There are multiple pieces I have played that have either Presto or Prestissimo as the tempo. Haydn and Mozart Prestos are generally easier for me because the tempo is slower, around 160-170 BPM, which I would normally consider to be Molto Allegro. But for example, Beethoven has some seriously fast Prestos. So do Chopin and a lot of other composers. These are just a few pieces that I either learned or am learning that are seriously fast Prestos or Prestissimo:

  • Song Without Words op. 102 no. 3, Mendelssohn

  • Solfeggio in C minor, CPE Bach

  • Grande Valse Brilliante, op. 18, Chopin

  • Presto Agitato of Moonlight Sonata, Beethoven

  • Bagatelle in C minor, Beethoven ->This piece in particular has a motif very similar to that in Beethoven's fifth symphony

And I find that as I am learning these pieces, going from Andante to Allegro is easy. But the speed up to Presto is hard. I could be playing the piece at Allegro for months and be no closer to Presto.

I find that instead of just playing the piece over and over for months, hoping that I reach a Presto tempo, that I instead play it at Allegro until it is in my muscle memory. Then, instead of thinking in terms of quarter note beats, I think in terms of eighth note beats. And I find that this helps me overcome that obstacle and reach a Presto tempo. And the sixteenths, if there are any, I think of them as being at trill speed.

But why is that? Why is it that when I think of a faster beat such as eighth notes, but play it with the same note speed as before, I can within a couple of weeks, reach a Presto tempo instead of being stuck at Allegro for months or years like I would if I was thinking in quarter note beats?

  • This is borderline subjective. The smaller the divisions one can feel or think in, the easier it is to relax and keep in time. – Tim Feb 21 '20 at 18:33

To use an analogy, the reason you can't get from allegro to presto is probably the same reason that you can't "learn to run" by "trying to walk faster". Running and walking are not the same movements. As a kid, you probably learned to run by just "going for it," and falling over a lot until you got the hang of it - not by gradually walking faster and faster.

I can't imagine how thinking of 8th note beats in something like the Mendelssohn you listed is even possible Playing the piece at this speed isn't hard - it's on the exam lists for ABRSM grade 7, not something for virtuosos only.

Can anybody really "count" about 360 8th-notes per minute?

  • Your walking/running analogy summed up perfectly what I would have responded. It’s crucial to discover the technique needed to play it at the Presto tempo first, not start slow and work your way up to it. Chuan C. Chang in “Fundamentals of Piano Practice” (an invaluable book for pianists!) calls OP’s problem a “speed wall” - when you can only go so fast but no faster. Such a situation is always a sign of improper technique. This answer gets an upvote, and I’m going to start using your walking/running analogy with my students! – Kevin H Feb 29 '20 at 19:01

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