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Hi all!

I've never gotten challenging pieces up to full tempo: pieces like Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu or Scherzo #1. I tend to play them somewhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of marked tempo but no faster, lest I lose control, unless I've had a glass of Scotch and then it's never in front of company.

Any suggestions for how to work my way up to tempo but retain control?

Thanks!

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First thing, I'd say: Appreciate what you're doing already, pat yourself on the back for it (!) ....enjoy the music that you're making at that speed and make sure you're really making music at that speed.

Because if you're doing that, you're way ahead of a lot of people who play it faster, and it's more important than getting it up to full speed.

In fact, if you get it up to speed but sacrifice expressiveness and 'meaning,' you're making it worse, not better. Or, if it's short on musicality because you're too worried about speed, the musicality is the thing that's best to work on first.

BTW, I'm glad this is the first reply, so maybe this will be what the other posts will be arguing about, rather than just how to get it faster, and that'll be a good thing. grin

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Other than the usual suggestions like gradually increasing the speed or trying to sort out the technical difficulties preventing full speed I don't think there are any magic bullets. A very good teacher might be helpful since the array of different technical problems is very large. Once you get to a piece at the level of the first Chopin Scherzo you're dealing with a piece that most amateur
pianists can't play at full speed and many can't play at 3/4 speed.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
.....Once you get to a piece at the level of the first Chopin Scherzo you're dealing with a piece that most amateur pianists can't play at full speed and many can't play at 3/4 speed.

.....or play it at 3/4 speed or full speed and slow down for the "hard parts"....

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Other than the usual suggestions like gradually increasing the speed or trying to sort out the technical difficulties preventing full speed I don't think there are any magic bullets..


Yeah, I agree here. At that point you might be better off just practicing technique. You're probably not going to get there by practicing the same piece over and over. Or maybe some people have, I don't know.


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Speed has a lot to do with how you group notes - i.e., 'phrasing.' Sometimes if you rethink certain micro-moments, you can find that the phrases breathe differently, and can make it feel like you have more time. It's an illusion of playing faster.

A small example, is tweeking the fingering here or there. Another has to do with accents. You may be inadvertently accenting notes, tying up your hand in an unwanted way.

Generally, better phrasing lends itself to hearing / feeling bigger beats, rather than small: feeling whole measures, and in the case of all of the scherzi, even hearing 4 bars at a time.

How much time we hear, and tempo, have an interesting relationship, and it's not always a linear one.


Michael

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Progress is not always linear. Often, it helps to put a piece on the back burner, returning to it after a while.

There are pieces I have done that would not speed up, past a certain point, without a break.

I also have many 1/2 to 3/4 learned pieces almost in my repertoire that I haven't gotten back to. 😩


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I agree with all the other posts. I love my metronome for this problem. I set the tempo at something I can manage and move it up one notch at a time until I get to the desired tempo. You don't have to get it up to tempo right away, but can increase it slowly while paying attention to accuracy, tone, dynamics, etc as you go.

Steve


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Originally Posted by Lakeviewsteve
I agree with all the other posts. I love my metronome for this problem. I set the tempo at something I can manage and move it up one notch at a time until I get to the desired tempo. You don't have to get it up to tempo right away, but can increase it slowly while paying attention to accuracy, tone, dynamics, etc as you go.

Steve


This is essentially what I do with pieces that need to be brought up to speed, but whose technical hurdles challenge that goal. While I never "play" a piece using the metronome, I do "practice" sections with the metronome, starting at a comfortable tempo and gradually working up, never going beyond a tempo I can handle accurately at the moment.

I also believe in the efficacy of WhoDwaldi's principle of occasionally putting a piece aside for a while and coming back to it later. That return often produces better results than if I had continued to work on it. That said, who knows whether, if I had continued to work on it, it would not have improved more than the "back-on-the-shelf" hiatus. That's something about which I cannot do an A/B comparison. The hiatus does prevent, however, my becoming bored or stale with a piece I have worked on diligently over time, and that is a considerable advantage.

One excellent teacher with whom I had a few profitable lessons was an advocate of the "slow practice = fast playing" school of thought. Although she never said so in so many words, she implied that if you couldn't play the piece up to tempo then you hadn't done enough slow practice. My current teacher is advocating something along the same lines. I just have to have the patience to see how well it works, if it works - for me.

No teacher I have had has ever denied the decided benefits of slow practice. That said, I'll slowly now go over to the piano smile

Regards,


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Hi, noamb! And welcome to Piano World! One other suggestion I have that hasn't previous been noted is simply elect to play the piece at the designated tempo a few times. This will allow you to determine where the train wrecks occur, and therefore clarifies to some extent those passages that need focused work. But additionally, it also allows you to hear how the piece should "move" as the composer has imagined it, and this in turn will affect the gestures and phrasing needed to achieve a secure musical line at that tempo. In my experience, choice of a specific tempo is so crucially important because the entire character of a piece changes as a consequence, and so just the admonition to "play slower" or "play faster" is not in itself an adequate indicator of meeting the technical challenges. In other words, the entire piece has to be "re-thought" -- and, as others have indicated, you may want to find YOUR "sweet spot" in terms of overall expression rather than achieve a given speed.

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In addition to grouping, some people may suggest practicing in different rhythms to help finger independence/strength to build up to tempo.

It may seem like an obvious thing, but extended and focused left hand practice may help get up to speed. Sometimes in difficult passages, your dominant hand can play it fine, but its your non-dominant hand that slows you down.

Originally Posted by Parks

Generally, better phrasing lends itself to hearing / feeling bigger beats, rather than small: feeling whole measures, and in the case of all of the scherzi, even hearing 4 bars at a time.


Definitely agree with the above!

