I am playing some works by Olivier Messiaen. Some of them are “extremely slow, extatic”, or “infinitely slow”.


  • “Louange à l’Éternité de Jésus” (Quatuor pour la fin du temps), cello and piano.
  • “Regard du père” (20 regards sur l’Enfant Jésus), piano solo

I find it very difficult to keep a very slow tempo and find myself improving the speed while playing even when I concentrate on that topic. Do you have the same problem, and how do you cope with it?

Thank you for answers!


Two things can help with this that I can think of:

  1. Setting a metronome to a large beat, like one beat a measure to see where you rush and and speed up.
  2. Subdivide, subdivide, and subdivide. :-) If you have a strong inner pulse that is beating a smaller beat like 8th notes this can really help. Slow tempos are hard to keep study, so keeping the subdivided faster beat is essential.

So a practice method to combine these might be to set the metronome to a larger beat, say the measure of half measure. Then walk around the room with your steps being quarter notes (I know, it is tough when something is really slow, but you can still generally do it). At the same time clap 8th notes, and then lastly also at the same time sing the melody, rhythms, or tune. Doing all of these at once (maybe add a step at a time if you need to) will probably help you internalize this.

  • "walk around the room with your steps being quarter notes" Or, even better, dance around the room. Dancing integrates our mental rhythmic sense with our body, just like tapping your feet while playing. Apr 30 '11 at 16:28
  • One beat a measure and Messiaen are somewhat incompatible. Measures are not in constant time. The only way would be one beat per 32th note… but I could be afraid doing that would break the legato.
    – Benoit
    May 1 '11 at 7:08
  • I think with Messiaen you have to subdivide to the point that it becomes natural and you can get to the point where you can play the rhythms without subdividing.
    – cotroxell
    May 2 '11 at 14:19
  • Subdividing works wonders for some pieces - Mozart's flute concerto in G, sencond movement is 4/4 andante non troppo. I think of it in 8/8.
    – Michael
    May 2 '11 at 16:00

Everything by Messiaen is extremely difficult, so that doesn't count... but congratulations for being brave enough to try it. It's important to count those weird multiply-dotted notes and non-integral measures correctly.

But Messiaen aside, slow is almost always more difficult than it looks. In addition to tempo problems, slow pieces are all about tonal control, and that's something many pianists don't think enough about.

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