Playing Slowly

Working on Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet this week and I’m reminded of how good it feels to dissect a piece of music line by line, bar by bar, note by note. 

Also, a revelation that’s not really a revelation at all: playing slowly is so much harder than playing fast. Playing something slowly requires a different kind of focus, a different awareness of every single little thing. What part of the bow am I in? What part of the string am I on? What type of vibrato? Bow speed, maintaining tone, energy…

Playing slowly is not like playing fast in slow motion. Playing slowly breaks down every aspect of your playing and reveals it in painfully stark ways. Each bar, each note contains a little microcosm of the summation of your technique.  

It’s like meditating. When we’re still and quiet, so many things rise to the surface that we didn’t even realize were there. It’s incredible illuminating. 

Playing slowly is hard. Being still is hard. It’s easy to play fast and keep busy, to skim over things and feel comfortable with the thought that it sounds pretty good. It’s easy to live, to play casually. Slowing down and listening is what takes work. 

Being attentive to every detail is exhausting, but creates the most beautiful result. 

I am so grateful to music for teaching me these things. 

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