Basically what I mean is scales that are so fast, they sound like glissandos. Generally speaking, I hit the wall at 32nd notes at 120 bpm and it feels like my fingers can't get any faster. That is slower than glissando speed, that's for sure. But some of the pieces that I want to play such as a piano transcription of The Nutcracker Suite, have scales that are more like 32nd note triplets or faster in terms of speed.

How am I going to reach those note speeds if I hit the wall at 32nd notes? It isn't so much a problem when I'm going slow to get all the notes right. But once I start speeding up, this will become a problem.

  • I’ve never been able to play that fast, but my fastest playing has always come by practicing very slowly for a long time. There comes a point where the fingers just take off and do it so fast it doesn’t even feel like me playing. Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 20:12

3 Answers 3


Beyond the traditional way of starting-slow-and-increasing-tempo, you can also use other tactics as well:

  • study which fingering best adapts to your hands. Little hands have different needs compared to big hands.

  • emphasize first note in three or four groups. After reaching a smooth play, emphasize second note, and so on.

  • divide the scale in three- or four-note groups. Play the first note of each group longer (say, as 16th notes). After reaching a smooth play, shift the groups one note (as the longer notes will not be the same), and exercise again.

  • depending upon the desired sound, you can play without pressing the key completely down, but just half down.

This will give you a clear muscle-memory of the piano keys' topography, which facilitates playing fast scales a lot.


One way that I actually found useful on piano once is to start with "infinite tempo", which basically means just playing a chord. Then you try to add a tiny little space between them.

On many instruments this method does not work, but on piano it does.

  • That may help with super fast arpeggios which are in some movements of The Nutcracker Suite. But how is it going to help with super fast scales like in the March movement?
    – Caters
    Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 18:38
  • @Caters I don't know.
    – klutt
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 11:50

Virtuoso playing has nothing to do with talent or hours of practice. It is purely proper movement. Most of us sadly touch pianos before we are taught to properly play and bad habits are hard wired into our brains and the improper movement can haunt us the rest of our days.

Here are the tips I am working through to eradicate my bad habits: Never cross the thumb under. Instead, use the elbow, forearm rotation and simply moving your arm to place the thumb. Combined, your larger muscles can place the fingers where they need to be with great speed.

Never abduct or spread out the fingers. This creates a double pull on the bones. Likewise, never isolate a finger.

Play the key straight down.

Play the key with the weight of the arm.

Avoid using your flexors as much as possible.

When playing one finger, all fingers go down. Some teachers call this "Tapping."

All fingers play in the same direction at the same time.

Use first your pronator and supinator muscles to play keys. A scale can have several changes of direction of the arm and those muscles are indefatigable.

Try to play to the point of sound rather than the keybed. If you are pressing down you can't lift up to move to the next note.

Use in/out motions to equalize your fingers.

Forward shift your fingers, especially the thumb.

When you put all these movements together, playing will feel effortless. If there is a passage or note you can not play, it is either because you are missing a specific movement or an erroneous movement is getting in the way.

Never play the piano when your body is cold. Cold causes muscles and tendons to contract and if your force them in their contracted state you will reinforce improper movement and create micro tears to the tendons.

You can't just read this post and apply everything at once. It takes working with a skilled teacher who can see and hear what you are doing incorrectly. Then they can make subtle adjustments.

Also, make sure you sit at the proper height. Too high or low and you loose the various fulcrums.

  • "Virtuoso playing has nothing to do with [...] hours of practice" How can this be true?????
    – coconochao
    Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 19:45
  • I very much doubt that technique is the only thing separating virtuosos from the rest of us. But your advice on technique is very useful!
    – user45266
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 16:06

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