I'm a pianist and I'm having something weird happen. When I play the piano and record myself I always tend to play faster than what I think.

When I watch myself I see that I'm playing too fast but while I was playing I felt that my tempo was good and when I play I try to player slower so I get a normal tempo.

Can someone explain this phenomenon? Does it happen to others?

  • 1
    The universe is trying to tell you that you need a faster repertoire.
    – geometrian
    May 15, 2015 at 21:21
  • 1
    It's quite common, not weird at all. I think you might get further asking how to recognize/prevent it, rather than ask "why", since this is not a psychology site.
    – user28
    May 16, 2015 at 1:53

4 Answers 4


It's most likely just a side effect of the adrenaline you get when performing, similarly to how someone will speak faster if they are nervous. It's a very common phenomenon and most musicians don't notice when it happens.

Practicing with a metronome in general will make sure you start and consistently stay at the desired tempo. When performing you're most likely not going to be able to have a metronome keep time for you, but if you can simulate it by tapping your foot which may or may not be possible depending on how much you are using pedals. Even if it is not possible to tap your foot through the entire performance, just having an internal count-off helps a lot.

I also recommend if you typically get nervous or excited when performing or playing to just try and take a deep breath and relax before playing. It may sound odd, but it always helps me focus before a performance and typically nullifies any effects of the adrenaline.

  • Several deep breaths are even better - breathe in slowly and out even slower - it also takes your mind off everything else for the 3 or 4 minutes it should take. A bit of adrenaline is good as it keeps the edge on things, to stop the performance being bland.
    – Tim
    May 15, 2015 at 16:26
  • 1
    I agree, adrenaline will do this to you. Antidote: take a look at your printed music, and pick a figure or a phrase that doesn't come out well in the faster tempo. Imagine THAT phrase or figure before you start. Take your time with that pre-playing moment. If necessary, force yourself to aim for something slower than what you think is the correct tempo. One of my children has the same problem as you, consistently. The above tips have helped him somewhat. May 17, 2015 at 5:14

Playing too fast is a sign that you are focusing on the notes rather than the music. That is your motor reflexes are taking over the performance rather than your listening and interpreting head.

As others mentioned, adrenaline might speed up your "flow". Try breaking up its effect by being comfortably below your limits and varying the tempo consciously, focusing on every note an its role in the melody. Play only one hand and let the other hand play in your head, and at very leasurely pace, making sure everything fits nicely and musically together. Then change hands and do the other.

Be sure you get to the point where you can enjoy the one-handed-one-headed performances and make them sound nice. Place the notes on a canvas of sound rather than letting them run off. Anticipate the sequences of notes in a run and let them develop.

A good painter can sketch a scene with just a few flourishes and fill in detail afterwards, and the flourishes still take the necessary room on the canvas without crowding everything else in right away. It's actually harder to start with the detail right away: you need a good picture in your head to make that work.

Instruments with continuously controlled tone production like bowed strings or most wind instruments offer more opportunity to "make time" by letting notes develop on their own. The piano is a bit harder in that respect, but you can involve your body (to the degree of some swaying/rebalancing in line with the phrases your are doing) to some degree and there are also things like "key vibrato" that connect time and execution. But the main thing is that you need enough of your listening head to enjoy the music yourself and work on detaching it from the focus taken by the playing: it is a common problem that particularly the long notes are becoming too short and don't fit in the flow of music because the time is more apparent to the player when he is "idle".

So don't be idle. If really necessary, play a phrase or echo or counterpoint or something in your head during particularly long notes.


Don't get down on yourself about it, it's incredibly common. Like Dom said, metronomes are your best friend. My favorite way to practice a song: set the metronome to whatever pace you can play the whole song without stopping and with minimal mistakes. Then, every day, increase the metronome speed by 1bpm until you eventually get to the speed that the song is typically played at. Not only will the song be flawless, but you'll be able to dial in that tempo no problem.


The piano is a very self-contained instrument and piano students can spend a great deal of time playing by themselves. If you play trumpet, clarinet, violin etc. you will be looking for an ensemble, or at least accompaniment and will face the challenge of keeping up and fitting in. The pianist may fall into the habit of 'suiting him/herself' in terms of tempo. I have often come across pianists with otherwise good skills struggling to fit in with an ensemble's timing. The cure lies in playing with other people.

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