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#1057978 - 03/30/05 06:29 PM Simple request
newpianoplayer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/12/01
Posts: 362
I have hit a technical wall where I cannot play at the tempo required for the pieces I am currently learning. \:\( I have been slowly increasing the metronome in hopes of meeting the magic tempo. The faster I play, my fingers trip over the keys. Now my hands and fingers are sore and aching. Does anyone have some tips on how to achieve finger dexterity on the keyboard. Alas I am not a nimble fingered 10 year old. My teacher suggested I keep increasing the metronome and eventually I will become accustomed to playing faster.

Maybe I am simply whining and need to be patient. \:o
Please excuse me. I have to go practice

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#1057979 - 03/30/05 07:28 PM Re: Simple request
seebechstein Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/04
Posts: 1085
Loc: houston
I hate to say this, but I think sometimes we expect too much of ourselves. I find that I can easily learn and memorize a piece, but find it extremely difficult to play it straight through without mistakes, no matter how many years I work on it. I suppose that's why I'm not a concert pianist.

#1057980 - 03/30/05 08:51 PM Re: Simple request
CHAS Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/25/03
Posts: 521
Loc: Ski Country of Colorado
Put the piece away for three or more weeks. Then play it at a comfortable pace most days. It will take months,but there is a good chance that someday it will click. Trying to force it is self-defeating.
This worked with my classical guitar and should work here.
Whining helps, but only if you keep it to yourself. \:D
Mason & Hamlin A

#1057981 - 03/30/05 09:50 PM Re: Simple request
bruceee Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/04/05
Posts: 317
Loc: Wellington, New Zealand
Check out Chang -- he has some good advice on speed walls. Not that I've followed any of it yet, but I will, I will. \:\)

#1057982 - 03/30/05 10:22 PM Re: Simple request
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8483
Loc: Ohio, USA
yeah, you need patience! try Chang's methods definitely, and work on HS first on each small section, and don't do HT until each hand gets the tempo.

#1057983 - 03/31/05 03:38 AM Re: Simple request
ShiroKuro Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/04
Posts: 3553
Loc: not in Japan anymore
If your fingers are sore and achy, you need a rest. You shouldn't push yourself too hard because that can lead to injury.

(this next comment is basically Chang from my memory) Also, after a certain point, using the metronome and gradually increasing the speed is not going to help you. You may be using technique that prohibits you from speeding up, in which case what you need to change is not the metronome tempo but your own body. Where are your arms? Where are your elbows, how are you using your fingers? These things can all work together to either help or hinder your speed. Try to make little physical adjustment and see if that helps.

After reading Chang, and putting his advice to use as much as possible, *and* talking a lot with my teacher, I have come to think that being able to play fast is really a state of mind. You have to be in the right place in your head (which will help your body) to allow your fingers to fly. The single most important thing is to be relaxed, start out relaxed in your mind and translate that to your whole body. If you're tense, it's just like driving around with the parking break all the way down.

Next, you have to assume that you can play fast from the beginning (again, this is a state of mind) Why start out slow? There's no point. As Chang discusses in his book, if you start out slow, you may end up teaching yourself to play slow, IOW you will develop slow technique.

Assume you can play fast, imagine yourself doing it. Close your eyes, hear the piece in your head. That's you playing. Imagine your fingers flying on the keyboard, hear how great it sounds? Feel how relaxed and loose your fingers are? This is the feeling, visualize it and keep it with you when you sit down at the keyboard.

Now for actual practice. Don't start out with slow technique, what you need is fast technique. Technique is like an ingredient in cooking. If all you've got are peanuts, you are not going to be able to make chocolate chip cookies. You can make peanut cookies, but you cannot turn those peanuts into chocolate chips. You just need to buy chocolate chips from the start.

If you have slow technique, most often, you cannot simply speed it up. What you need is to get fast technique from the beginning.

In addition to being relaxed and believing that you can play fast, another important part of working on fast technique is breaking the piece up into little tiny sections.

Find a small section that you can play at speed without making mistakes. Then practice that section HS at speed (no mistakes) until you have it down (the magic number is 7 repetitions). Go on to the next section, and do the same thing. (make sure each section overlaps so they're easy to link together at the end)

Don't play slow and try to gradually speed up. Take a teeny tiny section, play at speed. Now you have just proved to yourself that you *can* do it, which brings us back to the state of mind you need for fast play.

