Final Fantasy Theme: A piano etude for speed and dexterity

For today’s video, I wanted to experiment doing something a little more modern – the Final Fantasy theme. I get requests all the time for making tutorials on modern pieces, but I’m concerned about violating copyright law.

However, I decided to experiment with the Final Fantasy theme for a few reasons:

  • It’s a small excerpt from a much larger piece
  • I teach it often in my studio
  • It’s being used in an educational context

We’ll see how this goes, and perhaps we’ll do more of these in the future.

Let’s get started!

Final Fantasy theme for piano

The biggest reason I wanted to do this particular tune is because I teach it all the time. Don’t be afraid if you’re not into video game music, because I’ve taught this to people of all different ages and pastime preferences.

Though I’ll provide a PDF of sheet music for you today, I generally teach this one off-staff, or by rote. I might have students write down a few notes, but we keep it pretty informal. This one isn’t about reading – it’s about playing fast, clean finger patterns.

So let’s take a quick look at the music and then I’ll play it through for you. At a glance it might not look particularly easy, but it’s filled with repetitive patterns.

You’ll notice that the whole first part is the same set of 4 notes: “CDE G”. These four notes get higher and higher, with the hands crossing over each other, until they reach the top “C” and then begin their journey downward.

The next line sees a pattern of four notes, this time “ABC E”. Again, we go up and we come down.

The whole piece is simple to comprehend in that way. After I play through it, we’ll talk about the things that make this challenging, and why it’s such a great study piece.

Final Fantasy theme: Challenges

There are three main challenges in this piece:

  • Playing it at the appropriate (fast) speed
  • Keeping the notes clean and distinct, not “mushing” together
  • The last two chord patterns

We’re going to take a look at these challenges one by one.

Challenge #1: Playing it fast

So the first challenge is speed. Since your hands are in constant motion crossing over each other, there are some things to keep in mind.

First of all, the hand that isn’t playing should always be preparing to play. That means, if the right hand is playing a pattern, the left hand is simultaneously moving up to the next set of notes. If your left hand is stationary, you’re going to have to move it way too fast to get to the next set of notes, increasing your chance of error.

Secondly, keep in mind what your landing notes are. When I’m playing through the “C” pattern on the way up, my landing note is C. On the way down, however, my landing note changes to G.

Thirdly, keep looking ahead. You don’t want your eyes fixing too closely on any one place. You want your eyes to be constantly scanning ahead to the new notes, where your hands will be landing. I make this comparison a lot, but it’s like reading – you don’t read one word at a time. You read words while scanning the full sentence. Keep your eyes scanning ahead.

With all that in mind, speed will start to come once you become more familiar with the pattern – which simply takes practice!

Challenge #2: Clean playing

Next, we have the challenge of keeping the notes clean and distinct, and not letting them get “mushy”.

One thing that tends to happen when we try to do fast finger patterns is our fingers “mush” the notes on the keyboard. This happens when you don’t have enough control over your fingers.

It’s easy to have control over our fingers when we’re playing a slow pattern. The problem is when we speed it up. That control which allows us to press a key at a precise microsecond starts to break down and fall apart, and the result is fast playing that sounds really blurry, unclear, and as I like to say, “mushy”.

Learning this piece is a great way to develop that finger control. I’ve seen students gain a few points of performance clarity simply by learning this tune. But you have to walk before you run.

Challenge #3: The last two chord patterns

The final challenge of this piece is the last couple of chord patterns. Until this point, all of the chord patterns had the same finger numbers, but different starting points.

Now, we use an entirely different finger pattern for entirely different chords.

Both of these are beautiful major 7 chords. Here’s the first one:

Ab C Eb G

To play this, you’ll need to stretch out your fingers, using every one except for wimpy finger number 4. Whereas the other chord patterns were in a much more “closed hand” position, these chords require your hands to be in an open position.

When you’re learning this part, keep your eye out for the guide notes. Most of my students find this part the trickiest to play accurately, so one way to learn it is to spend three times as much time and effort here as you would on the rest of the piece.

The last chord, Bb D F A, is very similar (with one last flat). You need an open hand position to play it, and you’ll be skipping over finger number 4.

This piece is meant to play in a continuous loop, but since we don’t want to play the song that never ends, I just like to end on the notes I started with – some variation of a C chord, depending on my mood. I also like to throw in a little ritardando, too, so the ending doesn’t seem so abrupt.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this modern tutorial for the Final Fantasy theme today! Good luck and happy practicing.

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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