Is it Easier to Play Music Fast or Slow?

Which do you think is easier to play,……. fast,…… or slow music?

On the surface it seems to be a “no-brainer”. Slow should be easy and fast is harder, but it really depends on the criteria of the question.

There is an old one-liner musical joke that goes: “He doesn’t sound very good, but I’m all for his execution!” Remember, behind every statement of humor, there is an element of truth.

Let’s see where I’m going with this.

First, our initial reaction to the word “execution” is probably a negative one. The electric chair probably comes to mind initially which makes the joke funny. However, execute can also mean to carry out a plan or task like execute a football play or play a fast passage accurately in music which is the goal of every musician. The faster the phrase, the more difficult it is to play. Case closed, fast is harder! Right?

Hold on a minute. You might “execute” extremely fast, but you could sound like crap! This brings us to the other criteria I mentioned earlier.

Many times if the tempo is real slow and there is no audible external beat to latch on to, “slow” can be very difficult to play as a group. You have to use your internal metronome, but each other player has their own feeling of the internal beat. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT. Synchronizing the “execution” of the piece you and your group are attempting to play is next to impossible….. Are you starting to rethink slow is so easy?

Remember, when you practice by your self, the slightest variation in tempo might not be an important issue in the moment and maybe not even discernible in an isolated situation.

Here is another factor: the quality of sound you make. One of my personal statements I like to make to my students is: “If you have a beautiful tone and can only play slow songs, well at least you sound great half the time, but if you can play fast, but have a terrible tone, you suck all the time”.

Intonation is another problem you can run into. If you are playing fast music, the listener doesn’t have time to hear if each note is in tune, so you can dodge the bullet, so to speak. When you play music fast you can actually hide some short comings when performing a piece.

Now play a slow song. Even if you have a great tone, if you have poor intonation and play certain notes slightly out of tune, whether in an ensemble or as a solo, you may as well play a chainsaw! I might be a little harsh, but you get the idea. Oh, no, I’m starting to sound hyperbolic! The remedy is to listen to what you play, as you play, and fix it through practice!

So is it easier to play music fast or slow? It’s probably a matter of opinion, but I feel that I have a strong argument for “slow” being much more difficult to play aesthetically pleasing. How ever you feel keep practicing for speed but be ever vigilant for tone and intonation.