Can you play on measure at speed? Yes. Ok, try two measures. No? Ok, try 1.5 measures, at speed. No mistakes? Ok, work on that for a while. Now try 2 measures.

Another way to put it is, in order to get up to speed, the thing to gradually increase is not the metronome, but the length of the section you're playing. Start out at speed in little sections and gradually make those sections longer.

In the past, I have felt like I just couldn't play fast, but using these kinds of methods has made a huge difference for me. I am currently working on a Tarantella that's MM 138 (and mostly played in triplets, so for me, very fast) Two months ago I would have thought this was just impossible. But I reread Chang's stuff, as well as all the stuff about working on very very  small sections.

I started out last week playing only one measure, *at* speed. I've been working in sections, and slowly linking them together. Now after maybe only 5 days, I can play HT for about 5 measures, and play HS about 3 times that much, again at speed. I never practice this piece slowly, I play each section at (or very close to) speed from the first time I play it.

Anyway, I'm not sure if I'm explaining this well, but if you can make sense of what I'm talking about, give it a try. And let us know how you do. Good luck!
Started piano June 1999. My recordings at Box.Net:

#1057984 - 03/31/05 04:32 AM Re: Simple request
SAnnM AB-2001 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/20/04
Posts: 2022
Loc: Canada
While I understand the value of all these suggestions I can't help but be confused at the "slow practice" suggestions I've read and heard from my teacher vs the "at speed" practicing that is suggested here. If "at speed" cannot be played without mistakes, shouldn't you go slow so as to not "practice" your mistakes?? Also I've read many places that the last time you practice a piece or study before the end of your lesson to practice it slowly and acurately to reinforce memory. I also have a problem with speed so I'm open to all suggestions but am still confused about the best method to obtain it.
It's the journey not the destination..

#1057985 - 03/31/05 05:30 AM Re: Simple request
ShiroKuro Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/04
Posts: 3553
Loc: not in Japan anymore
Yes, Sandy, you're right, it seems contradictory. So let me try to break it down as I understand it. My disclaimer is that I am not a piano teacher, only an AB, playing for 6 years, avid reader of Chang and piano forums! \:\)

Slow practice is important 1) when learning a piece, 2) when at the "remember the notes" stage, 3) when technique or rhythm requirements are difficult, and lastly, 4) as you mention, on the last run-through, since a slow mistake-free performance is an excellent way to cement something in your head. Chang is one of many who suggest that the last practice of a piece before performing it should be slow, not at tempo. This is of course, assuming that you can already play it at tempo, and the purpose of this slow play is different from the reasons above in points 1, 2 and 3.

So when to play fast? When you can *play* the piece, but only slowly.

Chang talks about something he calls speed walls. I think this is a great expression. You can technically play the piece, you're playing the notes, in the correct rhythm, etc, the only thing left to conquer is the tempo/speed issue. If the piece is slow to begin with, no problem. But if it's supposed to be fast, and you can only play it at half-tempo, then you have a speed wall.

The argument is that, at this point, no amount of slow practice is going to help. Lots of people (including me) have had the experience of using the metronome and slowly increasing the speed. This works up to a point, but then suddenly you get to a speed that you just cannot get up above. Here's the speed wall, and you need fast practice to get over it.

You are right again, we shouldn't just play with loads of mistakes and keep playing them with the excuse that it's ok because we're playing close to speed. Continuous repetition of mistakes only reinforces them and our brain will develop the habit of playing those mistakes. This should be avoided at all costs.

That's why the piece needs to be broken down into smaller and smaller sections, often smaller than we expect. Break the piece into a section that is small enough that you can play it without mistakes, and at speed. This is the section to practice, nothing longer. In order to be able to put those sections back together, each section needs to over lap at the end and beginning. Here's an example from my MM 138 Tarantella (if this makes sense without musical notation) It's the RH, imagine it's in triplets, so you'd play one triplet set plus the next note:

A Ab G F

The next section is:


The overlapping part is the F. When you're ready to put the sections together, the F should act as a bridge and you should be able to avoid "stuttering."

