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I am a student who is currently in middle school and have been taking orchestra classes. For the 4th year we're required to play very fast songs; so I am to slow to play the music and when I get to the tricky sixteenth note I can't even play the right notes because it's going so fast. Does anyone have some suggestions I would prefer not having to buy things to help me get faster and read notes faster?

  • loosen the fingers! stiff fingers is the natural reaction, but they won't help at all. – kat Apr 30 '18 at 14:58
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TL;DR;

Practicing in itself will get you faster for a time, and will max out some day. You need to get your overall play to become better, finer, by practicing in stop motion, removing any unnecessary movement from your play


In direct contradiction to everyone here, the key to playing faster is not to practice, even though you will get faster by practicing the right way.

Keep in mind that I'm not speaking about raising up your metronome forever and getting your fingers to play very fast. I'm speaking about speed in thinking and executing, and the key to get those is not to practice for the sake of practicing.

The key to playing faster is to clear your mind while playing lots of notes

To achieve this, you have to stop thinking about individual notes, and start thinking about beats, measures, or sentences. If you see an e minor scale ranging on two bars, you can play it very fast by practicing hours with a metronome while slowly raising the tempo, or, get your mind to actually execute two distinct bars of E minor scale.

Using the former way, you will be playing fast, but your mind will be used up thinking about what's happening with your hands, and you will probably stop thinking about anything else (which is a huge problem if you intend to play in serious ensembles).

Using the latter way, you will not only play as fast, your mind will also be clear, letting you play fast with the other people in your ensemble. Even when playing alone, having place in your mind to think lets you play more sensible music, as you can add some spices to make it better.

Considering notes as beats, bars or even sentences

The actual practice of playing faster is not at all intuitive. The best way I've experienced (best meaning achieving better or similar results while practicing less time) is to deconstruct your movements to their smaller components, and stop your movements between each of them (stop-motion).

That means stop between each bow. Completely stop, don't move anything. Then, think about where your fingers are actually, visualize where they need to be for the next note to be played. If you have a string change to make, think about what it will be. Then, when you have visualized all this, you can execute the change, as fast as you can, that is move your fingers and your bow together to their next position, without yet playing the note.

Then, play your bow stroke as you would normally do. If you're not in tune, start over.

You don't need to do that for hours at a time, as at the start it is very tiring mentally. Even 15 minutes of stop motion practicing a day will get your play to be a lot better in as small as weeks by defining the sound, and clarifying your mind, giving you greater pleasure while playing faster and with less noise in your sound.

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What you really need to become faster is simply:

Practice

A virtuoso will have practiced for tens of thousands of hours, practicing their accuracy, finger speed, odd intervals, runs, trills and arpeggios.

There is no short cut. Just practice.

I would suggest buying a metronome, as it will really help you improve speed and accuracy over time, so you can try a particular passage at, say 140bmp, then raise it to 150 until you can comfortably play it, and increase again. This has the added benefit of helping you know at what speed you can consistently play - providing good milestones.

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    Just to add: if you want to play fast, you must practice slow. The passages must be perfect and slow. Once they are perfect, you can gradually stagger-increase the tempo to a pace beyond your target tempo. This will ensure you are able to perform the passage at performance speed. Practice with mistakes is learning poor technique and habits. – jjmusicnotes Jan 10 '15 at 22:54
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As everyone else has already answered the answer is ... practice. Here are three practice techniques and a performance technique that I've found useful.

Metronome Find the metronome beat at which you can play the passage comfortably. Play it through a few times at this comfortable speed and then notch the metronome up. Keep mastering the passage at each new speed so that you can play the passage through twice without error before moving on. In each practice session start off slow and build up. (N.B. This works really well and is super rewarding but is a nightmare for others in your home as they are subjected to the same short phrase over and over and over again which is like torture for them. Choose somewhere out of earshot to practise this way!)

Hard Notes You mention that you "can't even play the right notes". If it's the notes that are blocking your speed try messing with them. Play them backwards, play alternate notes, play them as chords, etc. etc. Do whatever you can to really get inside the phrase. Sometimes doing something that makes the phrase harder will mean that when you return to the original it now feels easy!

Go Insanely Fast Sometimes we do not know what we know. I have had moments in orchestra when, in performance, we have hit a passage that I know I cannot play and yet my fingers have just ignored me and played it anyway. The fear and excitement of playing far beyond the speed one's conscious mind can deal with is another way to learn.

