The Piano Paradox

I love my little piano students. They are so eager to play their favorite songs, but often become frustrated when Harold Hill’s “Think Method” doesn’t work. I stress fundamentals–sight reading, ear training, theory–and I tell them often that if they just slow down, they will actually learn their music faster.

It doesn’t make sense to them–and I can see why. But slowing down makes them focus on each note, each chord. It allows their brains to process everything they are trying to do:

Read the music.
Place fingers on correct notes.
Look at the music, not at their hands.
Push down keys.
Adjust dynamics.
WITH BOTH HANDS! AT THE SAME TIME!

And every time I tell a student to play the song at half speed for three days and gradually increase the speed, by week’s end they play the song not only up to tempo, but they play it accurately!

I tried to learn how to run during the school year, and it just didn’t work. So I’ve rededicated my efforts since this summer affords me the time to do so. I’ve never been much of an athlete, but a good friend once told me that it’s good to do things that we aren’t naturally good at. I tend to shy away from anything that I know I won’t be immediately successful at, and running is challenging for me.

Wednesday, I wanted to run 2.75 miles. But I didn’t eat right, and I had a lot on my mind, and I started out running way faster than I should have. I dragged myself through the last half of that run, angry that it wasn’t easier.

This morning, I wanted to try the same distance (I’m trying to build up to a 10K). So I did. At an easy pace. I ran half a mile, walked a quarter of a mile. I pushed myself the last half mile, because I wanted to be faster than I was on Wednesday. And because I had taken it a little bit slower, I was able to push that last half mile, and finish the distance 2 minutes and 45 seconds faster.

It doesn’t make sense that going slower can actually help me go faster. But if it works with piano, then why wouldn’t it work with running? So far, it seems it does.

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