How to Speed Up a Piece on Piano

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Hi, and welcome to PianoTV!

Today I wanted to discuss something that many people – including myself – find to be a difficult and confusing topic. That topic is how to speed up a piece on piano.

Playing quickly is one of the most difficult things to do on the piano, even with “easy” songs. Some people have a hard time getting out of slow-playing limbo, and others can move their fingers fast but lose clarity and detail while doing so.

What I want to do today is talk about some possible solutions to speeding up a piece. My hope is that you find at least one thing from this video/blog post that you can take to your practice bench, and start playing with immediately.


Music Comprehension

The most important part of learning how to speed up a piece on piano is comprehension. Let’s break that down into a few parts:

  • How well do you know the piece? Can you anticipate the notes without really reading the sheet music, or are you watching the sheet music carefully, reading one note at a time?
  • How well do you know the keyboard? Do you find yourself looking down at your fingers a lot while you play, making sure you’re in the right spot?
  • Are you making logical fingering choices that are the same each time you play?

#1: Learn the Piece Well First

First of all, before you attempt to speed up a piece, you have to make sure that you know it well. You want to get to the point where you’re not “sight reading” anymore – where you’ve begun to internalize the notes and note patterns.

This doesn’t mean you have to be playing it without music. But whether you’ve been playing the piano for a few months or a few years, you can probably tell the difference between when you sight read the notes versus when you already know the notes and just use the music as guidance.

If your knowledge of the notes is shaky, you’ll never be able to play the piece fast. Because you can’t think “A-B-C-D” as fast as your fingers can play them.

#2: Know Thy Keyboard

I like to teach pieces that get students jumping all over the keyboard – as a sidenote, that’s why I teach with Piano Adventures. The pieces don’t hang out in one hand position for the entire book – even from the early pieces, students are taught to jump to higher or lower notes.

In my opinion, this is crucial. You need to know the keys without thinking. You need to get to the point where you’re not like, “hmm, if that’s a C, then, ahh, that must be an F”. You need to just know that’s an F. Anywhere on the keyboard, at an instant.

Without this keyboard security, it becomes very challenging to play quickly. Can you play your piece without looking at the keyboard at all? When you see, say, a “G” on your music, do your fingers just know where G is, without conscious thought?

I used to think my mom was crazy for getting me to practice blindfolded sometimes. But it really does help your fingers to learn – by feel and by distance – where and what the keys are.

It’s not like looking at the keys is a big no-no. I look at the keys often, especially when I’m learning a piece. But notice if you’re relying on your eyes instead of your fingers.

#3: Use the same finger pattern each time

For our third and final point on comprehension, take care that you’re making logical fingering choices, OR make sure you’re following the finger suggestions on the page (or writing down your own). Say one day you play CDE with 1-2-3, and then the next day you play CDE with 2-3-4. It’s going to be very difficult to internalize, and thus play fast.

That’s be like if one day you played CDE, and the next day you played DEF, and kept alternating or changing. So then when you sit down to play it through, it feels like guessing – “are the notes CDE, or DEF?” And then playing your piece, especially quickly, feels like flying on the seat of your pants.

By using the same finger patterns each time, you build muscle memory. You develop the ability for your fingers to just “know” what to play, and when. Understandably, that is very important when you’re speeding up a piece.

How to speed up a piece on piano

Okay, so you know your song really well, you’ve covered your bases there. Now it’s time to speed it up.

I’m going to list three points here again, to keep it nice and simple. These are the ideas I rely on the most.

  • Pick a slow tempo, and very gradually increase the speed, usually with a metronome
  • Remind yourself of the “goal” speed by attempting to play it fast
  • Pick tiny segments of your piece to focus on

#1: Start slow and gradually speed up

This is what I consider to be the common way to speed up your piece. You pick a slow tempo – something that you can play your entire piece, or part of a piece, with no mistakes. Then, once you can do that, you speed it up very gradually.

How gradually depends on the piece. Maybe you try speeding it up 1 BPM per day. That creates a barely detectable increase at the time, but after a week you’re already playing it 5-7 BPM faster. Sometimes attempting to jump up 5-10 BPM at a time can be a little overwhelming – it really just depends on the piece itself and your technical skills.

You can think of this like weight lifting. You start with manageable weight, and then incrementally increasing how much weight you lift. This creates gradual but steady progress.

#2: Occasionally attempt the goal speed

But slow practice isn’t complete on its own. I find it really helpful to occasionally try to play your piece up to speed, even when you’re nowhere close to it.

Say your goal is to get to 120 BPM, and you’ve been practicing at 70 BPM for a while. What can sometimes happen is you “settle in” to that slow speed, where your fingers become complacent and have a very difficult time moving faster. Sometimes the fingers – and the brain – need a little push as a reminder of that goal speed.

Maybe once or twice every few days you attempt a fast speed, even if it’s a disaster. It’ll force your arms and fingers to move in different ways, which should in turn affect how you play slowly. To use a common analogy, your body moves differently at a walk versus a run. If you want to “run” with your music, it’s not enough to practice “walking”. You need to practice “running in slow-motion”.

Let me reiterate, because I want you to spend some time considering this: Running and walking use different motions and muscles. Practice walking won’t make you a better runner. Instead of walking with your music, practice running in slow motion.

#3: Work in very short chunks

Working in tiny segments does wonders for me. If I play an entire line of music, it might take me a few weeks before I can play it at speed. But if I work on speeding up just a bar of music, I can train my muscles to play at speed in one day.

You really just have to try it. Find a piece you’ve been struggling to speed up. Spend 5 minutes working on a single bar. Practice that bar slowly until you’ve got it down-pat. Then slowly speed it up, faster and faster, and suddenly you’ve hit your target speed.

Sometimes I’ll do this for 15 or 20 minutes in a day, and get several bars up to speed. It’s also necessary to practice bridging the bars together, so you don’t end up with something like this: “fast bar – break – fast bar – another break”.

The next day you might not be able to play it up to speed on a first try. But go through the process again. Do the same thing the next day. You’ll find that you’ll be able to play that line of music up to speed within days instead of weeks.

Take action!

Those are my best suggestions for how to speed up a piece on piano. I could go on and on about the topic, but we can always talk more details in a future video.

What I want you to do is implement one of these things today. Right now, even! Below in the “Resources” section, I’ve created a neat and tidy PDF for you to use. This PDF includes all the information of this post, in short point form. Download it and put it in your practice binder or notebook.

Report back to me if you had success speeding up a piece, and what helped you get there. I always love your comments, and they provide value for other people as well – to share your stories, additional ideas or struggles and successes.

Resources

PDF print-out: speeding up a piece

xo,
Allysia

 

 

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.

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