Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to play piano faster

Step-by-step instructions to master the art of playing fast

In this video, Robert gives you useful tips to approach "fast piano playing" without sacrificing good musicality.

Released on October 9, 2013

  
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome. I'm Robert Estrin here at livingpianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.com. Today's piano technique video, how to play fast on the piano. You've heard pianists who just seem to effortlessly glide all over the board and you wonder, "How is it possible to pace so quickly over so many keys?" Well, I'm gonna give you some tips today. All right. Well, first of all, I should let you know that there are no instant answers to playing fast. And the piano, much like anything else in life, it takes consistent work.

Naturally, developing strength is critical for playing with speed, because if you have weak fingers, they will give out if you try to play fast within a length of time. So, how can you develop strength? That's one part of it. The next thing is, once you have the strength, what techniques are necessary in order to play with speed and fluency? I'm gonna cover both of these topics for you.

In this, I'm going to utilize the Mozart sonata in F major, K 322. The last movement is very fast, and you might appreciate that. I'll play a little bit of what it sounds like, and then I'm gonna show you some tips on how you can achieve fluidity in a piece like this.

That's just the beginning. So you get the idea. It's very fast. Well, developing strength in the piano, very important. If you spend a good deal of time in the piano, practicing almost anything, you will develop strength. That's the good news about developing strength. Sure, there are people who feel that they must practice hours of painful exercises, scales and arpeggios, and certainly there's an important part of scales and arpeggios and other exercises in piano practice.

But honestly, anything you play, if you play hard music and play for hours, you're going to develop strength just from the physical activity. Much like with exercise, if you were training to be a runner or something of that nature, sure, just running a lot is gonna help you. You can do other exercises. But the action, the exercise involved in the activity itself is going to be almost as beneficial as anything else you can do. So spending time, of course, with scales, arpeggios, and exercises, but just living on that keyboard, spending hours a day will help you to develop strength.

Now, approaching a piece like this, how do you it? Well, first, you probably should practice quite slowly with a metronome just to make sure everything is lined up just right.

A speed like that can be very valuable to make sure each finger is hitting precisely at all the keys. Now, you can go through, and I strongly suggest using a metronome, once you have it polished at a speed, at any speed, going one notch at a time, and this is one way to develop speed on your instrument, piano or any instrument. The metronome is incredibly valuable because you almost don't feel one notch at all. So if you have patience, you can develop speed by using this method.

Now what actually happens when you go from a slow performance to a faster performance? There are changes in your technique that must accompany the increase of speed. I've talked about speed versus strength in previous videos, and really the whole idea is, the more mass you use, the more power you have. But if you want speed, you must use less mass. Now, how does that work? What do I mean by less mass? I mean you have a finite amount of finger mass that you're working with.

Well, staying closer to the keys, being right over the keys. Yes, sometimes slowly you can play with raised fingers and develop strength and independence. As you go faster, the fingers must be really right on top of the keys so that there's a minimal amount of finger strength necessary because the fingers are already on top of the notes that need to be played. There is a way to practice this technique.

As I've explained in other videos as well, piano technique can be reduced to hand positions and finger patterns. So by identifying each hand position and finger pattern, you can work on little tiny snippets and put these snippets together. Let me demonstrate this for you. So at the beginning, the first few notes, just that many notes, your hand is right over these keys. That's all it is. And then the hand changes position.

So you could practice just those first few notes until you can get them lightning fast. And since it's so few notes, it shouldn't take you very long to get it up to speed. You will notice that it will be necessary to keep your fingers right over the keys to get that speed and use a minimal amount of arm weight, because if you're supporting a lot of arm weight, it's tough for the fingers to have enough strength. But if you're very light, it's just a little fluttering of the fingers.

Now, you don't actually stop there because this is where the hand changes position, and the next position only has two notes. So then, the next step is to put them together. And then you go on to the next finger position. Now, here is where it gets interesting. Instead of going all the way back, just connect the last two little sections. Then you could try putting together from the beginning.

You can practice any part of this finger pattern where you hear a lack of clarity, and you go through each little hand position and finger pattern, getting speed and fluency, connecting each little snippet to the adjacent snippet. The next step is to try to connect more than two of these finger patterns together, and eventually you'll have the entire passage learned.

