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I am practising a piece on piano and I find that I can not progress beyond 70% of the intended speed without hitting a lot of wrong keys by accident. In fact, I even have problems playing the song at 50% speed or even slower without hitting any wrong keys. With wrong keys I usually mean jumping to a specific key and then not only hitting that one but additionally the one above/below. Here is how often that happens in relation to the speed (estimates):

10%: 1 in 200 keys
30%: 1 in 150 keys
40%: 1 in 100 keys
50%: 1 in 80 keys
60%: 1 in 60 keys
70%: 1 in 30 keys
80%: 1 in 10 keys
90%: 1 in 5 keys

So even if I play it very slowly, I can't avoid hitting some wrong keys. What would you recommend to get me to 100% speed with perfect consistency the fastest? Ideas:

  • Just keep practising (have been doing that for the last months)
  • Do more finger exercises (scales?)
  • Start with a second piece (I would like to do that because it gets very frustrating, but I don't want to slow down my progress)

Edit: Thanks to everybody for the detailed and helpful answers. Here is some more information that came up multiple times:

  1. Breaking up the song: I have been doing that from the beginning, but I will try to go below one bar and just practice 2 or 3 notes at 100% speed.
  2. My method of increasing speed is to play the song over my speakers at a given speed and trying to play along on the piano. I feel that pushes me to play faster but also keep the correct rhythm. I will continue doing that as the consensus seems to be that it's fine to only play 95% correct for now.
  3. I will look into more exercises, but maybe also start the second piece in parallel when I get too frustrated.
  4. I can use a program to record my playing and analyse how many mistakes I do, will use that more to monitor my progress!

Alright, here is a recording (Youtube is still processing it for HQ but you can watch it in SD):

Here is somebody else performing it at full speed:

(mainly the part starting at 1:50).

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Some pretty straightforward advice:

  • The point of practicing slow is to break the song down and see what mistakes you make. Playing a fast piece might not help you understand why you make mistakes. When you play the same piece slowly, see in which parts you make the mistakes, see why you are making the mistakes and practice those until you fix them and can get them up to speed.
  • On the parts you make mistakes, see what is going on and see if you can find some related exercises (including but not limited to scales) to help you get better. *
  • Leaving the song aside and practicing something easier is not a bad idea. Everyone wants to play pieces they like, but more often than not, beginners have problems because they do not have the necessary skills to do so. You can find another piece that is easier and practice it and come back later on the piece you are having difficulty with.
  • See if you can find a teacher or even someone with a higher understanding of music to help you out. They can point out your mistakes and help you fix them. This might be quite difficult to do on your own if you are a relatively new pianist.


* For instance, on 1:50, there are many jumps up and down on the left hand as well as some octaves. If you are not an experienced pianist, this will be quite difficult to perform. You can find numerous exercises that help you both with the jumps and the octave playing.

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  • Thank you for the quick and thoughtful answer! I tried, for example, to play only with the left hand and only one octave and the jump after. So basically pinky and thumb for the octave and then move the pinky where the thumb was - super simple movement nothing else. Even doing that a hundred times in a row I messed up 5 or 6 times, especially when I am not looking. Do I just have to practice something like this longer or should I practice hands together and longer parts not only 3 notes? – user667804 Mar 29 at 16:42
  • @user667804 keep doing that. This is what I mean by breaking down the parts that you have trouble with – Shevliaskovic Mar 29 at 16:43
  • is that what people do? I guess I also have to repeat that exercise with every possible jump. I can try to do at least 10 min every day just that movement, but it feels like I have a lot of work to get through. Or do you think even that exercise will automatically translate to other parts? – user667804 Mar 29 at 16:48
  • @user667804 of course this will take a lot of time if there are many parts like that for you. That is why people use many exercises to practice these kind of stuff beforehand – Shevliaskovic Mar 29 at 16:53
  • added a video of me practising, feel free to check it out youtube.com/watch?v=mCIwlFKVhk8 – user667804 Mar 30 at 16:31
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The following suggestion is based on my experience developing a software course called Guitar Speed Trainer and on countless conversations with users of that course. Of course the guitar has a whole different set of issues than the piano, but I think that some of the general principles are valid for all instruments, and I hope this will help you at least a little.

In my experience, a crucial factor in developing speed and precision (on any instrument) as quickly as possible is the choice of the speed at which you practice.

If you practice too slowly, it's too easy and you're not getting much benefit for the time you spend.

If you practice too fast, you make too many mistakes, and one doesn't become a clean player by practicing mistakes -- rather, one develops bad habits.

