Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Play Legato Octaves

Learn how to play legato octaves on the piano

In this video, Robert shows you how to play legato octave passages on the piano.

Released on May 31, 2017

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Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at and We had a viewer question asking, "How do you play legato octaves?" That is to be able to play octaves smoothly, not choppy. Now sometimes there are octaves that are staccato and detached like in Liszt. But there are other times you want a smooth legato, like this.

So how do you achieve that? Well, of course some judicious use of pedal can really help. But as I talked about so many times before in playing the piano, it's really important to use the pedal not as a crutch to connect what you can't connect with your hands, but a way to enhance the tone for the things that you want to be able to bring out. The music you want to bring out not just to connect what you can connect with your hand.

So how in the heck do you connect octaves with your hand? Well there's a very simple technique, and that is in the right hand, in both hands for that matter, what I'm doing in the right hand here is the top notes. Instead of just taking them all with a fifth finger, I alternate fourth and fifth finger. And of course in the left hand will be the same thing for the bottom note.

And how do you know which ones to use the fourth and which ones to use the fifth? The simplest thing to do is use your fifth finger on all the white keys and use your fourth finger for all the black keys. So when you're playing legato octaves, you're actually not connecting both notes in the octave. On the right hand, you're only connecting the top notes with your fourth and fifth finger and the bottom notes are not really connected, but it creates the illusion. If I were to play, for example, some notes in the right hand without the use of the pedal and you can hear that you can get quite a bit of legato even without using the pedal. If I were to use all of one five it would sound like this. So there's quite a big difference. And of course if you have large hands, sometimes you can even use the third finger on some octaves, but the simplest thing to do is just use your fourth finger on black keys, your fifth finger on white keys, and incidentally not just for legato octaves. With legato octaves, it's essential to be able to get to legato. But even if you're playing something like the Liszt Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody, which is what I first demonstrated with a quick staccato octaves, you'll get a lots more security by alternating fingers, so you don't tax your pinky having to do all the work.

So that's the simple lesson for legato octaves. I hope you've enjoyed this. Again, Robert Estrin here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Half pint * VSM MEMBER * on June 1, 2017 @1:34 pm PST
I have really enjoyed your suggestions. I look forward to learning more.
Saxon * VSM MEMBER * on May 31, 2017 @5:01 am PST
Thank you. This is very useful.
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