Joe's Blog

PLAYING “EXTREMELY” FAST:

March 16, 2017

Extreme speed is achievable by going beyond what seems to be the fastest speed attainable by systematically or gradually going faster and faster.  Eventually one reaches and impasse.  Simply making the same muscle motions faster no longer produces results.

Our muscles are indeed capable of acting even faster.  Only one has to instigate a speed that treats the normal limit not as an impassable boundary but something that can be jumped right over.  Into another region.  Where the muscles behave in a way that they can only act if one has surpassed the normal limit.  We can only discover this region of speed if we first try to play as fast as possible, at which point we say to ourselves: now go faster.

My guess is that virtuoso pianists normally can function in this higher altitude of speed without encountering any barrier as they increase speed.  For me, I am reminded of a piece of music that I once played that, on the  ante-penultimate page, said “as fast as possible”, only to be followed on the last page with: “faster still”.  For me, somehow I do go faster; but first I had reach the temporary limit in which the muscles of my body acted in their normal mode of balance and interconnection. Then suddenly I find I can go faster, and that an entirely new form of balance and coordination of muscle groups takes place.

Many of us have experienced this when eating a large meal, feeling absolutely full, stuffed to the gills, when the host asks: any room for dessert?  And as if a new stomach appeared to hold the food, I find myself saying yes.

Once I gave a telephone lesson to a student at the Oberlin Conservatory.  She had to play the Chopin, Etude, Op. 10 / 8 in F Major, a half an hour from then in her piano class.   She was having trouble bringing it up to speed.

I asked her: how fast do you want to play it?  She responded: around 178 for the quarter note…but I can’t get it beyond 144 or 152.  Does your metronome have settings above 200.  Yes.  Then set the metronome to the quarter note equals around 220 – 230, and try playing the piece.

She seemed, to put it mildly, skeptical of the idea.  Just try I said.  She did, And suddenly, without having warmed up by playing anywhere in the range of 144 – 196, she was playing the etude at 220.

She was astonished.  I said, do you notice that the muscle groups, and the interrelations between the body parts, are acting differently than before.  Yes.  I said there is no way activating this form of coordination unless you start by playing significantly faster than your previous maximum.  Doing so forces the  muscles into a new organization, with new timings, and new ratios of coordination.

I remember hearing once that while the speed of light was the limit of speed for a particle that is currently traveling slower than the speed of light, nothing prevents a particle being born traveling faster than the speed of light.  Did I read this is a bonafide contemporary physics book, or did I watch an episode of “Star Trek”, where such particles were called “tachyons”.

Update: I just copied this from Wikipedia: “One curious effect is that, unlike ordinary particles, the speed of a tachyon increases as its energy decreases. In particular, E approaches zero when v approaches infinity. (For ordinary bradyonic matter, E increases with increasing speed, becoming arbitrarily large as v approaches c, the speed of light). Therefore, just as baryons are forbidden to break the light-speed barrier, so too are tachyons forbidden from slowing down to below c, because infinite energy is required to reach the barrier from either above or below.  As noted by Einstein, Tolman, and others, special relativity implies that faster-than-light particles, if they existed, could be used to communicate backwards in time.

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