The most effective process that we found is to start practicing a given musical phrase at a speed which is slow enough so you can still play it perfectly, do that a few times, and then very gradually increase the speed while you can still playing well with a lot of effort and concentration... then push a little more, until you start making some mistakes... and then slow down a bit, until you can play it well again a few more times.

After that, take a short rest. And then, rinse and repeat.

In the course I mentioned above we developed a system called "speed curve", where the metronome automatically follows the above pattern (the speed curve) so you can adjust the various speed points (starting point, max speed, final speed, and change gradient) to suit your needs at that moment.

In short, it is important to practice right at the edge of your ability at that moment. Let's say 75% of the time just below the edge, and some 25% of the time just above the edge.

These speed points also need to be continually adjusted, according to your capacity right in that moment. For example, when you start practicing you'll be cold and your speed may be lower than usual. Then you'll warm up and the speed points should be moved higher. Then you'll start to get a little tired, and the speed points should be lowered a bit again.

This formula, in our experience, is what gives you the fastest and most substantial "return on investment" for the time and energy you spend in training.

Here's an old web page that explains that a bit, see point #3 in particular:

http://www.micrologus.com/courses/guitar_speed_trainer

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  • thank you for the long and detailed answer. My problem is that you say I should play it at a pace that I can do it perfectly at. But that pace doesn't exist. Even at 10% of the speed, I do mistakes from time to time (maybe only 1 in 200 notes but still). How do I determine the perfect speed to practice if I can't play it perfectly? – user667804 Mar 29 at 16:37
  • For guitar picking speed, I think there's truth to what Troy Grady is teaching, that fast picking is not the same as slow picking done fast, it's a different technique. Like walking and running - nobody learns to run by walking faster and faster, you learn running by running, and that's fast right from the start. So, this is not from Troy Grady but just my own logic, I think the way to proceed is not to keep the notes and increase the speed, but keep the speed, and practice shorter bursts of notes and as you get better, increase the length of the bursts. What do you think of that? – piiperi Reinstate Monica Mar 29 at 19:14
  • @user667804 OK, there are 2 completely different issues here: the first is about building speed and precision, which is what I addressed in the post. From that point of view, you can replace "perfectly" with "almost perfectly", consider the speed at which you can play, say, 98% right, as your edge speed, and build up from there, and that will work. The second issue, very different in nature, and requiring a completely different approach, is how to avoid "unforced errors", so to speak. I'll try to answer that --how to avoid unforced errors-- separately, maybe in a dedicated question... – MMazzon Mar 29 at 19:26
  • @piiperi that is exactly the point we make in our GST course: running is not fast walking, it's a different process, requiring its own dedicated learning curve. Because that is much more true for guitar than for the piano, I didn't go into it here, I kept things simple, but I agree completely with (also) practicing short fast phrases and then adding material to it. Indeed our original course does just that. – MMazzon Mar 29 at 19:32
  • I think the same applies to keyboards as well. If you play very slowly, you can get by with things that just won't work beyond a certain tempo. So, start with a fast tempo already, first play just two notes of the phrase until it's fine, then keep the same tempo but play three notes of the phrase etc. Keep a metronome clicking all the time, and start your phrase at an exact beat. If you make a mistake, let the metronome tick until the next even bar or half-bar and start from the beginning of the phrase again. Or if it's a very long phrase, somewhere in the middle of it, replay the hard part – piiperi Reinstate Monica Mar 29 at 20:16
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You are doing something wrong.

Practice makes sense when - after each failure - you understand its reason and try to adjust - work to make the specific fix.

Your problem might be caused by gazillion things:

  • wrong arm position,
  • wrong hand position,
  • wrong fingering,
  • focusing on the wrong thing altogether (sometimes problems in left hand can manifest as wrong notes in the right hand!)
  • too much or too little tension,
  • movement to big or too small,
  • wrong strategy (both mind and hand work in "groups" or "runs" - parts that can be played in a single "stroke". Learning a hard passage involves thinking about the division and trying out different combinations)

Just repeating stuff over and over, hoping things will just resolve by themselves - will not help much. What's more, if you are making some error (e.g. - wrong hand position), by making it over and over you will actually become a worse pianist.

Of course the easiest course of action is to get a teacher - a good teacher can help you understand the actual problem (tricky in the times of social distancing! but piano classes could actually work remotely, I think!).

