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I was "self-taught" for a few years before starting classical lessons. I'm in my 7th month of lessons.

I've always struggled with "runs" (scales, groups of grace notes, any passage containing many short notes). I simply have no control over the dynamics, evenness, legato-ness, or speed.

I play all the major and minor scales fairly slowly, but all the individual notes sound like quarter notes. By this I mean that the notes don't sound like short parts of a beat . . . if you wrote out a scale in sixteenth notes and 4/4 time, for example, and I played a major scale, it would sound like one beat per note.

I think when good pianists play runs/scales, you don't hear every single note like that.

My teacher has suggested practicing more slowly, rolling my hands "in and out" (towards the fallboard and back, slightly, with a movement of the arms, causing the hands to move) as I play, practicing in random rhythms, and "just being patient". But I don't feel any better in this respect than the day I began lessons.

Add the evenness, dynamics, and other problems mentioned above, and I feel lost.

Does anyone have any suggestions for improving these aspects of my playing? I feel paralyzed by my inability to play these types of passages, since they're ubiquitous. I appreciate any input/help.


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Dwscamel,
I had that problem with trills. No matter how much I practiced, I couldn't get any speed with trills in my left hand. It was incredibly frustrating. I hit a wall in speed and just couldn't seem to get past it. So I just practiced....and practiced...and practiced...every day....I really thought that I'd never get any better, but I'm stubborn so I kept at it. Then one day, it just clicked. I probably doubled the speed I could do them overnight. And it's not that I'm a super speed demon with them now or anything, but I can do them in a way that satisfies me.

I will say that speed is about two things. first you need to train your brain to signal the muscles in the right way. That comes from going slow, like your teacher advises. The second area is relaxation -- specifically you need to learn to relax all the muscles that aren't involved in the movement. If the other muscles have tension in them, it will slow you down because you're fighting against those muscles and also wasting energy.

So don't just practice slowly, focus on relaxing. Breath deeply. Go segment by segment through your body, check your posture, make sure there's no weird tension in your body (are you slouching? is your shoulder raised? is your elbow winging out? etc....). Relax Relax Relax.....Breathe....play slowly focus on every movement...

Also, make sure that you are moving with economy of motion, that is that you're not making your hands/fingers move any extra distance than what is necessary to play the passage.

Over and over and over again until you don't have to think about it...let it be like meditation. don't think of it as an exercise to play the scale (or whatever)....in your mind think of it as an exercise in learning how to relax and move efficiently. Don't worry about the scale, focus on the relaxation...

And be patient....keep practicing. do that for a little bit every day. in a few months I bet you'll be stunned at how much faster you can go. As I said, big changes can happen almost overnight. smile


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I was going to say RELAX and describe what that meant then nd then I saw fiz. Post who clearly described how to relax. So RELAX.
And also.... Slow means way slower than you think it does. Think unbearable pain stainkingly slow.

For weeks if not months.... Relax and slow.
You will get there.

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I have another point of view. I know this is not agreed by those who focus on relaxation, but that approach just doesn't always work because people don't have the same kind of ability to relax in the right way.

I was greatly helped by my teacher's approach: Work with very active fingers, clear articulation and practicing with different accentuation, focusing on individual notes and the pulse. Not worry so much about the smoothness of sound or relaxation at first. Making sure both fingers work actively and well timed, the one leaving the key and the one playing the next one. I sometimes have a tendency to "forget" to let go of the keys after playing them, which causes tension and slows one down. The arms must be supported properly and flexible to allow for the fingers to work fast. In my case relaxation comes from knowing what to do and being able to economizise movements due to familiarity, not from a conscious effort.

For some reason I can play scales much faster if I mentally group the notes in 3. My teacher says she cannot always hear it, but in my mind I do this and my fingers seem to know exactly what to do.

And one thing that often seems to be overlooked is that people have very different hand structures and sizes. If one's hand isn't large enough to comfortably group the notes without the hand structure being compromised, then one needs a different technique to play fast.

And it took me a lot more than 7 months to see any substantial results, so maybe you don't have anything to worry about. When you listen to pro pianists, they have usually done these things at least 15 to 20 years...

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I have a slightly similar problem in that I struggle when it comes to more technical pieces requiring a mix of control and speed. In fact I have one piece that has been a thorn in my side for the past eighteen months. I started this piece at the end of my first year and knowing it was a “stretch piece” thought it would be just a matter of commitment and believe me I am no slouch when it come to working hard on something, but I realise now this gets you only so far with piano. I have tried everything with this piece and sounds like I have had similar talks with my teacher and similar responses to you. The good thing is, being stubborn and not giving up I have been able to watch using this one piece as my technique gradually changes over this long period of time. Certain finger runs which were once like swimming in syrup are now not a problem, although every improvement seems to expose another weakness and so the fight goes on. From what I have read most of us will struggle with our technique, either a lack of it, or a search for improvement for however long we play piano.

