# How to quickly play octaves with one hand (piano)?

In some songs there are portions where the melody is made of pairs of notes, where the pair spans a whole octave. Sometimes the melody is played pretty quickly. I'm wondering if there's some technique to playing this instead of just jumping from note to note. Right now, I'm playing the bottom note with my thumb and the top note with my pinky, and just moving my whole hand from note to note, one by one.

Example of what I mean:

Key signature is four sharps.

I can span an octave with fingers 1-3. The tempo is 80 BPM so it's not terribly fast but fast enough to make this passage challenging. The snippet is from an anime theme song (lol, I know).

The song is "My War" from Attack on Titan season 4. (SCORE)

• Are you able to span an octave between fingers 1 and 4? How about 1 and 3? Feb 9, 2021 at 8:32
• Also helpful to know the tempo. Feb 9, 2021 at 8:33
• And a related question, but not specific to this passage: Fast octaves on the piano. Feb 9, 2021 at 8:33
• Where is the snippet from? It looks more like an etude for practicing octaves than a real song to me.
– ojs
Feb 9, 2021 at 14:49
• I can span an octave with fingers 1-3. The tempo is 80 BPM so it's not terribly fast but fast enough to make this passage challenging. The snippet is from an anime theme song (lol, I know): musescore.com/iplayguitar123/attack-on-titan-season-4-op Feb 9, 2021 at 23:24

There is a fingering where the thumb repeats but fingers 5 and 4 are used depending on black or white key...

...from Knott, Scale and Arpeggio Manual part 3.

If the reason for this fingering isn't clear, put your hand in a wide span like you are playing an octave with fingers 1 and 5, then put finger 4 next to 5, and you should see that 4 can reach in a bit farther to reach the black keys...

The span between 1 & 4 will probably be less than 1 & 5 which then seems a bad fingering choice for octaves. Assuming you can reach the octave span on the black keys with 1 & 4 the point isn't about the octave span itself, but mitigating the amount of moving the hand toward the fallboard to reach the black keys. Less of that hand movement should make octave playing easier.

• Thank you very much! This makes a lot of sense :) Feb 9, 2021 at 23:25
• This must depend a lot on the shape and size of your hands. I just tried it and found I can reach the black notes more easily with my 5th finger. Feb 10, 2021 at 10:11
• I typically have more trouble with black note octaves than white note octaves, not less, when I use a 1-5 or 5-1 fingering for both. This is exacerbated with inner notes I also need to press within the octave with other fingers. I have low expectations for 1-4 and 4-1 fingerings for octaves. Feb 10, 2021 at 13:29
• Tested just now - if I want my ring finger next to my pinky as in the picture, I need to narrow the span between my thumb and pinky, possibly to the point where I can no longer span an octave. Feb 10, 2021 at 13:32
• Tested at the piano and it turns out that I actually can use 1-4 and 4-1 fingerings in both hands for octaves. I'm completely unused to this fingering so it's reducing both my speed and my accuracy right now, and I can't play something as basic as a C-E-G-C chord with the topmost note being played with my RH ring finger. But at least I've now found that the 1-4 octave fingering is a legit option for me. Feb 10, 2021 at 16:23

Tension, fatigue, mistakes and cramps occur when we use the same muscle fibers twice in a row. To get around this one must use different movements such as in/out, up/down, forward/backward, rotations and moving from the arm and not the wrist or fingers. There is a huge difference between raising the forearm and allowing gravity to bend the wrist and actually using muscles to bend the wrist.

Another cause for tension is using two muscles at the same time. When playing octaves most pianists must engage the abductors and instead of using the bicep, shoulder and fulcrum of the elbow, they somehow force the flexors and extensors into playing and this will cause cramps. That is three muscles working simultaneously when you should not be using any of them. Like poking someone's eye out, you do it from the shoulder and elbow, not the finger. What it sounds like you need most is a new teacher. Exploration of gravity should be lesson one.

Also, although it is a common lesson and we all do it, do not ever play the four finger while executing octaves. Your fingers are all different lengths and your four is much longer than your five and one. If you have ever worn an orthopedic boot or one shoe higher than the other, after a day of walking you will notice that you knees, hips or back may hurt. That is because there is an imbalance and the body is straining to equalize. Your fingers are all different lengths and when you equalize them by curling or playing one higher than another as when you use the four, you risk tensions. Also, the four and five fingers are their most powerful and fast when your forearm is aligned behind them. Playing the four at an increased angle compromises the tendons and encourages the student to twist in ulnar deviation allowing all sorts of nasty things to happen. Also, learn to play to the point of sound. Up is more important than down.

If you have ever walked up stairs you know that your ascending foot must raise higher than the next step before coming straight down. Otherwise you will fall up stairs. Piano keys are the same but you can't lift up if you are pressing down. Hannon knew this and advocated raising a finger high but his error was isolating fingers and when you isolate a finger, you use two muscles at the same time which creates strain. Using the arm instead of isolation raises all the fingers in the same directions at the same time which results in effortless playing. Also, pressing into the keybed creates tension because the keybed isn't going anywhere. Pressing only strains YOU. As you learned in HS physic class, if you press into an immovable object, it presses back with the same force. Playing to the point of sound and using a multiple of muscles one at a time will give you the octaves you desire.

To find the point of sound, on an ACOUSTIC piano, slowly depress a key without sounding a pitch. You should feel a little bump and if you press beyond it, it gives way and you are pressing into the keybed. Learn to play to that bump and no further. If you play from the flexors, this will be nearly impossible. Learn to play from the arm. Like you are petting a kitten, it comes from the arm, shoulder and elbow, not the flexors or fingers. The muscles which move your fingers, BTW, are in your forearm, not your fingers.

• How does this answer the question?
– ojs
Feb 10, 2021 at 13:46

To be honest, the left hand there looks more problematic. This looks like it was written either by someone with extraordinarily large hands or by someone who doesn't really play the piano.

If you struggle with the octaves probably the only reasonable thing you can do is to miss out the bottom note. Or you might play both notes only on the first of each four in the RH.

Or just find a better arrangement.

• For a beginner sure, find an easier arrangement, but for an accomplished stride player they'd take it in their… ermm… stride ;) Feb 9, 2021 at 10:52
• Yeah, I was planning to drop the bottom note of the first note of each measure on the left hand. It was pretty difficult to play so I thought this arrangement made sense. Thanks :) Feb 9, 2021 at 23:21

Given the flexibility of playing octaves 1-5, 1-4, or 1-3, and trying things out at quarter-note = 80bpm, my preferred fingering is:

``````X: 1
T: My War
T: fingering recommendation
K: E major
M: 4/4
L: 1/16
x8 !1!!5![Ee]!1!!4![Cc]!1!!4![Cc]!1!!4![Cc] !1!!3![Cc]!1!!5![Gg]!1!!5![Gg]!1!!5![Gg] !1!!5![Gg]!1!!4![Ff]!1!!5![Ee]!1!!4![Dd] |
``````

This allows for minimal hand repositioning and gives me both speed and accuracy.

Two alternatives worth experimenting with to see what works best for you:

• Playing entirely [1-5] is fine. For me, speed is okay, but accuracy is more challenging.
• Piano convention recommends not using the same finger twice consecutively. This does tend to increase speed. The repeated 1s are necessary for me (I can't span a [2-5] octave, but the repeated C# and G# octaves could employ the technique for the upper notes. For example, the C# octaves could alternate [1-4][1-3] or [1-4][1-5]