From the very beginning, I could play these 4 notes at speed, no mistakes. So there's my practice section. Practice those little sections, memorize them, link them together. Always at speed, because if I slow it down, then I will develop slow-play technique, which I want to avoid.

My section for the LH is totally different, since the LH is much simpler, but based on the same idea, being a section that I can play at speed without mistakes, and sections that have an overlap.

When I work on the LH, I not at speed, but actually aim to play way above speed. I recently read something that just kind of blew my mind, which is that it's only in HT practice that things really enter into your memory, so in HS practice you have more leeway to make mistakes and experiment with technique to make sure you can get to and stay at speed.

Because HT practice becomes cemented in the memory, it's vitally important to play correctly, which may mean slowly at first. For my Tarantella, when I put the two hands together, I do the first run at speed to see if I have a short enough HT section to work on without mistakes. If I do, I then play that section both very very slowly and very fast. And I do indeed end my practice with a slow run, (and also HS run-through) but the bulk of my practice is at or above speed.

The other reason for fast practice:
I mentioned in my earlier post about developing slow technique, which is technique that actually prevents you from being able to speed up. This is something my teacher had been trying to tell me for ages, but I finally got into my head by reading Chang (sorry teach!)

My teacher says I tend to play too politely, or too accurately. Well, what does that mean?! I couldn't get it, until I just decided that I was going to play fast. Suddenly, I could (this was with a Czerny piece) I wasn't making mistakes, but I changed my attitude toward playing, and my teacher said suddenly (without my noticing it really) I was sitting just a little differently and my whole body was just a little looser.

I couldn't develop that looseness by playing slowly, but without the looseness, I was physically unable to play fast. So I was stuck in a vicious cycle. Fast practice helped me get out of that cycle.

One more thing! (Sorry, sooo long, but if you think this is long, read Chang's book!) Chang also talks about Fast Play Degradation, which is when you have an uptempo piece that you could play well, and at speed, and suddenly you discover that you can't play it fast or that you are playing with a lot of mistakes. Chang says the solution for this is (drum roll please) slow practice. But again, this is with a piece that you could originally play fast.

I hope all of this makes sense. These are ideas I got mainly from Chang, but also from Bernhard's posts on the pianoforum.net board (thanks to Jerry's link!) I have been having lots of speed issues, and I was looking back over old sheet music and noticed that the stuff in my repertoire 3 years ago had faster stuff than my current rep! So I decided to conquer my speed walls, and these methods have really been working miracles for me in a short time. Gee, I should do an Info-mercial or something!

So Sandy, what do you think?
Started piano June 1999. My recordings at Box.Net:

#1057986 - 03/31/05 07:45 AM Re: Simple request
Linda in PA Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/01/02
Posts: 767
Loc: PA - USA
Originally posted by ShiroKuro:
...I recently read something that just kind of blew my mind, which is that it's only in HT practice that things really enter into your memory... [/b]
I'm having trouble accepting that notion. I seem to be quite the expert at memorizing errors - whether HS or HT. \:\(

#1057987 - 03/31/05 08:25 AM Re: Simple request
Roxane Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/16/02
Posts: 932
I have tried Chang's method of playing at infinite speed, but have come to the conclusion that you need to have a lot of ground already covered in order for that to work. Yes, it is true that the technique for fast playing and slow playing differ, and you would need to learn to adapt when you speed up. BUT, you cannot get away from good strength and control in each individual finger. If these are weak, when you play fast, even using the correct technique (wrist rotation, arm position, etc.), you will still glide over notes, and the volume and, more importantly, *tone* of each note will be uneven. Sometimes, in our eagerness to speed up, we may not be fully aware of how uneven our volume and tone are. Merely sounding the notes is not good enough.However, it takes a critical ear to pick out uneveness in fast passages.

Slow practice (whether HS or HT) is useful, indeed, crucial for building finger strength and control, which should still be maintained when speeding up. But your teacher should be able to demonstrate the techniques necessary to transition from slow to fast playing. If not, you need a new teacher!

Also I agree that speed is sometimes very much in the mind.

