Lately I’ve found myself using the same analogy with a number of my students because it seems to be very effective. I tell them to imagine that they are riding in the car with one of their parents and are approaching a stop sign. Then I ask whether their parent waits until they are right at the stop sign and then slams on the brakes. (One observing parent quickly jumped in and jokingly commanded, “Don’t answer that!” 🙂 ) Or I present option two – the brake pumping option. This is when the driver pushes repeatedly on the brake while the poor passengers are jolted forward and backward numerous times. And then, option three – a slow steady depressing of the brake pedal until the car rolls to a stop right as it reaches the sign. All joking aside, the student of course responds that option three is the preferred manner of approaching a stop sign.
Thus it is with ritardando. At the end of many pieces of music a ritardando should be applied. This allows the performer and the listener to anticipate the ending. It also prevents the feeling of a musical “slamming on of the brakes” when the performer inappropriately ends a piece abruptly. A ritardando should be gradual and fluid, not uneven and jolting. The students seem to relate very well to this analogy and I’ve started seeing some good progress in the execution of their ritardandos.