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Originally Posted by Parks
Speed has a lot to do with how you group notes - i.e., 'phrasing.' Sometimes if you rethink certain micro-moments, you can find that the phrases breathe differently, and can make it feel like you have more time. It's an illusion of playing faster.

A small example, is tweeking the fingering here or there. Another has to do with accents. You may be inadvertently accenting notes, tying up your hand in an unwanted way.

Generally, better phrasing lends itself to hearing / feeling bigger beats, rather than small: feeling whole measures, and in the case of all of the scherzi, even hearing 4 bars at a time.

How much time we hear, and tempo, have an interesting relationship, and it's not always a linear one.

Parks, I think you have made a very important point with regard to micro-movements. Not being able to bring something up to tempo can be caused by tiny nuances like how balanced you are over the keys; is tension creeping in, are you launching yourself in the right direction before your jumps or directional changes, is your fingering going to adapt well to increase tempo.

I also must reiterate Bruce's advice - slow practice = fast learning/playing. I"m also a big advocate of gradually cranking up the metronome. The only thing I have to add about that is my personal requirement to play a phrase perfectly ten times before I bring the tempo up a notch. The tiniest mistake means I have to start from the beginning and count up to 10 again. This really hammers in the correct notes and also reveals weaknesses.

Finally, if you are going to perform a piece, take some time to practice it above tempo so you are prepared for adrenaline rushes or conductors who start too fast, (which happened to me.)



Best regards,

Deborah
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If cranking the metronome up gradually could solve most problems anyone could play all the Chopin and Liszt Etudes up to speed. I think a person's talent has been underplayed in many of these posts. Unless one has great technique just cranking the metronome will not allow one to play pieces far above one's ability.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
If cranking the metronome up gradually could solve most problems anyone could play all the Chopin and Liszt Etudes up to speed. I think a person's talent has been underplayed in many of these posts. Unless one has great technique just cranking the metronome will not allow one to play pieces far above one's ability.

Yes.
It's a great tool, but I have doubts that for most people it can get the tempo of such pieces up more than a moderate amount from where someone gets it from other practice. But, I think, rarely "to [alleged] tempo" or even very close to it.

A couple of things about that:
It doesn't count and it's not worth it if it does get you up a lot, but with an uncontrolled unmusical mess. I've gotten lots of pieces up to any speed you could name -- as long as an uncontrolled unmusical mess counts. grin
Just keep flipping the metronome up a notch, then another notch, and so on.

And: The reason I said "alleged" tempo is, as per what I said before, I think there's a greater range of speeds that are fine than what might seem to be implied by marked speeds (or by 'professional' speeds).
And the reason I put 'professional' in 'quotes' is, professionals don't necessarily follow such marked speeds either, although admittedly sometimes there are extenuating factors.....

The two most compelling performances of Chopin's 1st Scherzo that I've ever heard were by Horowitz, who played it very fast, and by Mieczyslaw Horszowski, who played it at a moderate tempo, much slower than the usual professional speeds. I found both equally great and remarkable; actually, Horszowski maybe more so, because of how shocking it was to hear such a compelling performance at such an unusual speed. Granted, he was 99 years old (supposedly; there was some rumor that he had taken a few years off his age and that he was actually about 104, but maybe he really was just a young dude of 99) and granted, not everybody is Horszowski -- but I do think that's a pretty blatant message that you don't necessarily have to play things so fast.

Another story, for what it's worth, which may be nothing but it does fit with the age thing: Years ago I was friends with a young guy who was one of the standouts among young pianists. He played great (I'd say literally), certainly with extraordinary technique, and was having some success but not on the level that he hoped. I felt like telling him, when you get old, you'll play differently than you do now, and it'll probably be more interesting. Why not start doing that now? grin

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Originally Posted by Mark_C
[...]I felt like telling him, when you get old, you'll play differently than you do now, and it'll probably be more interesting. Why not start doing that now? grin


I would suggest that much of the interpretive differences heard in the playing of a youth and in the playing of the same person as a mature adult are informed by and based on life experience. You can't ask a person to interpret his/her performances based on a life not yet lived.

Regards,


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When I mentioned the metronome in my post earlier, I never said it was the only solution and would fix everyone's Chopin tempo. I only meant it as a suggestion for practicing a piece with tempo issues.


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Originally Posted by Lakeviewsteve
When I mentioned the metronome in my post earlier, I never said it was the only solution and would fix everyone's Chopin tempo. I only meant it as a suggestion for practicing a piece with tempo issues.



Agreed.

I would hope that no one would read each of these suggestions as the "one and only" solution to a technical or interpretive challenge. Each can have its own merits and each can have varying results with different pianists.

Regards,


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Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by Lakeviewsteve
When I mentioned the metronome in my post earlier, I never said it was the only solution and would fix everyone's Chopin tempo. I only meant it as a suggestion for practicing a piece with tempo issues.



Agreed.

I would hope that no one would read each of these suggestions as the "one and only" solution to a technical or interpretive challenge. Each can have its own merits and each can have varying results with different pianists.

Regards,

Absolutely agree.


Best regards,

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Fantastic ideas. Thank you! Now, back to practicing...

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Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by Mark_C
[...]I felt like telling him, when you get old, you'll play differently than you do now, and it'll probably be more interesting. Why not start doing that now? grin


I would suggest that much of the interpretive differences heard in the playing of a youth and in the playing of the same person as a mature adult are informed by and based on life experience. You can't ask a person to interpret his/her performances based on a life not yet lived.

Sure, and that's one of many reasons that I didn't say it to him!
That's why it wouldn't mean anything meaningful to say it to someone.

But, I meant it humorously/ironically/surreally.
It's a funny kind of thing (that is, if it happens to fit with one's sense of humor or irony or surreality! and if one is fond of the absurd) .....and it captured some of the same stuff that I've been saying in this thread.

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