The Art of Slowing Down: Timely Lessons
Sometimes we need to master the art of slowing down in order to thrive.
I sat down to practice, jumping right into a technically challenging piece of music. I knew better than to start a practice session that way. A little warm-up would be best for my hands and fingers. Yet, feeling pressed for time, I did it anyway.
Not surprisingly, my forearms felt tight and my fingers didn’t move like I wanted them to.
“My intuition was correct. I should have warmed up first.“
“Time to warm up.”
I paused, stretched my forearms, palms, and fingers, and did some super simple warm-up exercises hoping to bring some warmth and movement into my fingers. Unsatisfied with how my fingers still couldn’t seem to find the keys, I paused again.
An Experiment in Slowing Down
I recalled an antidote I once heard as a college music major about a famous concert pianist who, before a performance, practiced his music one last time before the concert at half speed. I thought I'd give the approach a try.
Expecting my memory to fail me at a reduced tempo, I surprisingly played the entire song with full musical expression. As I continued to practice in this way, I discovered some musical lines and weak performance spots I'd never seen before.
Interestingly, while playing at half speed, I noticed a quickness in my heartbeat as if anxious about something. It took me a while, but I finally realized that slowing down felt destabilizing. I intentionally had to prevent myself from pushing the tempo faster.
Thriving in Slowing Down
I began to be curious about these observations. Then it came to me. I had normalized the feeling of panic when trying to reach the goal tempo so much that my nervous system now felt dysregulated as I settled into a slower tempo. Rushing the tempo felt right to me because that was the sensation I had felt as I gradually increased my performance of the piece.
Here's the thing. I no longer needed to feel panicked because my fingers knew what they were doing. Slowing down was exactly what I needed to do to remind myself what it felt like to play from a place of rest and calm.
As I settled into the song at half speed, I felt calmer, more in control, and more relaxed. After finding grounding in practicing at half speed, I tried the piece again at full tempo. The most curious thing happened. Even at a faster tempo, I felt more secure, in control of my fingers, and at peace even at the faster speed.
Instantly, I saw the parallel to the rest of my life.
Slowing Down Life’s Pace
The past several years have been some of the most challenging years of my life. As a result, I usually feel a sense of urgency to do all the things I need to do in order to survive. Panic, stress, overthinking, overworking, exhaustion, and fear still often fill my heart. These sensations have become so familiar that they feel comfortable and almost welcome and sought after.
While practicing, I finally understood what many have been telling me.
I must learn how to slow down and move at half pace from time to time. In doing so, I can recalibrate my nervous system to learn how to carry myself through a fully-paced life with an inner sense of calm and peace. A rushed life is not only unsustainable, but it is lacking in security, confidence, and joy.
I'm just at the beginning of slowing down in my own life. In the last few weeks, I've tried to carve out 5 minutes inside each hour to step away from productivity to simply sit and be without doing. I've started to provide my body with more nourishing food and take the time to eat those meals without simultaneously working. I’ve also been trying to put myself to bed a little bit earlier to get more sleep. These changes might not seem like much, but they have begun to put the brakes on my life that I so desperately need.
As I make space in my life for myself to rest and simply be, I am finding my productivity, creativity, and joy increase.
Performing from a Place of Rest
Back to the practice session….
To drive the point home to myself, I relaxed into a different piece of music I’ve also been learning. March Op. 27 No. 3 “March” by Tchaikovsky is a slow song in g minor. This piece speaks of yearning, sorrow, rest, and peaceful resolve. It requires space, expanded time, delicate touch, and a sense of inner calm.
It was the perfect way to end a practice session with such powerful insights into the need to slow down. When wrapping up my practice session, I felt refreshed, rested, and inspired to take the lessons and insights gained on the piano bench into the rest of my life.
Food For Thought
What's one way you can step away from the hustle and rush of our culture to tend to your nervous system?
Envision how it would feel to slow down and then work and create from a rested place of being.
I encourage you to take a few moments to slow down or to sit in silence and simply be. You may find it unnerving at first. In fact, you probably will if you are used to the busyness and rush of life. That’s okay and normal. Experiment with it anyway. You may find some gems in the practice that can carry you through the rest of your life.
If you would like to learn the art of slowing down through the practice of learning to play the piano, I would be honored to help in the journey.
It is my true joy to bring the joy of music into hearts and home through personalized remote piano lessons that will encourage you to practice patience and resiliency as you slow down to gain new life skills.
The process is simple:
1. Schedule a call to talk about your goals.
2. Select a lesson time.
3. Take your first lesson!
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