The Notes are Only a Guide You mention that this is for orchestra classes. In practice and in class you need to try to get the notes right and at the right speed. But in rehearsal and (dare I say it) in performance you don't. As long as your playing is not making the orchestra sound worse you are alright. If it is a dire passage you cannot get on top of at all then just mime. I sometimes joke with my family that they will be able to tell when I'm miming as my bow will be in sync' with the rest of the section! Better than miming is to find which notes you can leave out. If the conductor sees the section's struggling she or he may suggest that to you, but often you can tell which are the important notes of a phrase (e.g. the first in each bar). Just play the important notes.

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    Well, I hope people won't take your "cheating advice" all too literally and apply it in inappropriate places... but yeah, I'd confirm most of what you say; in the orchestra there are other rules for what'll sound good than when you're playing alone. – leftaroundabout Oct 2 '14 at 18:26
  • @leftaroundabout that last phrase of yours: "in the orchestra there are other rules for what'll sound good than when you're playing alone" is a great way to put it – dumbledad Oct 3 '14 at 10:03
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Of course, the answer is to practice. But simply playing the same thing over and over again at different speeds won't necessarily be effective.

Try playing variations of the difficult runs. In particular, try it with different rhythms. (For example, change a run of 16th notes into dotted rhythms — LONG-short, LONG-short, etc. Then reverse it as short-LONG, short-LONG, etc.). Also try it with different bowings. The idea is to get your left hand to be able to hit every single note, and the varying emphasis will force you to play the weak notes too.

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Uh, practice. Learn your lines by heart. Sight reading is nice and useful, but it's a secondary skill. At high speed, it consumes a lot of your focus.

And frequently practice at half speed or slower, nicely detaching and properly phrasing your notes. At a speed where you can listen to what you are doing and not have your focus consumed by just blasting stuff out.

That's the realistic way to figure out where the weaknesses in your fast play will be which eventually will brake you down.

And of course, ask your teacher. Fast playing demands a lot of relaxation and suppleness in hands, wrists (yes, both), arms and shoulders. Without someone pointing out the weak points and/or developing exercises against them, you are likely not to work where it counts.

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Two major things I'll mention which I consciously practice while learning a fast passage:

Keep your fingers down! It's very easy to develop the bad habit of flapping your fingers around like mad as you race over the notes.

You should aim to be hovering all fingers barely above the string and absolutely minimize the amount of finger movement required to play the passage.

I find this easier to achieve by focusing on my 4th finger and the others follow suit, it will also help to rotate your left elbow further to the right so your hand is more 'over' the fingerboard (this will take some getting use to).

Secondly swing the rhythm of what you are learning, (works best for runs of even valued notes).

For example If you're playing a run of consecutive quavers, first practice as dotted quaver followed by semi-quaver until you get up to speed, then reverse the rhythm (semi quaver followed by dotted quaver).

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There is a widely regarded book for pianists http://www.pianopractice.org/book.pdf

I guess much of it will not directly apply to other instruments like violin

However some of it is generic ie will apply to all kinds of practice eg see pg 127 fast and slow muscles

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Ok I had the exact same situation (I'm in level 4 too) and I found the answer. A metronome (or a metronome app is what I use) and patience. So the metronome came in handy for me because I was rushing and it became sloppy. With it I could slow down. The patience part is what came hard because I am pretty impatient (part of the reason I was rushing and needed a metronome in the first place). But now I'm starting everything very slowly even though I want to go faster. I've been improving way faster than before I used the metronome. (If I would have done this earlier I'd probably be in level 7 if that even exists)

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In addition to the great answers ioseph and 200_success gave:

First, make sure you have good fingerings. It might be a good idea to get some help on this (private teacher, school orchestra teacher, more advanced student, etc.).

Practice small groups of notes and make sure you are grouping the notes, and playing in a very relaxed, comfortable way. You'll probably want to start with five notes at a time. To explain how to do this, I will number the notes in a 4/4 measure from 1 to 16. First, play notes 1 through 5, allowing yourself to give notes 1 and 5 a natural stress. Then play notes 5 through 9, and so on. You'll allow one whole beat for the first four notes, and another whole beat for note # 5. Allow your arm to hang more heavily on notes 1 and 5; and then in the second group, on notes 5 and 9; and so on.

A great way to make sure your hand is relaxed is to vibrate each fingered note. If you have a nice sounding relaxed vibrato, you won't be able to seize up (get tense) while playing with vibrato.

After a few days of practicing like this, you can proceed to groups of 8 notes. You'll play notes 1 - 9, and then 9 - 17. (17 = the first note of the next measure.)

Please don't try to speed up before you're really, really ready.

Realistically speaking -- there comes at least one time in every string player's life when there is no solution other than faking it.

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