Toni said: Sep 17, 2016
South Boston, VA
5 posts

I have a book 3 piano student who is excellent in every way. He wanted to participate in a competition with a piece he loved for a long time, Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu, opus 66, not in the Suzuki repertoire. It is quite difficult, but considering his technical skill with book 3 pieces, even getting everything up to tempo, I gave him tentative permission. He has been working on it for 7 months (with less intensity during the summer months) and is amazingly accurate. We seemed to have reached a plateau with tempo, however. The piece is to be played VERY fast, and he can’t seem to get past the current speed, which is maybe 70%. Does anyone have any advice on how to gradually increase tempo without sacrificing accuracy?

Robert Blanton said: Sep 17, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
Houston, TX
1 posts

Speed up by slowing down. Practice slowly then with a metronome inch up the tempo from the 70% speed you mentioned, then go back and do some slow practice of difficult sections. This will train muscle memory. Eddie Daniels a very talented clarinetist who had tremendous technique was once asked how he could play so fast and he answered “by practicing very, very slowly”.

Toni said: Sep 19, 2016
South Boston, VA
5 posts

He has been increasing speed incrementally, as you suggested. He is now at a plateau and can’t seem to progress past it. Someone (not me!) suggested he break from the piece and practice Hanon for finger control. He is a little frustrated, but diligent to practice at the slow successful rate, but as soon as he goes to the next metronomic setting his fingering falls apart. In the past I have been able to analyze hand position, fingering, balance, etc. and find where the physical problem lies—but this piece is so fast that I am having trouble seeing problems. If anyone knows this particular piece and can offer some tips on it, please do so. Or if you have any general advice I’d appreciate hearing from you. (Perhaps we just need more patience).

Constance Jahrmarkt said: Sep 19, 2016
Constance Jahrmarkt
Suzuki Association Member
Scottsdale, AZ
4 posts

Hi Toni, I’m a violinist and pianist. I perform regularly. What has made me able to play fast (easier on violin than piano) is learning to mentally see myself, in great detail, playing really fast. I imagine in violin all the bow stroke directions and fingerings and shiftings… literally everything. For piano I imagine the finger motions. When I can create in my mind a clear image of myself playing fast, the notes come out fast. Sometimes faster than I would ever believe.

When our minds are listening and evaluating what happened we are thinking behind. To play fast, after we have trained the muscles slowly for accuracy, we need to think in advance of where we are playing.

I’ve found especially in piano music that breaking the music down into harmonic sections, which make sense to the brain, much as we break speech into sentences, helps. I stop in-between each harmonic section (sometimes as short as 4 notes) and mentally prepare for the next section. I make the section as short as I need it to be to play it accurately. I take long breaks in-between to mentally prepare for the phrase to come, stop and repeat the process through out the passage. Sometimes I count out loud to a pre-determined number before playing the next section. (Once when practicing Strauss for a symphonic audition, I began counting to 17 to prepare for a 5 note section.) As I practice, I gradually lessen the time for mental preparation for each section. Until there is no time in-between at all. This can be tedious, and sometimes instead of playing each section a tempo, I play it faster than I need for performance. Then performance tempo feels more relaxed. Often I put the metronome on and play those 4-5 notes, make the metronome keep track of the mental prep time.

I’ve developed this method over 40 years of playing in orchestras and for choirs and as a soloist. I’m not sure it makes sense on paper, so if you need more clarification, please don’t hesitate to ask.

I’ve also noticed that my brain works on things while I’m sleeping. When I practice just before going to bed, I’m much better at the same passages the following morning.

Connie J.

JoAnn said: Sep 19, 2016
 20 posts

Hello Toni,
In trying to increase velocity, I find it is important to take smaller chunks at a time and build before and after them. I use various techniques, such as the tried and true gradual metronome build up at small increments, which I am sure you have used, and also using systematic rhythms or accents on passage work, i.e. runs of 16th notes, etc. along with that.

Practicing “backwards”- in other words, finding a particular source of difficulty and taking a small chunk there, working on it with rhythms and metronome acceleration and then taking another small chunk right before that part- working that over similarly and then ADDING that chunk to the spot- keeping doing that until you have a sizable part of the piece up to a faster speed, helps to give the part with the most needed work get the most practice, as it continually gets practiced along with the new parts.

