This frustration is all too familiar to many pianists, beginners and experienced alike. Perhaps Many believe that, as long as they persist with repetitions, the ability to play faster will eventually develop. Others become disheartened and consider giving up their lessons, convinced that they will never sufficiently improve!
Those who persevere begin to understand that speed is intimately related to tone, touch and personal technique and closely associated with their physical physiology. One’s finger agility, flexibility and coordination can vary from one individual to another; however, No two persons have the same level or finesse although with some training, effort and practice, success will be realised. Touch tone and conception influenced the tempo essentially.
Some instructors instill habits and thoughts that through slow practice and incrementally increasing speed with the use of a metronome, improvement can be realized. Slow practice is the basis of quick playing but quick playing is not the immediate result of slow practice. Sometimes, pianists are able to momentarily achieve the desired tempo but fatigue in the arms, fingers and wrist can interfere.
What is Speed?
Composers and arrangers will sometimes dictate the optimum speed of performance. Some pieces call for an Allegro tempo, which means fast, but also lightness and cheerfulness. Andante tempo, on the other hand, calls for a methodical pace and leisurely style. Achieving the required tempo draws upon one’s state of mind and mood. Without a metronome to regulate tempo, one can use his or her own judicious judgement in taking the most rapid notes in the piece, playing them rapidly in broad terms to establish the tempo and, if aesthetically appealing, adjusting the general tempo according to taste. Later, one should practice the piece at HALF the chosen tempo.
Tempo markings in compositions serve as guides to the overall speed of the performance. Pianists must, consult upon their own state of technique to achieve the outcome of the speed. Metronome markings can ensure that, after playing for a while, one does not drift away from the desired tempo.
Speed and Tension
Many teachers encourage students to practice using a metronome, with added increments of speed over time. This common strategy is literally counter-productive since it can be debilitating as one fights against the tension in the fingers to achieve the expected tempo. Premature fatigue is caused by undue or repetitive muscular contraction. Interference with blood circulation can be caused by unconscious stiffening of the wrist from over use and a lack of constant but measured tension that is released at appropriate intervals.
Strategies for Developing Speed and Agility
One strategy to release wrist and finger tension is to break down the practice into ‘bite-size’ practice. As soon as tension creeps in, one should stop at a note and make a circular wrist motion to release the tension before continuing. This exercise should be undertaken frequently throughout the piece, training the muscles to release tension at certain ‘landmarks’. Over time, playing through the entire piece will become less laborious.
Another approach is to practice the whole piece with full speed. Whereas this will inevitably cause temporary loss of clarity in notation, accuracy and pace should be achieved through subsequent returns to slower practice. Quick playing as such should be done from time to time with increased frequency and heightened speed to build up stamina and accuracy. This also allows the brain to think and react quickly, necessary for gaining speed.
Effective Strategies To Increase Speed of Performance
1. Greater speed with fewer articulations
Quick playing can often result in loss in clarity of tone from reduced finger articulations. Articulation is achieved by the high finger lifting from ‘note to note’ which is physically demanding. This vertical movement with greater speed produces bright, articulated sounds gives rise to muscle tension. Whereas tension impedes speed, practice over time and increased rigor will lead to better results.
At the outset, one should attempt to play with the fingers close to the keys, with shallower lifts. This allow the fingers to play more efficiently, over increased duration and faster. The fingers should be lifted to the point where the note will sound again when it is played. This demands subtle control providing more tone but fewer articulations.
2. Increased speed with articulated bright and rhythmic sounds
This endeavour is for a more advanced or experienced pianist as this technique can cause muscles in the arms and hands to cramp with overuse. A note is best played with the weight behind the finger while holding down the key. The weight is then transferred from one finger to another as each note is played. Hold one finger down as if the key is dropping through the knee but stopped by the next finger. The sound can be adjusted be adding or removing the weight from the wrist, altering the height of the finger action. The rise of the fingers is just as decisive as it would when the fingers dropped onto the key.
Avoid speeding up metronomically although this is a common learning strategy. This puts demand on the fingers to fight muscle tension.
The remediation for this is to practice the passage incrementally, pausing the moment muscle tension creeps in and then stopping on notes to release tension by doing circular wrist movements before continuing. Another strategy is to hang both hands loosely down by one’s side before resuming the passage.
Gradually increase the length of the section played without pauses and stoppages.
In conclusion, gaining speed is a process. As mentioned, speed draws upon one’s state of mind and mood. One should not despair if the speed intended for the day is not achieved. The impatient mind will only create tension and lead to a contrary results.