to consciously tell your fingers what to do. Chances are, if there is a technical imperfection in your playing, practicing at a fast tempo might make you play whatever it is you’re playing faster, but the imperfections will remain.

On the flip side, too many students practice slow and never ‘push’ themselves in order to get the material from practice level to performance level. The problem here occurs when students seem to resign themselves to the fact that whatever they are playing is too hard, therefore, just keep practicing without any intention to speed up.

The solution is simply to do a bit of both. On a very basic level, for example, if you are struggling to shift from a G chord to a D chord in time, practice slowly so that you can control the movement of your fingers and correct any imperfections. But also allocate a bit of practice to playing a fair bit faster, maybe not full speed straight away, but fast enough that it makes you feel like you’re going for a ride and just hanging on! You need to practice at a faster tempo to get the feeling of what it is like to play at the desired tempo and providing you are doing proper practice at the slow level, the fast playing should get better and better.

I know you have probably been told not to practice fast until something is already perfect as you will ‘learn bad technique’, but I think bad technique comes from practicing incorrectly at all speeds, not from giving a faster tempo a go and falling over. Remember, you’re still practicing slowly and making sure your technique is right, but your balancing it with full speed practice, in order to push your playing along.


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