It is usually pretty easy to get a small part quite fast quickly and if you can keep adding those small parts to each other, like threading beads on a necklace, you may find some improvement in the velocity.
Try finding the parts that are the hardest to get faster and work from there- either backward or forward.
If you have never used rhythms or accents as a practice tool on fast passages, you can contact me and I will tell you how I do that.

Heather Reichgott said: Sep 19, 2016
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
102 posts

Fantaisie Impromptu as a book 3 student is a pretty huge reach! All those 3 against 4 rhythms and everything, not to mention the length. Hats off to you and student and parent for learning it all and progressing to the point where it’s learned and even playable at 70% tempo.

Is this the fastest thing he’s ever played? If so you might just want to get it sounding good and keep it as a review piece at 70% tempo for a while, then work on scales and your favorite selection of etudes for a while until scales and etudes start to move faster than the desired Fantaisie Impromptu tempo. It’s so hard to play a challenging working piece if it’s also the fastest you have ever played anything.

And maybe pick a few book 1-2 pieces that are really fun at extreme tempi and work them up too.

Toni said: Sep 20, 2016
South Boston, VA
5 posts

Thanks so much! These are great ideas to try, some of which I have already used, but some quite new to me. Great support from the SAA!

Kurt Meisenbach said: Sep 20, 2016
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Plano, TX
45 posts

Toni, I am a violist who also plays piano. The velocity techniques on viola and violin work well on piano. There are two types of exercises: velocity drills and speed bursts. Both will be helpful with your aspiring student.

In the velocity drill you take a four note passage and play it multiple times (at least 4 repetitions) at an increasingly faster tempo until you just begin to lose control. For example, take any four notes from the Chopin and turn it into a velocity drill, and then do the same with other groups of four notes. It is important to stop just before you do lose control, as practicing mistakes will only teach our muscles to remember incorrect movements. This drill has both mechanical and mental benefits, as it channels the muscles and mind into a repetitive cycle that is new to us that can take us to a higher level of speed without losing control. Don’t overdo this exercise, and take frequent short rests so that you concentration can recover. Thirty seconds to one minute at a time is enough, although you can repeat it multiple times throughout a practice session, provided that your mind is focused and your attention does not lapse and your fingers do not cramp. You need to be in the zone for this exercise to deliver the maximum benefit. If you lose concentration, come back later to this exercise when you can concentrate fully. If you experience pain, stop. Pain is a message to be listened to, not a barrier to be overcome.

In the speed burst you take a couple of measures of rapid notes—16 to 32 notes in total is usually sufficient for the speed burst. Play 8 notes at a moderate tempo, then increase the tempo until you reach your control threshold. Now do the same with the next 8 notes. Now go back and do the same with 16 of the notes. Now do the same with the second group of 16 notes and then put them all together. Very important—think of the notes in groups of 4 or 8 notes. Do not think single notes. Many barriers with speed are mental in origin—we must train the mind to think in groups of notes to break through these speed barriers. My piano classmate, David Golub, who performed with Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman and many other great artists said the same in an interview in Strad magazine before he died.

As an aside, I use the metronome extensively in my practice, but I don’t use it so much to increase the tempo of a fast movement, as this practice tends to make us very conscious of where we are and to make unhelpful comparisons to where we want to be. In this respect it can be counter-productive. It is much better to play at a different tempo each day, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, and never push our speed to the point that we lose control. Don’t attempt to increase the tempo every day. This practice creates anxiety and can actually slow down our progress. We get carried away with the comparison game and lose our focus. Dorothy DeLay once got her student to play faster that he thought he could by hiding the metronome from him, then selecting different speeds until he exceeded his previous limit. She really understood the psychology of playing.

These techniques will work, and the results should be apparent within a week or so. However, don’t stop at the end of a week. Much progress can be made if you stick to these exercises on a regular basis. Don’t overdo them. Take small sections at a time and work on them. Perfection of two to four measures will carry over to the other measures in the piece we are studying.

Good luck!

Toni said: Sep 22, 2016
South Boston, VA
5 posts

Velocity drills sure seem like a better idea than endless Hanon repetitions. I would so much rather use the actual piece to work on the piece than insert this foreign element. Thank you for your suggestions.

Edward said: Oct 5, 2016
Edward Obermueller
Suzuki Association Member
Morris Plains, NJ
73 posts

@Constance, thank you for describing your process of imagining fast. That resonates with me as being a particularly powerful and effective method. I’m going to start using it in my own playing, and certainly pass it on to my students. Much appreciated!

Happy practicing,

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