Steps for Learning Fast Piano Songs

TakeLessons has purchased the right to use an edited version of this post in their blog.

Have you ever watched a pianist play a really fast song? Maybe you’ve wanted to play piano yourself, or maybe you just wondered how they do it. Piano is an easy instrument to learn. You push a key, and a note sounds. Compared to instruments like the violin, which take months and months of dedicated practice before a pleasant sound comes out, piano seems like a walk in the park.

This simple fact is that piano is not only an easy instrument to learn, it’s also one of the easiest instruments to learn to play badly. Many piano students become so enraptured with the idea of moving forward quickly, that the idea of playing piano fast becomes a goal. Honestly, what is there to show off about, when anyone can walk up to a piano, press a key and make a sound?

Well, the simplicity of playing piano is one of the drawbacks of the instrument. You see, most piano players don’t learn patience with the process. We want to play fast, to really show we can do our stuff, and often what happens when we take on all that speed, is the quality of the playing is compromised.

Varying tempos is one of the first signs of a pianist who really isn’t up to the speed. Haven’t we all experienced the joy of playing easy passages quickly, and then being caught unaware when that one tricky riff comes up? If you’re the typically impatient pianist, you’ll race past that tough part, maybe missing a few notes, and hope that nobody notices by the time you’re finished. Kind of like a racer going for the finish line.

The thing about music is that it’s really quite different from sports. There are tender emotions as well as exciting moments, and those slower and softer songs are often some of the most meaningful, when contrasted with the louder and faster songs we wish we could play. However, the idea is contrast, and fast songs do need to be part of our repertoire. So, here’s how to learn a fast song:

Be patient … start with the basics, and find the most difficult part of the song. Find out how slow you need to go, to play that part accurately. Use a metronome, and set it at that slow pace. If you don’t have a metronome, you can search for one online. I like the simple metronome at bestmetronome because it’s cute and retro. Set the metronome at that slow pace, and play the entire song at that slow pace. Yes, even the easy parts. Play it perfectly again and again.

Watch your fingers. Are there places in the song where your fingers are tripping over each other? Remember, we’re never so advanced in music that we have more than four fingers and a thumb on each hand. Even the best pianists need to come up with specific fingering for certain passages. Go ahead and write in the finger numbers like a beginner … 1-2-3-4-5 … and don’t forget the left hand!

Don’t practice in front of an audience. If you’re practicing at home, and your family listens in while you practice, realize they’re going through your drills just like you. Your song isn’t going to sound anywhere near as good in the beginning as it will in the future.

Don’t practice the same mistake twice. Practicing mistakes teaches you to play inaccurately. If you notice you’re having trouble in certain passages, stop and slow down even more. Work on those specific passages, and give the rest of the song ( which you play well ) a rest. If you practice perfectly, you’ll learn to play perfectly. Yes, even the hard parts.

Celebrate your accomplishments with feelings of confidence. While practicing your “ fast “ song at a snail’s pace, you’ll slowly and surely become more confident about all the little details of fingering, dynamics and, yes, specific notes. You will become enlightened about those complicated places, and before long they will become easy. When you can play smoothly and slowly you’re ready for the next step.
Let your metronome be your best friend. By now, you’re used to that tick-tick-tick and keeping a slow pace throughout the song. Now, push the metronome speed up one notch. You probably won’t notice you’re playing any faster, because metronomes are calibrated to very small increments. If you can play the song at that pace, push the metronome speed up one more notch.

Continue working on speed, one metronome notch at a time. If you start going faster than you can play accurately, then move the metronome speed back down one notch. Work on smoothing out those hard parts, and then playing the whole song at that speed.

Set your goal speed, using the metronome. Slowly work up to that goal speed, one notch at a time. You’ll know you’re ready when your at your goal speed, and playing accurately and confidently.
 To see a guitarist demonstrate amazing speed technique with a metronome, check out this Post by Cifras.

Now you’re ready to perform that fast song. Like a sports star who performs on TV, you haven’t invited your audience to your private practice sessions. Nobody but you ( and maybe your family ) will ever know how hard it was for you to learn that fast song. If you can make all that hard work look easy, then you’ve mastered your fast song.

Good luck!