But you can also try and analyze your play on your own. This will take more time and persistence, but - arguably - this will get you even further than any teacher. Actually, being able to work with your own, specific technique is the ultimate goal of any musical education. Good luck - and come back with any specific questions :)

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  • Yes, I am struggling to find a teacher that is really good and able to help me in times of social distancing. I might start recording my practice and putting in on YouTube so people can judge or I can send it to a teacher. Do you think that's a good idea? – user667804 Mar 30 at 12:01
  • Frankly, no, but you can give it a go and surprise me :) It would be a bit like the Twich Plays Pokemon experiment: every "teacher" would pull in their own direction, there would be no way for your to tell good advice from bad, people who actually know their stuff would not want to be involved and you would be left with some folks who just like inflating their egos by helping strangers. Come to think of it, sort of like here :) – fdreger Mar 30 at 14:19
  • (of course if you just share your video with a single teacher, then yes, that's a pretty good idea) – fdreger Mar 30 at 14:20
  • Added a video but didn't make it public on YouTube, feel free to criticize, I will also try to get a teacher to take a look at it. youtube.com/watch?v=mCIwlFKVhk8 – user667804 Mar 30 at 16:02
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If this is your first piece you play, it probably is too hard for you. Even if it is not the first one, but you are learning playing piano for less than 3 years, it could still be too hard. But if you really like it you can keep trying to play it to keep high your mood, but do not expect too much.

In any case, remember: you cannot become good at playing a single piece without doing anything else, it just does not work like this. Thus, build a repertorio of pieces with increasing level of difficulty and, as you become better, you will include harder pieces and remove the easiest ones.

For each piece, some techniques I found quite useful and that I still practice (not only when playing piano :-))

  • Do not start your training sessions by directly playing the piece. Try to warm up with some easy exercise like scales and arpeggios.
  • When practicing piano, every exercise you do you have to do it in three modes: only right hand, only left hand, both hands (of course you can switch right and left, but usually you have the main melody on the right hand so, if you do not know the piece, it is useful to start with the it). This applies to all the following techniques as well.
  • As mentioned by @mmazzon, you should practice with speed that is neither too slow nor too fast. Improve your precision by practicing "below the limit" and improve your agility by playing (slightly) "above the limit".
  • Do not (always) try to play the piece as a whole, split it in smaller chunks and, at each training session, repeat each chunk over and over again with increasing speed before proceeding to the next chunk.
  • Focus more on most diffult chunks and less on the easiest ones.
  • Start merging chunks when you are confortable with playing them at say 75% speed (remember, first right hand, then left hand, then both).
  • You can still try to play the whole piece if you like to, after all playing music is about fun, but leave it for the end of each session. This is also useful to have an idea of you progress and it can help you do spot chunks that are harder than you thought.
  • When you will be able to play decently the full piece at say 50% speed start playing it at each session. You will progressively move from practicing chunks to practicing the full piece. You will end up playing mostly the full piece, practising only the hardest passages before it.

Enjoy!


Edit

I am sorry, from the video you posted I am afraid the piece is too difficult for you. Moreover, I believe you have been acquiring bad habits that will not permit you to improve very much. The best thing would be (as many suggested) to get a teacher, a good one (not because you need a very good teacher, but because bad teachers can do worse than no teacher). I do not believe in remote teaching either (often you need to physically place student's hands and fingers in the right place), but with current times you can give it a try (but probably many good teacher thinks like me about remote teaching).

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After following the comments and answers, and after seeing your practice video, I'm giving this answer.

Q: How to practice for speed and consistency?

A: By practicing speed and consistency ONLY. Forget about this song's busy piano arrangement, it is beyond your current abilities. Practice speed and consistency on much simpler songs and exercises. You must first be able to play something simple with speed and consistency, before introducing all these simultaneously happening notes, octaves, jumps, scale runs, precise chord voicings etc.

Think of it as a role-playing game where each character has a set of skills and abilities. This song requires, let's say, level 5 skill in this and level 6 skill in that ability, maybe level 4 in something, when you're still on level 2 or 3 on all of these. You need to develop each skill separately, focusing on that particular skill and getting to the next level in that dimension. And each skill needs its own set of exercises, maybe simpler songs that stress one skill you need. If you had a teacher, the teacher would assess your situation and need for development in each area, and give you exercises according to your personal needs.

Focus on getting your rhythm consistent, and don't care about big octave jumps and scale runs and other circus tricks. The song you're trying to play has unnecessary show-off tricks, and the actual song behind it is a simple melody that could be played with one finger. Play simpler songs, but keep it consistent.

