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Developing Finger Speed: Every piano player wants to learn how to play fast. We’ve all heard some blazing fast jazz riff or a perfectly played classical arpeggio and thought ‘how do I do that??’
The good news is that it’s not that hard to play blazingly fast with the right technique, but as with anything, it takes discipline and patience to develop the skills you need to confidently play at fast tempos.
So where should you begin? It might come as a surprise, but the key to playing fast starts with playing as slow as possible. Since fast playing relies so heavily on automatic muscle memory, you need to take the time to get your foundational technique locked down before you can reliably play fast.
Go back to the C major scale, for example.
You can make a finger speed exercise out of just about anything. Try moving through any scale as slow as possible, and steadily increase your speed as you move up and down the scale. Always make sure your playing is nice and smooth and even before upping the tempo! You don’t want to build the wrong muscle memory based on shoddy technique or feel.
Another simple exercise to use to develop speed is the arpeggio. There are countless arpeggio patterns you can use, but for now just stick with the tried and true C-major arpeggio pattern, consisting of the C major triad with a C octave on top.
Just like with the major scale, you need to have your technique up to par at slower speeds before using the exercise to boost your finger speed. Playing an arpeggio fluidly depends a lot on the wrist, especially if you want to break free of the one octave and turn your arpeggio into a quick run across the keyboard. So while you’re building speed, really think about that rocking motion of the wrists.
Another great scale I like to use for building finger speed is the F blues scale. In the right hand, the F blues scale is quite fun because it uses a really easy fingering pattern consisting of 1,2,3 1,2,3 repeated. This fingering pattern is consistent no matter how many octaves you play.
Since you can easily play multiple octaves in the F blues scale, take advantage and work the scale up and down the keyboard. When playing at fast speeds, you need to keep in mind both your fine finger movements and your larger arm motion, and a scale like this works great for coordinating both!
Speaking of fine finger movements, it’s always a good idea to find an exercise that works on both speed and precision at once. After all, what good is blazing fast piano speed if you have no accuracy? For something like this, I like to move up a scale in 3-note steps like this.
An exercise like this is great because you’re not only working each finger individually, you’re also repositioning your hands continuously, which is great for developing an internal understanding of the keyboard. As you play this exercise, you’ll begin to subconsciously map out how big the spaces are from key to key.
These are just a few ways to boost speed. In truth, you can take just about anything on the piano and practice it in a way to learn to play fast. But never forget that golden (if slightly confounding) rule: The key to playing fast is first off learning how to play slow! Happy practicing!