How to Play Scales FAST đź’¨ (The Jordan Rudess Juilliard Approach)

Jordan Rudess  /  Play Faster  /  Dec 8, 2023

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We all want to play fast, but technical things like thumb-tucks and cross-overs can slow us down. In this lesson, we’re lucky to have the Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater teach us how to play scales FAST using techniques he learned at the Juilliard School. Rudess is one of the top keyboard musicians in the world and was once voted Music Radar’s “Best Keyboardist of All Time.”

Here’s how Jordan plays piano scales fast.

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How to Play Scales Fast: The Jordan Rudess Juilliard Approach

Most people learn how to play scales by learning techniques like the thumb tuck and the crossover to connect all the notes. This is the correct way to play scales, but if you want to take your scale to the next level, it’s time to shift your focus away from thumb tucks and crossovers and look at the bigger picture.

This means seeing your arm as a whole and pulling it across the keyboard in one smooth, continuous motion. 

Doing so creates momentum that will help you play faster. The thumb-tuck becomes more subtle, allowing the hand to almost jump from one position to the next.

Practice this a lot. Eventually, it’ll flow so smoothly you won’t notice you’re thumb-tucking at all!

Step-By-Step Practice: The “Burst” Exercise

So how do we practice this? Jordan recommends a step-by-step approach targeting different notes.

Here’s an example using the ascending C major scale.

Targeting E

Let’s start things off easy by targeting E. This is pretty straightforward. Think of C and D as pick-up notes that lead into E as the downbeat.

Play this with a metronome for maximum effectiveness.

The most important thing is getting to your destination.

Jordan Rudess

Targeting F and G

F is our first thumb-tuck note, so it’s time to put our Juilliard principles into practice!

The same idea as targeting E applies. Think of your first three notes as pick-up notes that lead into F.

You can also experiment with different chords and harmonies in your left hand while your right hand practices this exercise.

Targeting Higher Notes

Keep adding C major scale notes to this exercise and eventually, you’ll play the entire scale lightning-fast!

Things start to sound interesting when you target G, as this will sound more complete. If you practice along with our video, Jordan will even accompany you with some funky modern harmonies.

Keep your fingers light. They should float over the pickup notes.

When we get to the next C, that’s when things get challenging. This will be a second thumb tuck, so really try to keep your rightward momentum going. Focusing on that movement will help a lot! Again, try to keep your hands, wrists, and fingers light and relaxed.

Playing an instrument is like a physical sport in that you have to train your muscles to accomplish the music you have in your head . . . It’s going to take a daily focus and discipline. Like an athlete who has to been in top form.

Jordan Rudess
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Final Thoughts

This exercise is about mentality. Focus on your target note and commit to hitting it on the beat. This will change your perception: you’ll start to see scales not as individual notes but as a whole entity.

This is how classical, jazz, and progressive pianists who play fast as part of their job see scales, and it can be applied to any style of music.

You can apply the same principle to arpeggios. Jordan explains that here:

Have fun and happy practicing!

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Charmaine Li is a Vancouver writer who has played piano for over 20 years. She holds an Associate diploma (ARCT) from the Royal Conservatory of Music and loves writing about the ways in which music—and music learning—affects the human experience. Charmaine manages The Note. Learn more about Charmaine here.

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