Robert Estrin - piano expert
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How to Play Repeated Notes on the Piano

In this video, Robert tackles a very common piano technique: repeated notes.

Released on May 8, 2013

  
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Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com and VirtualSheetMusic.com with a technique video for you today. How do you play repeated notes on the piano? This is a great question and I'm going to break it down for you, because there are two distinctly different techniques of repeated notes. Slow repeated notes and fast repeated notes, and we're going to go through the differences and the similarities in these two techniques. All right, first let's start with fast repeated notes. If you have the same note in a row many times, of course, the easiest way to do it is use two hands. But that isn't always practical.

In the music, you may have to do repeated notes very rapidly with one hand. It's absolutely essential to change fingers. There's no way you could play with one hand and get one note to repeat fast enough. So number one, you must find a fingering that works well for you. Typically, three, two, one is our very good fingering for a lot of repeated notes. Three, two, one, three, two, one, etc., etc. For example, one of the many Scarlatti's sonatas in D minor has repeated notes, and that is a fingering I use. I'm going to do it first up to tempo and then I'm going to explain a little bit about how to approach this [playing piano].

Now, caution for you. If you have an upright at home, don't try this at home. That's right. An upright will not be able to go this fast. In fact, not all pianos are capable of this kind of repetition. But particularly uprights, because of their design, the hammers don't go up and down. They don't have the benefit of gravity. Because they go sideways, they're much slower. But a well regulated grand or baby grand, even an inexpensive Asian production piano should be able to repeat just fine for you, if it's regulated properly, which is the other issue.

So technically, what am I doing there? Well, if I do it slowly, you see it's just three, two, one, three, two, one, it's absolutely essential to keep your fingers right over the keys. There isn't time to be able to have a lot of motion. So the fingers just hover right over the keys. The hand stays relatively stable, so that your fingers are right where they need to be. So if I did it slowly for you [playing piano]. So that's the idea of how this works, all right? Now, keep your fingers very close to the keys, rounded fingers, striking the key right in the middle, and that should be fine. Practice slowly and get very secure, work with the metronome, doing metronome speeds just like any fast passage.

It always is beneficial to start slowly and work just one notch at a time, gaining confidence. Now I will say this about repeated notes. You make it to a certain point where it would be kind of a brick wall and you will have to find another way of approaching the keyboard. You see, the faster you play, the lighter you must be. So sometimes, it's not such a linear approach. You have to experiment with different arm way, in this case almost hovering over the keys, letting the fingers do the work. So that is the secret of repeated notes for quick repeated notes. Light, use a correct fingering of repeated fingerings, three, two, one typically, and be right there with rounded fingers.

Now, what about slow repeated notes? And there are different schools of thought about this. And I have a bias, but I have to also tell you that the way I approach repeated notes in slow music is not the way all great pianists approached it, because I've seen phenomenal pianists who do not do what I'm showing you. But what I'm going to show, I know a lot of great pianists who do this, and I'm a firm believer in this method, which is why I'm going to show you both methods, so you could decide for yourself. So for example, a beginning of a Mozart's sonata like the crucial 330 C major sonata. The second movement starts with four Cs.

Now, you don't want those to be detached more than necessary. The fact of the matter is, on the piano, because of the nature of the instrument, no matter how much you try to connect repeated notes, when it's the same note, they will always be detached. This is because the dampers will always end the note between notes, and even if you have to sustain pedal down that keep the dampers lifted, the attacks are so definite on the piano, that try as you might to play repeated notes with the utmost legato there'll always be some separation.

Now, if I were to play those four notes with one finger, it's going to sound like this [playing piano]. Even if I try to connect it more [playing piano], it's better. The only way to do it if you're using one finger is really with the arm or the hand. If you use different fingers on each note, you can actually get a tremendous legato on these notes [playing piano]. You hear the difference? Now I'm not using the pedal. That is very legato. Why is it possible to play more legato with changing fingers than with using the same finger? It's very simple.

