Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Develop More Speed in Your Piano Playing

Learn the basics of speed on the piano

In this video, Robert talks about speed on the piano and explains a few essential concepts about it.

Released on March 30, 2022

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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

Hi, and welcome to Robert Estrin here. I just noticed that we now have over 1,300 videos here on Living Pianos and YouTube for you to enjoy. And I came up with a great subject for you, which every time I come up with a new subject at this point, it's like an aha moment because after 1,300 plus videos, what more is there to say? Well, quite a bit really. Today, it's about how to develop more speed in your piano playing. Now I did a video about this years ago and it's worth a watch. It's in the description below. You can check it out, but today is one particular secret that is the whole basis for developing speed at the piano. Now, before I talk about this, I'm going to talk about simple physics of the piano, which is more motion equals greater volume. And less motion equals faster speed. And that is the essence of what I'm going to show you today.

And there are many aspects of this, and I'm going to break it down into finger technique and wrist technique and show you how both of them work. And to demonstrate, I'm going to use the Ballade by Burgmuller. And this is a good, great little piece to show you both techniques. If you know this piece, I'll play you a little bit at the beginning, just so you know which piece I'm going to be talking about.

That is a little etude of Burgmuller, delightful piece, by the way. So did you notice that the right hand in this part of it has wrist technique, the cords. While the left hand has the fast 16th note finger work. So let's first talk about the staccatos, the wrist technique in the right hand. Now, when you're first learning this piece, you might play it something like this, just to articulate everything clearly and to differentiate each finger and each stroke of the wrist to get precision like this.

So just like if you were wanting a lot of power in anything in life, for example, let's say you were doing some carpentry work and you're banging in some nails. Now, obviously, if you had a hammer and the nail was here and you're trying to bang it in, and there's a few inches in the nail, it would be impossible to drive that nail into a piece of wood. You would naturally lift your arm up and give more motion because you're obviously going to get far greater power by the extra motion of your arm. Well, in piano, you don't use your arm for this type of technique, but you do use the wrist. So in the slow practice, yes, you want to articulate the wrist. So later you can use less motion to get the speed. So when going slowly, you might have a motion as I just showed you. And you could actually play those chords with quite a bit of power if you wanted to.

Now in this particular instance, it is written at a low dynamic level, but if you wanted them strong, certainly using a lot of risk motion would accomplish that. As you go faster, you want to use less motion, stay closer to the keys. Watch as I progressively get faster and use less and less motion of the wrist.

Of course the piece doesn't go anywhere close to that fast, but I'm just demonstrating that yes, you can get much greater speed by using less motion. But it isn't just the wrist. It also is the finger work. So as you learn a piece, at the beginning, it's a good idea to sink your fingers into the keys and use raised fingers much like you do when practicing hand exercises or scales and arpeggios at a slow speed, because it is the release of notes that is so critical. And it's actually harder to lift up previously played fingers than to play new notes. What do I mean by this? Well, you can demonstrate it right for yourself. Put your hand on a flat surface and just lift fingers. Some of them are pretty hard to lift like the fourth finger, fifth finger, pretty hard. Now pushing down fingers, not so hard.

So one of the most important techniques you develop on the piano is the release of previously played notes in finger work. Otherwise, you can end up with a mess. For example, this can happen. You can get a blurry sound. Worse yet, imagine if the thumb didn't release so it could play again. The first three notes are C, B natural, C. If the C doesn't come up then it won't replay after the B plays.It can't have an opportunity. That's why in slow practice, practicing with an exaggerated motion of the fingers can really help you to learn which fingers are down and which fingers are up. And once again, I can get great power, try this, and you'll see the power you can get by using strong, raised fingers.

Typically, you don't play that way in performance, but in practice, it can be extremely valuable when you're first learning a piece to really articulate the notes to figure out your hands and to learn the position and to feel it and really dig into the keys. And here I'm going to do the same thing. I'm with to start very slow with a lot of motion, raised fingers. And as the tempo increases, you'll notice that the fingers stay closer and closer to the keys. There's less and less motion.

So it works exactly the same way. It's simple physics really to make something move a great distance takes energy, and that energy comes out on the piano. So the more motion you use when you need power, you need more motion. And when you need speed, you have to use less motion. And that's the simple lesson for today. Try this in your playing. If you come to, for example, a passage you're working on and you can't get the speed out of it, try lightening up, staying closer to the keys and you'll be astounded at how much more speed, how much more quickly you can play something by simply using less motion.

I hope this lesson is helpful for you. And by the way, I'm producing a lot more videos and it's all for you. You can email me and let me know what you'd like to see in future videos, repertoire, if you want more stories about my life and how I develop this, maybe you want to know what to do with your career or even your playing at the piano, how you can enhance that. Tell me what videos you are interested in, because this is all about you. All right, thanks so much for joining me. Again, I'm Robert Estrin, By the way, you can subscribe on to get our newsletters, which come out twice a week, chockfull of new videos, pianos, all sorts of great content. And of course, here on YouTube, if you haven't subscribed already, ring that bell, thumbs up. It helps to spread these videos for YouTube's algorithms. Thanks again for joining me. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Raelin * VSM MEMBER * on April 4, 2022 @9:51 pm PST
Hi Robert, Can you do a video on how to release finger tension?
My pinkies go up in the air when playing or trilling with finger 3 and 4 on either hand. Thank you.
Robert - host, on April 6, 2022 @9:00 am PST
That isn't necessarily a bad thing. You certainly don't want your pinky to get in the way of the trilling fingers and keys. With strength comes relaxation. When you have limited finger strength, often, you have to struggle to get them to play what you want. As you get stronger, you will be able to play in a more relaxed manner. Slow practice is an excellent way to develop strength.
Raelin * VSM MEMBER * on April 6, 2022 @8:54 pm PST
Thank you so much, Robert, for your advice!
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