A lot of musicians get mixed up and think speed is “Schwung” ( swing). They mistakenly think their music has more temperament and movement (swing), the faster they play. Often the opposite is actually the case. Sure one can play with speed – if one has the skills. Constant speedy play looses in many cases the tension, and sounds like pointless rushing.
Test it yourself, play a tune at different speeds und listen to your own playing: at which speed does the melody make the best impression?
And if you can’t play this tune at the correct speed? Play it all slower, and it will sound better than if you try to play it too fast for your skills.
Imagine you are playing for dancers. Or do it in reality.
Every dance has its range of possibilities between relaxed and racing. Too slow is just as bad as too fast. The speed should only increase to the extent that the dancers still can dance all the steps completely correctly and they don’t need to hurry with their dance. In no way should the character of the dance be distorted. Especially with really good dancers, sometimes less speed and more tension is better than too fast.
The musician should become part of the dancers. With good dancers it can get a bit faster too, for dance beginners one must play much slower. Then again, one can turn much faster and easier on a parquet dance floor than on grass. On the other hand walking and running dances can be performed faster on a rough wood floor than on smooth, slippery parquet.
With all circle dances, especially with polkas, you have slower and faster tunes, for instance “Franze” (slow to very slow), bohemian polka, Tramplan to Polka (middle speed) and fast polka or Galopp (fast to very fast).
The speed is given as a metronome number (MM), this is the number of beats per minute. A Bavarian Polka is about in the range from 80 to 100, a waltz 160 to 192 quarter notes per minute. This kind of information is not binding. These are approximate values.
Christian Amon wrote a java script. With this script you can determine the metronome count. On his web page: Seitelpfeifer-Seite you can find the sub page http://members.yline.com/~arizona/metronome/ for this. You can get the metronome count of a tune by clicking on the first element. Or you insert a desired metronome count "gemittelter Metronomwert" and you can hear the ticks. This nice tool is not completely reliable. Accuracy depends on your PC set-up, how it works.
If you get faster within a tune, because you want it, and you like it this way, because it shows your temper, then this is OK. If you get faster, because your fingers run off, because you can’t keep the speed at the same level, and you don’t notice it yourself, then you should do something about it.
Listen to your self critically. Do I increase the speed? Where exactly do I get faster? And why? Very often these are pauses not held long enough, or tones played too short, one gets a bit impatient and so one gets faster. Or one plays fast, difficult runs with 16th notes even faster, perhaps to get over and done with this passage?
A lot of musicians tap the time with the toes, the front foot, the whole foot, with both feet, so as not to loose the time. In principle this is OK if it helps … but that’s not a sure-fire cure either. Many times I have seen musicians that became faster even with toe tapping and then did not even believe it because they relied on the tapping.
But of course there are many opportunities to add speed variations in the tune. For instance, it is sometimes recommended to start slow and watch the dancers. If they all dance correctly, one can increase the speed a little, as long as they all can handle this tempo well. And then with the last repetition it gets noticeably faster. Exceptionally good musicians will even slow down the next to last repeat in order to create the impression that the final speedy ending – Furioso is even faster.
All these intentional speed changes should not be abrupt, instead, always with a period of delay or acceleration, short though it may be.