Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to play repeated notes on the piano

Practical tips and examples to master the art of repeated notes

In this video, Robert gives you practical tips to play repeated notes without slowing down the tempo. Robert shows you how to master this important piano technique by playing Scarlatti's Sonata in D minor K 141.

Released on November 6, 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

Hello and welcome. I am Robert Estrin here at virtualsheetmusic.com with a technique video, "How to play repeated notes on the piano." Today we're going to explore one of the many Scarlatti sonatas. Domenico Scarlatti actually wrote over a thousand sonatas for the harpsichord, and they work splendidly on the piano. This is one of his sonatas in D minor, and I chose a sonata because it has a lot of repeated notes. And we're going to discuss how to play repeated notes on the piano. Well, you know, if you're doing very slow repeated notes, it's no problem. You just play a note and play another note, so what's the issue here? Well, I'm going to go ahead and play you the piece we're going to be talking about, just the first part so you get some idea about the complexity and the technical challenge of repeated notes on the piano with something like this Scarlatti sonata.

[music]

So that gives you a little flavor of this particular Scarlatti sonata, but I will tell you that there are many Scarlatti sonatas that have these types of repeated notes. And not just Scarlatti, you'll find them in all sorts of music. So, what are the secrets of being able to play fast repeated notes on the piano? Well, there are several techniques that come into play. First of all, it's necessary to play very lightly. Obviously, you can't get that kind of speed, but before you could even approach this you have to come up with some kind of fingering that facilitates it. So let's start with the fingering. Then we can talk about the lightness and the closeness of the keys and other things that enter into the technical execution.

So, this has got six notes to each measure, and the easiest way to achieve that is by playing three-two-one, three-two-one on the repeated notes. So you can see by using three-two-one it enables you to get much more speed than you possibly could with one finger. As a matter of fact, if I tried to play this with one finger, this is about the fastest I could probably play. I can't even play. It's impossible. You can't possibly play this piece.

Now, you could try with, like, one and two, for example. But really, by using more fingers you open up the possibility for more speed. In some repeated passages you might even utilize the fourth finger. It depends upon the rhythm, the number of notes and other factors. But for this Scarlatti sonata, as in many other repeated passages using three-two-one, these are strong fingers. Now, so, I talked about the fingering as being a fundamental issue. You have to work out all the fingering to accommodate the notes. Then I talk about lightness and being close to the keys, absolutely essential.

Now, when practicing slowly it's necessary to practice the release of notes, or you could end up like this. Now, that may seem like an exaggeration, but it really isn't, because that's exactly what will happen to you if the release is not precise. So as you play each note, the previously played fingers must raise high in your slower practice. Notice, however, that while the fingers are raised high, there is absolutely no arm motion. And this is critical, because if you start moving your arm, your wrist, it will get in the way. Watch what I mean. I'm trying to play with a little bit of motion, and already I'm missing notes. It's impossible. There's a precision you will get by being precisely over the keys.

Now, I talked about also the minimal amount of motion. As you increase speed, you must stay closer and closer to the keys, so the lifting up is a minimal amount just to allow the key to come up so it could be depressed again. So how do you practice this transitioning from the slow tempo to the fast tempo? I suggest two methods of practice. One is using the metronome solving the technical problems of fingering and such until you can play with fluidity and easily and perfectly many times in a row at a very slow tempo, and then increase the metronome one notch at a time. Now, when doing this you shouldn't necessarily work on a large section. Because if you work on too long a section, it might take too long to get the transition to the faster tempo. So just take a little bit, maybe the first four measures and work them out one notch at a time with the metronome. Once you get the feel of playing the repeated notes at a faster speed, it will actually translate to other sections, and you may not have to start as slowly for subsequent sections you practice.

All right, so these are some of the techniques. Now, there's another technique you can use aside from the gradual slow metronome work which is just try playing the first three notes. And work on that until you could just bounce those off faithfully equally in volume and duration. And then try to do it twice in a row. Once you do that cleanly, then you have the next set, and you put those together. Then you can add the left-hand. You could even hesitate between measures just for practice at the beginning to go. And then make the hesitation shorter. Until the hesitation is barely perceptible, if not perceptible at all, rhythmically, yet you're thinking it, the change of the hand position over the new set of keys.

So these are multiple ways you can work for repeated notes, not just for Scarlatti but all your music. To recap, use good fingering. Find a figuring that utilizes as many fingers as possible in a logical fashion. Secondly, practice slowly at first making sure the release of notes are clean as you increase speed. Use the metronome one notch at a time getting closer and closer to the keys as the speed increases. You can also practice sectionally, practicing just three note groups or four note groups depending upon the context and connecting groups together.
I hope this has been helpful in solving some technical challenges in repeated notes in Scarlatti and other composers. Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin here at virtualsheetmusic.com.
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Shu Good on June 15, 2016 @5:10 pm PST
I am trying to learn Scarlatti K420 LS2 and my piano teacher told me to play the repeated notes with one finger. He said to start with my hand almost parallel to the keys and then start moving my finger to a perpendicular position while playing the notes. Will this approach work as well as the approach you gave?
Ken Cory * VSM MEMBER * on December 17, 2013 @7:41 pm PST
It's important to be aware that repeated notes are more difficult to play on digital keyboards or upright pianos, because they lack the double escapement mechanism available on grand pianos. So don't feel bad if you can't achieve the same velocity in repeated notes that Robert demonstrates. The same goes for trills.
Walter Zelinski on November 7, 2013 @9:56 am PST
Robert, YOU ROCK! I'm a self taught jazz piano player and your videos have improved my technique more in the short time I've been watching then the thiry years I.ve been playing. Keep it up brother!
Alfrd Bonello on November 6, 2013 @10:29 am PST
Excellent tuition
Gayle Hoefker on November 6, 2013 @6:02 am PST
Thanks so much Robert for your music videos. I used to play the piano many years ago as a teen, but I took up playing the flute almost 2 years ago; I am self-teaching myself. We travel a lot, and having a regular lesson time is inconvenient. I have gained many valuable tips from you to translate into my flute playing. Even though your videos are on piano, the tips and techniques transfer over to the flute. They have been very helpful. Thanks!!!
John Grosbeck on November 6, 2013 @5:23 am PST
Wonderful performance of the song! My jaw hit the desk. :D
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