Cello Thought For the Day: Your Best Tempo

Once, when I was a student, I brought a piece by Brahms into my lesson. It was in patchy shape because I hadn’t achieved mastery, but was trying to pretend I had. I hashed through the entire movement at breakneck speed even though there were parts I simply couldn’t play yet. (In one of those ironies I haven’t quite figured out yet, a lot of people rush in the hardest spots of a fast piece, and I’m no exception.)

My teacher looked at me quizzically, head on one side. “Just because you can play it,” she said, doesn’t mean the tempo is too slow.”

I was confused. Was this some kind of joke?

I’ve lived with this quote for years now and the more I think about it, the more I realize how wise this teacher was. You can’t be a convincing interpreter if you can’t make intelligible phrases. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to take a piece at the tempo you can play consistently and well right now, and aim to grow and evolve until you can achieve goal tempo?

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