As one finger is going down, the other finger's coming up. The previously played finger comes up [playing piano]. Now, when you try this at home, I guarantee you, one of the first times you try this, if you've never tried it before, this is what's going to happen. You'll play the first note [plays piano], when you play the second note [[lays], one of the notes won't play. That's right. Because if you push the arm down with weight and play the next finger, you're not going to get the key to go back up again. So the secret is to keep the hand once again floating in one particular place with a little bit of arm weight, but then, here's the important point, lift high the previously played fingers.

That's right. So as the next finger's going down, the finger that is currently on the key lifts up high to allow the repetition. So long as you lift high previously played notes, you'll always get a stunning legato. Add the pedal and you get the beautiful legato sound like this [plays piano]. You want to practice these repeated notes without the pedal. If you can get them to be very legato without the pedal, with this technique of changing fingers on the slow repeated notes, lifting a high previously played fingers without using the arm, only the fingers, you will have a tremendous legato on repeated notes.

So that's it for today. Just remember, always change fingers on repeated notes. And those of you who do not believe in this, I'd love to hear from you and tell me how can you get as good legato using the same finger on each note? I'd like to know how you do it. I know people do it, because I know some great pianists do not change their fingers on repeated notes on slow repeated notes, that is. Thanks for joining me. Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com and VirtualSheetMusic.com. Until next time.
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Jess * VSM MEMBER * on May 28, 2013 @1:10 pm PST
Why can I not get the videos to play?
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Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 28, 2013 @2:54 pm PST
Hi Jess. I am sorry about that. What kind of problems do you have? Can you play other videos? What browser are you using? Please, tell me more... thanks!
Charles Hanson * VSM MEMBER * on May 15, 2013 @5:32 pm PST
Enjoyed the tutorial, but is there a way you could also use an overhead camera for the keyboard when playing. To me, it would give a better reference with both views. Thank you and keep up the great work!
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Robert - host, on May 16, 2013 @2:59 pm PST
You read my mind - we are investigating floating type boom stands to accommodate overhead shooting. Thanks!
jan de jong on May 15, 2013 @11:05 am PST
thanks for this good stuff, it helps a lot understanding the techniques
Humberto Cruz on May 10, 2013 @12:52 pm PST
Robert, thanks for instructive video as usual. Here are possible topics for future videos, no need to reply, just for your consideration: fingering and technique for playing turns, including when turns occur in tied notes; proper timing when hands play different rhythms, such as 4 notes in right hand vs. three in left, or 7 vs. 3, or other such combinations.
thanks, Humberto Cruz
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Robert - host, on May 10, 2013 @4:47 pm PST
Thanks for the suggestions. I plan on doing a video on how to approach 3 against 4 and other complex rhythms.
christopher Slevin * VSM MEMBER * on May 8, 2013 @6:49 pm PST
Thank you Robert, Very instructive . On the slow repeated legato I would use the 432 fingers but instead of raising them sfter striking I find it easier and quicker to curl them downwards. Is this a bad habit?
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Robert - host, on May 9, 2013 @10:21 am PST
4-3-2 can be fine in some contexts. However, curling fingers under instead of lifting is less predictable. Key surfaces vary in texture, so sliding down doesn't offer consistency. On top of that, when your hands sweat (as they might when you are nervous for a performance) the feel is different as well. Lifting fingers avoids this problem.
Toya Harvey on May 8, 2013 @4:41 pm PST
Thank you, enjoyed your presentation and pianistic skill!
Helena boggia on May 8, 2013 @10:30 am PST
Thanks Robert . Always good to hear you and I need all the help I can get
Dr. Rivkah Roth on May 8, 2013 @4:20 am PST
Slow repeated notes: play into and out of the keyboard, i.e. note one glides along key from front to back, after quick raise of hand/arm note two pulls the key from back to front, note three again front to back etc. This technique results in a desired slight quality difference of active - passive sound emphasis and increased musicality.
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