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I have always struggled with speed. When I get my fingers together (i.e. guitar style instrument with a pick), I do down-right horrible with speed. When they are separated (i.e. bass, and piano), I do better, but still can't play very fast at all. As usual we have several fast tempo songs that my band plays.

What are some techniques for building speed on the piano (keyboard)?

I do practice some Hanon and work on my scales and such. Should I put more time into those, and just patiently build over time or are there other ways to improve speed more rapidly?

Edit:

My band memorizes all it's music, so there's is no need for me to read music when I need to play at a fast tempo. It is a weighted keyboard that, compared to pianos I have played, feels as good if not better then many pianos. As for a style that I play on the keyboard, I would say it would be somewhat country.

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It's not clear what you're asking. It sounds like you're able to read and parse the music, but cannot physically hit the keys fast enough. Unfortunately, any advice we give you will necessarily be narrow....pointers on how to play ragtime music quickly will not work for mozart. Also, are you playing a real piano or a keyboard? Is the keyboard weighted or unweighted? The answer is to practice, but to tell you what to practice, we need more details about what's going on. –  Babu Sep 6 '12 at 3:09
    
Very good. I hadn't thought of that. I edited my post with more information. It does come down to, for me, physically hitting the keys fast enough. Thank you. –  bassplayer7 Sep 6 '12 at 13:00

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

So, I still don't have a good idea of what exactly is giving you trouble (mostly because I didn't ask the right questions), but I think that we've narrowed it down to the point where I can post an answer of reasonable length.

When it comes to playing fast, there are a handful of types of figures that will give you some trouble. I'm going to cover repeated chords, tremolos, and arpeggiated/scalar figures. I think that you'll be able to effectively categorize whatever is giving you trouble with one of these.

To be clear, when I say repeated chords, I'm referring to something like this or this. While you can build up your hand speed, you're ultimately limited by how quickly the action of your weighted keyboard can bounce back. On an unweighted keyboard, the rebound is so rapid that you're incredibly unlikely to move faster than it. That being said, you're best off isolating the vertical, striking motion of your wrist from the lateral motion of the rest of your arm. Your wrists should never move up or down. It's very tiring at first because you are moving some of the effort from your upper arm to your forearm muscles, but you will be much more accurate and much more rapid once you develop the musculature. If a figure with repeated chords does not allow you to play quickly enough, you may attempt to substitute the chords with a tremolo.

When I mention tremolos, I'm referring to something like this, where the left hand is rapidly alternating between two notes (or chords). For this technique, you cannot move faster than twice as quickly as the piano's action. The technique I advocate for tremolos also isolates your wrist motion. Instead of a vertical up-down flexing, your wrist should rotate. To do this, you need to position your hand so that the axis of your wrist's rotation evenly splits the fingers performing the tremolo. This should not be particularly difficult to learn, and merely requires a little bit of practice.

Finally, for scalar and arpeggiated sequences, you are only limited by your hand speed. For these types of figures, you need to build solid fingering and practice a lot. Start slowly and make sure that you work out the most optimized fingering. Ideally, there would be very few jumps (to reduce error) and as few crossovers as possible, while still being comfortable to play. After you set your fingering, practice it slowly while paying careful attention that you do not waver from it. As you learn it, you can speed it up and you will soon be able to play that passage at speed.

I seem to say this in nearly every answer I post here, but it is extremely important that you avoid tensing up. Tension will ultimately lead to repetitive strain injuries (RSI, think carpal tunnel) over the long term (think decades instead of years). The worst part about them is that by the time RSI develops, you're fully committed to your instrument, and you'll have cemented those bad habits in place. So do it right the first time. Don't tense up.

That being said, whenever you try to push speed, you will fatigue your arm muscles, and they will tense up. You need to do your best to consciously relax your forearms when you play, and avoid "powering through" the tension. Take a break and allow your muscles to relax before continuing on.

Finally, Hanon's exercises are wonderful tools for building up the musculature necessary for playing rapidly. I believe there are exercises for each of these sorts of figures. However, I would only recommend practicing those exercises that mimic the figures giving you trouble. In my opinion, the exercises are quite boring and are a means to an end. It's a waste of time to practice hand motions that you don't need to and may never use.

If I have overlooked anything important, please comment on this answer so that I can tailor it to your situation.

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......looking back, this does not appear to be a reasonable length at all. Whoops... –  Babu Sep 8 '12 at 5:15
    
Wow. Excellent post! Thank you very much. Your tip on tension was a needed one as I am very prone to that, and it will not go unheeded. I also really appreciate your comment on Hanon exercises - makes perfect sense. With the repeated chords, just one clarification - I should "lock" my wrist straight (in line with my forearm), and play with my forearm? Or something else? –  bassplayer7 Sep 9 '12 at 20:51
    
No, the idea is that the motion to actually strike the chords should come from your wrists. Your forearms should only move side to side (not up and down) to move your hands into position. And don't make a "tiger claw" with your hands. Everything--hands, wrists, and arms--should be relaxed. –  Babu Sep 9 '12 at 21:02

To play a fast piece (or section):

  1. Get a metronome.
  2. Set it to the slowest speed that you can play perfectly.
  3. Play the piece (or section) perfectly three times.
  4. Speed the metronome up by 2 clicks (4 BPM).
  5. Go to step 3. If you can't play it perfectly at that speed: one click down.

Playing fast music is highly muscle-memory dependent.

If you want general "being able to play fast" skill: that just comes with years of practice playing normal music. You can play something quickly when you don't have to think about it. Pieces that you learned years ago can likely be played easily now - this is because you and your muscle memory are better.

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