It is a common misconception among most children and some adults that by learning something very slowly is actually wasting time. It is difficult to explain why this is not true because they cannot see how the brain is absorbing the very slow signals that the eyes and hands are learning at a slow tempo. They only see the immediate results and because the end results are not yet achieved, it is easy to conflate the two issues. Speed of Learning vs. Time Completion.
One reason why going slow helps is because it gives more time for the brain to process information. You need to think of your brain as a computer. Like a computer, if you open 5 applications and are downloading video, streaming music and talking to friends all at the same time, the computer will get annoyed and become very slow because it cannot process all the information in the time you want it too. The same holds true for the brain. You must give the brain time to process the new information and then after you learn it, it will go into ‘cache’ mode and be able to quickly retrieve that new information in a moments notice, just like a computer that saves images on computer files so that it does not have to download them each time you encounter the image.
Another reason which is directly tied into the above is because going slowly allows you be more accurate in your attention to details. Finger numbers, note reading, articulation, dynamic markings, rhythm, correct breathing, all need to be learned. You have most likely heard before that after you learn something incorrectly, it takes many times practicing correctly to UNLEARN the learned behavior. The brain does not have a ‘DELETE’ command, so you basically need to begin reinforcing the old behavior with the new correct behavior. The brain will eventually come to recognize the new behavior. So you need to give the brain time to absorb the details correctly FIRST because if you move too fast and play wrong rhythms and notes, it will take much longer to rewrite the incorrect information you have already learned.
I hope it is clear that the brain is a tool you use to learn. It is not something that you have direct access too and not something you can simply reprogram to your liking. By moving too quickly, you have a very high chance of developing bad habits. It is far far more efficient to program the brain the FIRST time by learning things correctly the FIRST time. In order to do this properly, you must give the brain enough time to process the information and body movements you are trying to learn. If you succeed in both of these, then you will find that your brain will program itself with the new information and correct information much faster.
Many pianists can slowly and methodically play through a new piece while absorbing all the details on the page and developing a path of least resistance on the keys within a very short time. This is because they have trained their brain to move slowly and give it enough time to process all the new information. These pianists can then speed this information up at a very fast rate and before you know it, after even a couple play through’s, be able to play it at tempo. It seems to take beginners dozens upon dozens of times to play through a new piece before they are able to play it up to tempo. Most of the time they need to unlearn bad habits and they have been trained to use their brain at a slow tempo OR they refuse to do it thinking that they are wasting time.
So try it out. Begin playing through your new pieces at 25% tempo, then click your metronome (You are using a metronome, yes?) up a couple notches and play through it at 30%. Then 35%. Then 40%. If you stick with this, you should notice a big improvement. The most important thing is that if you begin making mistakes, you need to slow it down. Put it at 10% tempo if need be because remember – It’s far better to go slow and do it correctly then try it faster and learn bad behaviors.