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Does anyone have any advice for learning and practicing fast passages? (Read 901 times)

Offline pegasusgr

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Hello!

Basically, I know that when learning fast passages, itís best to play the passage hands separately first (very slowly and loudly to build muscle memory), then to practice the passage repeatedly with gradual increases in the tempo, and then eventually together.

However, I have some questions about this process:

1. If both the left hand and right hand have difficult, fast passages, which of these is the more effective way of progressing to play hands together? (If you have your own method which youíd like to share, please feel free to do so :D)

a. Should I practice each hand separately from a slow tempo to the actual intended tempo, and then only after I can play at the intended tempo with each hand, start playing the passage with both hands (at a slower tempo, then faster again)?

b. Or should I complete the passage in sections, by practicing hands separately then hands together in tempo intervals? E.g. If the slow tempo is 60bpm and the intended tempo is 100bpm, then I could practice each hand separately from 60 to 70bpm, then hands together from 60 to 70bpm; then hands separately to 80bpm, then hands together to 80bpm, etc.

2. How hard should I be pressing the keys as I get better and more practiced at a fast passage? Because, I know that when initially learning a fast passage, itís beneficial to play very slowly and loudly, and press the keys hard (but still with correct technique and not in a harmful way) to develop muscle memory. However, at what point is it fine for me to stop pressing so hard, so that my finger speed can increase? Because pressing each finger hard into each key adds extra stiffness to my fingers, especially when I start to increase the tempo more and more, which will slow down the speed at which I can play the notes (and most of the time the fast passage wonít actually need to be played with such loud notes, unless the dynamic is forte or fortissimo).

If you can help me with any of the questions which Iíve asked, Iíd really appreciate it a lot :)

Thank you in advance!

Offline lostinidlewonder

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I would advise you post an actual example of music to investigate because general answers cannot solve all situations and can be misleading. If you reveal how you learn a specific passage then people can scrutinize your approach and give you better advice.

You should be practicing hands together since it is generally the most efficient approach. If you cannot play both hands with all the notes you can simplify one hand while preseving the movements/fingers you would do if all the notes are included. You should be practicing at a tempo where you have total control over what you are doing, if you have controlled playing increasing the tempo should not be a challenge so long you are avoiding poor movements at slower tempo which otherwise would be punished when going faster.  There is no need to play notes slow and loud to build memory.
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Offline brogers70

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I don't think there's a rule that will necessarily work for everyone. For me, doing several different things seems to help. I start off hands separate at a moderate tempo. Once both hands are comfortable I put them together at an even more moderate tempo. When it feels comfortable I start to increase the tempo a bit. At that point I have the feeling of coordination in the hands, but to get faster there are refinements in the motions of each hand that I need to make. For that I work hands separate and try to push the tempo up a lot.

Since I find that I am often slow because my fingers don't get off the keys fast enough, I'll play the passage with a sharp finger staccato (being careful not to tense up the hand while I'm doing it). That gets me used to getting off the keys quickly. When I pay careful attention to how that feels, I often am able to identify where, exactly, I had been slow in getting off the keys, because at that spot there'll be just a little less sharpness in the finger staccato.

Then I try a whole bunch of rhythms, 2-rhythms (long-short and short long), 3-rhythms (long-short-short, short-long-short, and short-short-long), all the way up to every permutation of 7 rhythms, with the short notes played at or above the tempo you're aiming for. It's helpful to write in the fingering of every note before doing this. I find that it's easy to hear what's going on in the short bursts of speed so that I can tell whether I'm playing evenly, whether something is uncomfortable or tense, etc, more easily than if I'm trying to rip through the whole passage at speed. You can relax fully on the long note and that will train you to relax when playing the whole thing fast. At the early 2 and 3 rhythms you can also pay close attention to exactly how you are hitting the key - are you hitting it dead center or just barely catching the edge? Finally, if you play the passage in all these rhythms, you will have burned it into your memory much better than you would from just the muscle memory of playing the whole passage. Pay attention to how things feel and if some particular group of five notes, say feels awkward, play around with the motion you are using until it feels good and comfortable.

While doing all the above, I also put hands together sometimes to make sure the coordination is still there as I up the tempo. Then, if coordination is a problem at the higher tempos I work beat by beat or measure by measure, hands together, overlapping the bits I'm working on and working at speed. Working on small bits like that makes it easier (for me anyway) to hear where alignment or coordination problems are cropping up. Gradually I put everything together until the whole passage is done.

This is just what works for me. There are people who swear by only ever practicing hands together. I've tried it and it did not work as well for me as the HS approach I described above, but it might work for you.

Offline slurred_beat

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I also want to know the answer to this question  ;) does anybody in the forum have ideas?

Offline ranjit

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I tend to think of speed as being hands separate. You need to refine motions in each hand, pick out sources of inefficiency, get the muscle memory down, etc. In certain situations, it may be the case that a fast passage actually makes more sense hands together, for example if you have an octave in the bass, which "propels" arpeggios in the right hand, in which case it makes more sense to practice hands together. I don't think practice per se improves your speed, it's more about eventually getting to a point where you come up with key insights, either consciously or subconsciously, which make your playing more efficient in certain ways.

This mostly holds if the passage is at the very peak of your ability. If it's easier than that, you can start hands together right away, and it will improve in a few days.

This is from my experience. However, there's still a lot in terms of how to achieve clarity in fast passages that I'm still figuring out, which relates to hand positioning and support, strength, weight distribution and alignment, etc. I have actually not seen a lot of information about this on Pianostreet (maybe it's too difficult to put into words?) and I've usually only seen advanced students talk about these things. Perhaps as liw says, it depends too much on the actual passage to give general advice.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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It's sort of trying to discuss how to do a maths problem without actually taking a maths problem under investigation. We need to stop talking in generalizations and start actually discussing specific situations.
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Offline lelle

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At the same time, there are some broadly applicable principles for solving different math problems that are useful to know. When I was in school we were taught to always write down what we do know, and what we don't know, and based on that, assuming you had studied, you could often figure out what you needed to do to solve the problem. Not an airtight analogy, but I think there are some principles that are the same in nearly every technical problem.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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At the same time, there are some broadly applicable principles for solving different math problems that are useful to know. When I was in school we were taught to always write down what we do know, and what we don't know, and based on that, assuming you had studied, you could often figure out what you needed to do to solve the problem. Not an airtight analogy, but I think there are some principles that are the same in nearly every technical problem.
The basic piano principles are there but they really won't help you specifically solve a situation without understanding the application of knowledge and extensions of ideas which go much beyond the mere basic ideas. The OP is a specific question about how to practice "fast passages" but exactly what is involved in a "fast passage" is so various what are we exactly talking about? Thus I find any generalizing for a specific question leaves a lot of people still confused as to what to do since the application of that knowledge is what stumps most not the generalized idea as to what you should do. We need to discuss specific application of practice method rather than just a generalized ideology because that untangles what holds people back.

It is not so difficult to actually explore some phrase of fast music and query what approaches to solving it are there, it will bring more instructive discussion. People need to be specific and not just rattle off random ideas because they must demonstrate application of the knowledge and show how it benefits. What would be even more helpful and interesting is to describe the way in which you are trying to learn the particular material and reveal what you can and can't do and what is working and what is stubbornly not solving. This is a more indepth discussion and avoids just generalized responses which imho are just weak when discussing something specific.

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