Now this is an adjunct type of practicing. It's diametrically opposed to this whole concept, to the first concept I gave you, of practicing, which is starting at a very slow speed and deliberately going notch by notch with a metronome. Interestingly, these are two completely different approaches that take you to the same place. If you use both techniques, going back and forth, you can get tremendous value. Because sometimes the transition from slow to fast is not so obvious, what happens with the hands. Other times, you might get stuck, and one technique or the other will yield results for you.

Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here at livingpianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.dom. Look forward to more technique videos.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ken Cory * VSM MEMBER * on January 25, 2017 @2:26 pm PST
Thanks for this, Robert. I'm working on developing speed by playing long scale patterns, but I think that also speeding up the individual components of the patterns, as you suggest, should help. I'm getting a lot of benefit from practicing hands separately, because each hand has its own capabilities and limits.
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Robert Estrin - host, on January 27, 2017 @1:06 pm PST
If you are right-handed, you probably find it easier to play faster with your right hand. Practicing hands separately is a great way of developing speed and clarity in your playing.
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on January 25, 2017 @7:04 am PST
Exactly how my mother taught me. My problem is when it it time to put both hands together. Should I go back to very show and use the metronome?
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Robert Estrin - host, on January 25, 2017 @11:20 am PST
If you get each hand separately up to a fast tempo, when putting the hands together, it is usually necessary to reduce the speed greatly at first and speed things up gradually.
Chaim on January 25, 2017 @4:29 am PST
I play the violin and the same rules for speed apply
Ross Parsai * VSM MEMBER * on October 16, 2013 @8:20 am PST
Robert, you are simply fantastic! I find your teaching method so easy to follow and I spend time practicing exactly as you suggest. Just want to let you know, it works and it is wonderful!

Many thanks, Ross
ACM on October 10, 2013 @8:05 am PST
I thought this was good information put simply enough that even a new player could understand and relate to. I find that in addition to a desire to learn to play faster I am still reading the music very slowly and this also impedes playing faster .Any suggestions?Or is the answer to this to try and memorize music so I don't have to rely as much on fast reading
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Robert Estrin - host, on October 10, 2013 @11:33 am PST
When playing classical, solo piano music, it is much easier to play fluently when the music is memorized. Even when playing chamber music or accompanying, you must be so familiar with the score that you don't have to look at the music all the time. Here is a video I produced on how to memorize:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeDEI0dGW_w
LUIS MARTINEZ * VSM MEMBER * on October 9, 2013 @10:32 am PST
VERY INFORMATIVE AND ENTERTAINING AS WELL. I WILL BE LOOKING FORWARD TO MANY MORE PROGRAMS IN THE FUTURE,KEEP UP THE SHOW,WELL DONE.
Robert Estrin - host, on October 9, 2013 @9:58 am PST
Thank you for your valuable suggestions! Yes, practicing with different rhythms and accents can sometimes help in increasing tempo. As you gain speed, you can group larger and larger sections of notes. Sometimes it's just knowing what note to stop on! If you get stuck trying to increase tempo, experimenting with various techniques can aid in increasing facility.
John Tiffin on October 9, 2013 @5:30 am PST
Thank you for your invaluable hints. On your 'playing fast' video there might be an additional technique to explore - the addition of patterns of long and short notes in twos and threes to promote even-ness in the exercise of the fast parts. For example: 1/4-1/8-1/8, then reverse:!/8-1/8-1/4 through the course of the run. Add accents on individual notes to increase strength on the fingers that need it. In passages with a 6/8 time signature, it can be exercised by setting the metronome to beat 2, then 3 times a measure (Chopin prelude in Gmin) and increasing the tempo by degrees.
Helena boggia on October 9, 2013 @4:59 am PST
Brilliant Robert , as usual. My main problem is, we'll one of them and that is finding the chords quick enough. Is there any technique you could recommend. It soon slows me down. Thank you and please keep your vids coming
Helena boggia on October 9, 2013 @4:59 am PST
Brilliant Robert , as usual. My main problem is, we'll one of them and that is finding the chords quick enough. Is there any technique you could recommend. It soon slows me down. Thank you and please keep your vids coming
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