Every pianist wants to play fast, but it takes a tremendous amount of discipline to reach that point. Or, more accurately, it takes a tremendous amount of discipline to play the piano fast and well. You must play evenly, with dynamics, with correct hand position, and more, so here are few practice techniques to keep in mind.
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How To Increase Speed At The Piano
It Starts With Good Technique
You cannot play the piano with speed if your technique isn’t good. That’s why it’s important to first practice slowly, while keeping these things in mind:
- How is your posture? Are you sitting up straight and relaxed?
- Are you experiencing tension in your shoulders, forearms, and hands? Stay loose, and massage in between practice sessions and breathe deeply.
- Keep your hand movements concise. Avoid gratuitous and flowery gestures, they slow you down.
- Learn to properly rotate your wrist on arpeggios and scales
- Don’t slap your fingers up and down when playing – this will slow you down. Keep the movement concise, and actually practice the stroking action of your fingers.
Perhaps most importantly, remember that playing fast has almost nothing to do with strengthening muscles (involving too many muscles leads to tension). In fact, you will be able to play faster when you do not engage your muscles.
To Perform Fast, You Must Practice Slowly
This is fairly self explanatory, but you must build each difficult passage on a strong foundation. If you can’t play it perfectly at a slow tempo, you can’t play it perfectly rapidly either!
While practicing slowly, focus on the theory of the music (know what chord structure you are playing and so forth). This will help you memorize it faster.
Practice Your Scales and Arpeggios
We mentioned this above, but it’s important to perfect your finger stroke motion. Practice your scales slowly and evenly at first, and keep your fingers naturally curved. Practice keeping your finger stroke natural, consistent, and consistent (no finger slapping), and gradually increase the speed while preserving this technique.
With arpeggios, you’ll need to practice them carefully so you don’t create tension. Perhaps buy a copy of the Alexander Technique study and work through that, and keep your shoulders relaxed, forearms loose, wrists supple, and hands tension-free. You’ll want to practice these arpeggios staccato and legato, and never use the pedal while you are learning to increase your speed. The pedal encourages you to cheat on your articulation.
After you’ve begun working on the above, you can start mixing in some concentrated speed drills. You should certainly do these exercises for only short periods of time, and rest/stretch between sessions.
Hanon and Czerny
These technical studies can help you develop finger dexterity and speed, but be careful – they often do more harm than good. If you practice Hanon for 30 minutes, you are going to be tense, and over time, you may start sounding like a robot. So mix Hanon and Czerny into your practice routine carefully, and don’t rely only on these exercises.
Speed burst are small experts of an exercise or passage played as fast as you possibly can. The excerpt could be one measure of a difficult technical passage, the first five notes of a C major scale, or something else of your choosing.
You play the burst accurately, then create another excerpt to practice out of the following several notes. You can then merge the two excerpts together into a larger speed burst, or you can use the “add-a-note” strategy to gradually merge the two excerpts.
How exactly you use speed bursts is up to you, but it can be a great way to gain speed at the piano.
Gradually Increasing Tempo
It’s simple – just add 3-5 ticks to the metronome every time you perfect a section. You will eventually hit a wall though, and speed bursts, memorization, or dotted rhythms may help you break through that speed wall.
Dotted Rhythms May Help
Take a scale, arpeggio, or repertoire excerpts and play it with dotted rhythms: long-short or short-long. This will also help you play more evenly.
Practice Trills To Gain Speed
It may sound boring, but gradually increasing the speed of your trills from finger to finger can be a great exercise. Trill with different finger groupings too – not just your index and middle finger.
Increase Reading Skill or Memorize Your Music
This may sound obvious, but if you are struggling with speed in early advanced or intermediate music, you may need to improve your reading ability. Are you able to fluently sight read music that is 2-3 levels below your current level? Can you identify chord patterns as you sight read? These things will help you gain speed.
Also, learning to play your music with speed requires a certain degree of memory.If you’ve hit a speed wall, consider memorizing the music before you continue drilling speed.
Considerations While Playing The Piano Quickly
If You Get Tense Or Feel Pain, Stop
Tension is your worst enemy – do NOT play through pain at the piano. This can cause long term damage, and will hurt your ability to play rapidly. If you are feeling tense while doing speed drills or practice, stop playing, stretch, breathe deeply, and slow down until you’ve weeded out the tension.
Fast Playing Does Not Equal Loud Playing
Young pianists who are learning to play with speed often equate speed with volume – but this is a mistake. Have you ever tried playing Ravel? It requires an incredible amount of finger work, goes quickly, and is often played pianissimo.
When you practice scales and arpeggios, you should use crescendos and decrescendos, play them quietly and loudly, and try other ways to make them sound tuneful. This will make you a stronger pianist overall.
Cold Hands and Arms Are The Enemy
Many high level pianists buy hand warmers – imagine sitting backstage, waiting for your turn to audition, and sensing your hands grow colder and colder. It’s very difficult to play fast under these circumstances.
Hand warmers are a great way to stay loose and dexterous, and when you are at home, make sure you stretch and warm your hands before practicing.
Don’t Cheat – Learn Every Note
If you need to “cheat” (skipping notes, glossing through rapid scales, covering up your insecurity with too much pedal) to play a piece of music, it’s too hard for you! Or you just didn’t learn it properly.
Audiences can tell when you really know your music and when you don’t, and you are able to communicate so much better when you take the time to truly learn every note of the piece. There’s no rush – get comfortable with carefully and slowly learning your music.
When Memorizing, Don’t Rely Only On Tactile Memory
Many pianists will memorize a piece of music as a side effect of having to practice the technique so much. Perhaps they never really concentrated on memorizing it, but they internalized it over time because of the repetition. This kind of memory can be dangerous in a performance.
This would be called “tactile” memory, or memory “in your fingers.” You wouldn’t be able to recall the chord progress at the beginning of the piece though, and you probably couldn’t start and stop from anywhere in the A, B, C, or development section from memory.
Really study your music, have a friend quiz you, and make sure you don’t only know the music based on how it feels.