Robert Estrin - piano expert

The Best Piano Exercises (Part 4) - Octaves

Learn how to develop your octave technique

In this video, Robert tackles octaves on the piano with an effective, yet simple, approach.

Released on July 16, 2014

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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

Robert Estrin: Welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin, with yet another technique video for you. Today's subject is how to develop your octave technique. I remember as a kid, I thought it was so amazing watching my father, Morton Estrin, perform like the Tchaikovsky B-flat Minor Piano Concerto and the octave sections or watching Horowitz play. It was so exciting that I really wanted to develop my octaves.

Now, I grew up with very, very small hands. In fact, my hands are pretty small even today. But as a kid, I could barely reach an octave. So I struggled to develop strength. So I'm going to give you some tips of how you can develop your octaves.

Now, you must be able to reach an octave to be able to play octaves. Sadly, if you can't reach an octave with strength, you might be out of luck, but don't count it out yet because strength can actually mitigate small hands. Now, you have to be able to reach it some. But if you can reach an octave it all, then this is going to help you.

Well, one very simple thing is to play a C-Major scale. But before we do that, I'm going to show you the secret is in the hand position. You see, when you're playing octaves, it's kind of like having two arches. I've talked about this previously in videos, and it's a very important subject.

You get the strength just like the Roman Aqueducts when they arch. You get the arch of the hand, so that this supports, equalizing the strength of the pinky to the strong thumb by having the arch support this way. These fingers have to go up and out of the way. If you're in this position, it's very easy to get a lot of strength and speed out of octaves.

So it all has to come from the wrist. Why is that? Because your arms are not fast enough to play octaves, and the fingers don't have enough strength to play them very quickly. So you must not use the arm for the up-and-down motion of octaves, only from going key to key. So put the metronome on 60, and just play a slow C-Major scale. Notice how when I play this, my wrists are moving, but my arms are just making a fluid sideways motion, no up-and-down motion at all, and I maintain this arch position where there's an arch between the thumb and the pinky, and the other fingers are up and out of the way. [Music].

That doesn't seem hard. To play it correctly, however, is very important. It's how you play it that will develop the strength. If you just play that with the arm, sure, at 61 notes to the beat, you can play that almost any way at all and it's going to come out. To get the speed, it must all come from the wrists because the wrists can go very, very fast, as I will demonstrate.

Once you're secure, and you're not using an up-and-down motion of the arm at all, just the wrists, go to two notes, then three notes. Go as fast as you possibly can, adding a note each time. Let me demonstrate. [Music].

At that speed, if you're trying to do that with the arms, it would look like this, and it would feel pretty horrendous. [Music]. It's painful. It honestly is. You can't get the control. The secret of the arch is equalizing the force of the pinky with the thumb. So you don't get a sound like this. [Music]. But you get a sound like this, equal in both notes of the octave. [Music].

So now, can you go faster? Yes. As you go faster, stay closer to the keys and play lighter. That's the secret of fast octaves, once you develop the independence of the wrists and the secret of the arch. [Music]. That's a good little workout for you.

Remember, the importance is how you play octaves. If you play them correctly, at one note to the beat, it's very easy to increase it. If you're using any arm motion along with the wrist for the up/down, you will be limited, severely limited in how fast you can go. More than that, by practicing it only using the wrists, you'll develop the strength and speed of your wrists.

Do this little exercise every day. Doesn't take very long. I guarantee you'll get results in a very short amount of time, if you're consistent and work at it every day. Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here, at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Hal on September 15, 2014 @4:11 pm PST
Hi Robert,
Many of the videos on your web site or YouTube I cannot play - some will play and some will not. I am using IE10 and Windows 7. I get a message saying an error occurred when they will not load and play. Do you know what is wrong?

Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on September 15, 2014 @5:33 pm PST
Hi Hal,
I will try to answer this technical question for Robert: since YouTube uses Flash, might be that your Flash installation is either expired (and need an update) or corrupted in some way.

I would suggest to install Flash again on your computer by following the link below:

Please, let me know how does it go.

marilyn * VSM MEMBER * on August 20, 2014 @11:58 am PST
I have found this very helpful. when using this technique I found positions where I was very tense using octaves in my left hand. It made the piece I was working on easier, gave greater fluidity and had a little better control and speed. It was just the thing I needed that week in my practice.
Grace * VSM MEMBER * on July 26, 2014 @12:37 pm PST
Your lessons are a great review for myself and focus to be be sure to share great supplemental expert info to two students . We are
Working together to keep our brains active and healthy! Better than pills or shots! Thanks for being there for us :-)
Grace, in land o lakes Fl
Robert Estrin - host, on July 27, 2014 @11:13 am PST
There are many more videos to come!
rajiv on July 17, 2014 @8:16 am PST
thankyou VIRTUAL SHEET MUSIC and thanks Robert Sir.from bottom of my heart,,,for giving important techniqus for piano lovers..
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on July 17, 2014 @3:47 pm PST
Dear rajiv, you are most than welcome! We are so glad you enjoy Robert's videos! Please, keep your questions and suggestions coming!
christopher Slevin * VSM MEMBER * on July 17, 2014 @7:35 am PST
Very Helpful Robert but what about octaves including the black keys such as d. I heard that black notes in octaves should be played with the fourth finger and thumb. Is this correct?
Robert Estrin - host, on July 17, 2014 @4:36 pm PST
Yes, octaves with black keys can be played with the thumb to facilitate more speed. This is particularly important with slower legato octaves. If your hands are big enough, you can even use the 3rd finger on some octaves.
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on July 16, 2014 @2:49 pm PST
Thank you, Robert, your lessons are great reminders of what I learned from my mother ... a few (too many) decades ago!!! Smiley Face
Melanee * VSM MEMBER * on July 16, 2014 @6:47 am PST
Thank you, this was very helpful!
John Tiffin on July 16, 2014 @4:04 am PST
Good one Robert, thanks.
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