#1057988 - 03/31/05 10:29 AM Re: Simple request
princessclara2005 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/02/05
Posts: 429
Loc: Dallas, Texas
Originally posted by newpianoplayer:
I have hit a technical wall where I cannot play at the tempo required for the pieces I am currently learning. [/b]
Tempo is something you can only work toward gradually.

Tempo of a piece will increase based on familities and comfortness you feel about the piece.

Doing some finger exercieses other than your piece that you are working on may strengthen you finger independence, but that's a long-term commitment. i.e. Hanon Exerciese for the Virtuoso Pianist

Meanwhile, you may just enjoy your piece at the tempo you are comfortable with, the tempo mark is a suggested performance tempo, it's not a must, under certain situation, you have to realistic of what you can really do.

#1057989 - 03/31/05 10:55 AM Re: Simple request
markb Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/29/04
Posts: 2593
Loc: Maryland
Originally posted by princessclara2005:
Meanwhile, you may just enjoy your piece at the tempo you are comfortable with, the tempo mark is a suggested performance tempo, it's not a must, under certain situation, you have to realistic of what you can really do.
I'm beginning to see this. I've been trying to play the Clementi sonatina and Bergmuller's Sincerity at close to speed, but there's no way I'm even close. When I play them at a more realistic tempo, they sound pretty decent (to me, I'm sure not to better musicians), *and* I enjoy playing them. At my lesson yesterday, my teacher was unconcerned about my tempo and just wanted it to be even, which it pretty much was. So, I really have no need to play it at speed (no recitals, no competitions), and I feel more relaxed playing them at my tempo.
markb--The Count of Casio

#1057990 - 03/31/05 11:04 AM Re: Simple request
Roxane Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/16/02
Posts: 932
It is not always necessary to reach the metronome speed marked on the music. A good teacher should be able to gauge what is reasonable for students to attain. There are many things to learn in a piece, not just speed, and once specific goals are attained, even if not at the metronome mark, then it is good enough and one should move on to the next piece. The practice time required to reach the MM is often not justified, especially if some of the underlying problems needs *years* of constant and varied practice in order to conquer.

Sometimes the metronome markings require virtually super-human ability to attain; e.g. Czerny exercises. My teacher admits that even when she was at her peak in the Conservatory, she was unable to play at his speeds, and the same applied to her classmates.

#1057991 - 03/31/05 11:44 AM Re: Simple request
princessclara2005 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/02/05
Posts: 429
Loc: Dallas, Texas
Originally posted by markb:
I feel more relaxed playing them at my tempo. [/QB]
Go markb!! Be able to enjoy is really what making and learning music about.

#1057992 - 03/31/05 12:32 PM Re: Simple request
SAnnM AB-2001 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/20/04
Posts: 2022
Loc: Canada

Great advice. Most of this I try to apply and I HAVE read Chang's book. I think breaking the piece into chunks that can be played accurately and speeding those up (overlapping of course - my teacher ALWAYS stresses this) should work! I'm currently working on a simple arpeggio study. Up is no problem however keeping speed and smoothness on the way down is driving me crazy.. I'll also try it with two of the others I'm working on, Clementi Sonatina op. 36 no. 1 (third movement) and Chopin, Waltz in B minor......
It's the journey not the destination..

#1057993 - 03/31/05 01:44 PM Re: Simple request
newpianoplayer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/12/01
Posts: 362
Thanks for all your advice.I have benn using the chunk approach where I just concentrate on playing a small chunk up to tempo. Now I have to try all of these tips. I am taking an exam in jan which is why I am trying to meet the tempo.
Please excuse me. I have to go practice

#1057994 - 04/03/05 12:56 PM Re: Simple request
Piana Justice Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/16/05
Posts: 299
Loc: Greenville, NC
well, one of the most helpful ways to improving finger dexterity [sp?] is to CONCENTRATE. don't have anything around that gonna distract you.
-well, last fall when i was composing something on the piano, i couldn't really get my hands to play in sync with each other. it took a few tries, but i finally got it when i put my mind to it and concentrated. like a sport, piano is 40% physical and 60% mental. so put you mind, body, heart, and soul into it, and you'll be suprised what you'll be able to do, not to patronize you or anything.


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