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Seems to me you are making a very specific type of mistake over and over so I think your best course of action is to shelve the piece and discuss this with a teacher or at least a more experienced player to see if there is something you can change in your technique or something you can practice to improve your accuracy with jumps rather than continuing to practice the piece with no additional guidance.

One of my favorite quotes, and I include it with a smile because it applies to ALL of us:

Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

It sounds like a very tricky piece but keep at it, you’ll get it!

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My way is always to reduce and simplify a piece e.g.as you say not play the octaves (l.h. Bass tone, r.h. only triads) and the arpeggio passage as block chord. If you have the music understood and “caught” (like we say in German begreifen for understanding = catch with your fingers!) you can be able to add the octaves. So your fingers will find the keys and you will stay in time.

But there are some figures I know I’ll be never able like to play like the triplets in the accompaniment of “Erlkönig” by Schubert. I think this is a neurological problem ... and I don’t mind. Somehow we all have our limits.

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  • I can play some of them. All of them without taking a break, not so much. That is one heck of an endurance test for such a short piece, isn't it? :) – BobRodes Apr 23 at 5:23
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You're simply playing it faster than you're able to. It's far and away the most common problem that pianists have when working up a piece, so you're very far from alone in this.

My advice to you is this: FORGET ABOUT SPEED. Just forget it. Work on making this the most beautiful adagio piece that you can. Work on tone and evenness and balance between the voices. FORGET ABOUT SPEED. Don't worry about it. Leave it alone.

Um, in case I wasn't clear, forget about speed. Sacrifice speed on the altar of beauty and flawlessness.

And then, when you have truly forgotten about speed, you'll find that you're playing it faster without even thinking about it.

As one of my professors once said, trying to play a piece up to tempo is the carrot that we hold in front of ourselves to get motivated to get back to work. That's all it's good for.

You get more real progress out of playing two notes perfectly as slowly as you like than you do playing an entire piece halfway right. Because it's a whole lot more difficult to undo something you've practiced in wrong at the right tempo than it is to learn it right at a tempo you can handle from the beginning.

Doing all this requires monumental patience. Every time you feel that frustration creeping in, get up and do something else. (DO NOT overdose on those carrots.) Even if all you can stand is five minutes installing a few notes in correctly at some slow tempo, that's five minutes a whole lot better spent than hours spent practicing it halfway right. Even if it is more frustrating.

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  • So you're saying that it's possible to learn to run by crawling faster and faster? I have to disagree. It's possible to play e.g. a scale run with completely impossible fingerings and hand positions if you do it very slowly. But try to do it at the right tempo and you see the impossibility. The opposite suggested method of learning is to divide the runs to shorter sub-phrases, "bursts" or "chunks", and make sure the beginning of each burst is on time. Like A-B-C-D ... E-F-G ... Divide and conquer. So, forget about the notes. Can you play anything at all steadily at a fast tempo? – piiperi Reinstate Monica Apr 23 at 7:10
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica No, I am not saying that, of course. ("The average debater knows no finer fun than belaboring a man of straw.") I'm only telling you what works for me. What works for you may differ. As for your last question, most pianists define "fast tempo" as "faster than I can" without realizing it, which is pretty much the point I'm making. But I can play the scales steadily at at least 120, some up to 144. If that counts as "fast," then yes I can. Why? Because I worked on getting them steady first, at around 40. Fast is a function of steady, so it proceeds naturally from steady. – BobRodes Apr 23 at 18:23
  • The point with crawling vs running was to say that they're different techniques and different motions. Playing fast is not the same as playing slowly but faster. Did you watch the OP's practice video? I'd say, focus on playing steadily as the primary goal. Add things, but it has to be steady all the time. The song could be reduced a lot without losing anything valuable, but making such a reduction might not be feasible for the OP. And dividing long sequences to manageable parts is a standard technique in all kinds of playing. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Apr 23 at 18:33
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica I agree that sometimes you have to attempt bits of things up to tempo to work out the best fingerings, because some fingerings that work at slower tempi don't work at faster ones. I also agree that taking small groups of notes and getting them up to a faster tempo and then piecing them together is important. But I'm talking about the tendency to run over and over large passages halfway correctly at "the right tempo." And, if you play those smaller chunks all wrong and then try and piece them together, you defeat the purpose of breaking it up – BobRodes Apr 23 at 18:34
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica I'm sorry, but if you must persist in subtly and plausibly deniable disrespectful comments, I have nothing further to say to you, except that you have your POV and I have mine, and that you may wish to have a look at this. – BobRodes Apr 23 at 18:43

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