Many of my students want to play really fast, showy pieces of music. That really flashy, virtuosic sound at the piano is really appealing and I can see why many students are striving to reach it.
However, the very top mistake that I see students of all ages making over and over again is playing too fast.
I think a lot of students assume that in order to play a song at a faster tempo, they need to always practice at a fast tempo. This is actually not the case.
The way to achieve a clean and fast piano technique might surprise you, however. And, it’s probably sounds counterintuitive:
Fast playing requires a lot of slow practice.
That’s right, in order to play a fast piece of music, nearly all of your practice will take place at a much slower tempo. There are a lot of technical skills that need to be learned learned and practiced slowly before piano students take off at faster tempo.
Think about it; if you can’t play something well slowly, you won’t be able to play it well fast either. Most piano practice should center on slow, precise playing.
Most up-to-tempo practice will occur when you’re in the polishing stages of practice, really. Even then, you’ll probably need to revert back to slower practice on occasion to maintain control.
If your goal is to learn better piano technique so that you can play faster, try these 3 tips.
Slow and deliberate practice pays off
I witness a lot of piano music that is just falling apart simply because the student is playing way to fast. They might gloss over tricky notes, play sloppy rhythms or let their technique slide.
In piano lessons, we spend a lot of time slowing things down and catching every little detail in the music.
Here are some things that must be worked out at a slow tempo:
- Playing all of the correct notes
- Playing precise rhythms
- Playing expression markings
- Playing with dynamic variation
- Playing with phrasing and musicality
When students feel comfortable with all of these individual aspects of your practice, then it’s time to play slowly with good continuity.
If the music is flowing together well, even at that slow pace, it may be ready to play a little faster.
Every now and then, you can push that tempo up a bit to check on your progress. If it feels messy or imprecise, slow your playing back down and work through the trouble spots carefully.
The key here is to increase your tempo bit by bit. Don’t go too fast too soon.
Controlled but relaxed playing go hand in hand
It’s really common for pianists hands and body to tense up as they try to play faster. The tension can be heard in your music and can also lead to fatigue, discomfort, or pain.
The tension that develops while playing can also lead to injury, unfortunately. This is easy to avoid if you are mindful of it. The challenge is maintaining control over your music while keeping a relaxed posture and hand position.
It is possible for your body to be both relaxed and engaged at the same time. Try to find that perfect balance where you have command over the keys but are not holding onto any tension. Also, being relaxed doesn’t mean being limp or having a lazy posture.
Read this post, Playing The Piano With Ease, to learn more about how to strike the balance between maintaining good posture and staying relaxed.
Some pianists hold tension in their shoulders, which can work its way into the arms, wrists and hands. If you feel your shoulders moving upward, lower them to their naturally relaxed position and feel the tension leaving your arms and hands.
Pianists sometimes hunch over at the piano, to sit too close to the keys or sit too far back on the piano bench. All of these things could lead to an achy back. Uncomfortable postures make it difficult to play with clean technique.
The metronome is your friend
The metronome is great tool for gradually increasing tempo as you are playing. It will also help you to maintain a consistent beat, instead of speeding up and slowing down.
Below, you can see my favorite approach for using the metronome to increase tempo at the piano. You’ll only want to try this once you have mastered all of the details of your music and if you can play at a slow tempo with good continuity.
- Use the metronome to find where your base tempo is at. By base tempo, I mean the speed that you can naturally play your music with few mistakes and good continuity. Don’t stress if your tempo is half or even a quarter of your target tempo. You have to start somewhere!
- Play with the metronome set at your base level until you can play through with continuity and without many mistakes. This might happen right away, or you may spend many days or weeks establishing this starting point.
- Once you have established your base tempo, move the metronome up 2-4 beats per minute. This may not feel like much of a change, which is a good thing.
- Once you play your music well at this slightly higher tempo mark, move the metronome up another 2-4 beats per minute.
- Once you reach a point where you are struggling to keep up with the metronome, bring it back down to the last tempo that felt comfortable. Practice at that tempo for awhile and then try to increase it again.
- Take take note of the highest tempo marking that you reached at the end of your practice session. Next time start at a tempo just a bit under where you left off to warm up, then work your way back up to your highest tempo.
- Continue this process of increasing by 2-4 beats per minute until you arrive at your target tempo.
The length of this entire process will vary. You might increase your base tempo considerably in one practice session, or you might need to stay at one tempo for many practice sessions. Either way is perfectly fine and part of the learning process.
Once you reach your target tempo, turn the metronome off and see how well you can maintain that faster tempo on your own.
Be sure to regularly return to a slower, more deliberate tempo to make sure that your technique and the details of the music don’t fall apart.