Scales and some finger independence exercises (I simplified some from Dohnanyi - Essential Finger Exercises Part1) have seemed to help (be mindful these stretches exercises are dangerous and can lead to injury if overdone). I have also seen good improvement by creating exercises from sections of a piece which give me the most problems and incorporating them into a daily routine. However I think time as well as a diligent daily routine (with a large dose of patience) is the only answer to improvement.

Since you stated you have about 2 yr 7 mths experience and looking at the pieces in your signature you are probably similar to me in that you are really pushing the envelope. I have to remind myself almost on a daily basis to be patient and that I am essentially waiting for my brain and body mechanics to catch up to my ambition. In the scheme of things this early phase of our piano lives is just an introduction.


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Originally Posted by Dwscamel
I was "self-taught" for a few years before starting classical lessons. I'm in my 7th month of lessons.

I've always struggled with "runs" (scales, groups of grace notes, any passage containing many short notes). I simply have no control over the dynamics, evenness, legato-ness, or speed.
...

My teacher has suggested practicing more slowly ... and "just being patient".
...
Add the evenness, dynamics, and other problems mentioned above, and I feel lost.

Does anyone have any suggestions for improving these aspects of my playing?


I like what your Teacher has suggested around being Patient. What on earth do they have you working on that requires speed at 7 months into lessons? I encountered similar issues when I first came to Piano World and began working on classical with real scores. It frustrated me to no end that my runs were not even. It took awhile of focusing just on this before I got to a point that it is no longer any more of concern than many other things. Meanwhile though, this was after 40 years of Adhoc playing that this even became apparent.

Part of the problem for me, may have been due to being truant for all of my scale lessons. I still do not think these will be the answer but some others may. The solution was simply practice.

Your frustration could likely stem from the fact that you are having a hard time seeing the forest for the trees. You are getting better. More than you think. Don't force it. Stay with it. It will come.

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Originally Posted by outo
I have another point of view. I know this is not agreed by those who focus on relaxation, but that approach just doesn't always work because people don't have the same kind of ability to relax in the right way....


The best way I ever heard this described is you don't want tension but you don't necessarily want to be totally relaxed, you need to be 'poised'

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Originally Posted by paradice
Originally Posted by outo
I have another point of view. I know this is not agreed by those who focus on relaxation, but that approach just doesn't always work because people don't have the same kind of ability to relax in the right way....


The best way I ever heard this described is you don't want tension but you don't necessarily want to be totally relaxed, you need to be 'poised'


Agreed. Although being relaxed is important, by itself will not likely resolve everything. Generally, the more difficult the passage the more relaxed you need to be. True. However, when I tried this (relax my arms, hands and fingers to their utmost) I found that things ended up being far too loose and sloppy.

Not sure how to explain it, but after relaxing all you can, you still need to allow some rigidity in your fingers. Getting these in the correct balance will help.

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Getting better at runs means getting a better handle on control, and control comes with mindful practice over a period of time. At least that's how it feels to me. I had a couple of years being self-taught before starting lessons 15 months ago. I'm currently working on Invention No. 8, Beethoven 49/2 (di Minuetto), and Chopin 69/1, so my situation is not unlike yours. When my teacher (who has been playing for thirty years) plays these, they are buttery smooth with evenness of dynamics, tempo, articulation, and phrasing. When I play them, not so much. smile

I, too, sometimes get impatient and wonder if I'll ever be able to control what comes out of the end of my fingers. But as others have said, these things take time; time and mindful, diligent practicing.

As for practical suggestions--take it slow, don't work on too large of a chunk. Keep your wrists flexible. Three or four quality run-throughs of a passage is worth twice as much as ten lousy ones (i.e., keep in mind the law of diminishing returns). Be patient.

Good luck and keep us posted.


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Originally Posted by Greener
Originally Posted by Dwscamel
I was "self-taught" for a few years before starting classical lessons. I'm in my 7th month of lessons.

I've always struggled with "runs" (scales, groups of grace notes, any passage containing many short notes). I simply have no control over the dynamics, evenness, legato-ness, or speed.
...

My teacher has suggested practicing more slowly ... and "just being patient".
...
Add the evenness, dynamics, and other problems mentioned above, and I feel lost.

Does anyone have any suggestions for improving these aspects of my playing?


I like what your Teacher has suggested around being Patient. What on earth do they have you working on that requires speed at 7 months into lessons?


Let's not jump all over the teacher on this because often it's the student who gets antsy about being able to play fast. Their teacher did say to be patient, so to me that means the student is trying to run before he can walk.

To the OP: You mention you were playing a few years before seeking lessons, and quite honestly, you have to really think you've been playing piano for 7 months. Not even that, since you weren't starting form ground zero, you were starting from a few years of bad habits that need undoing before you can move forward.

So in this context, 7 months is a very short time. I don't work on speed with my students until at least a year if not longer - and that's assuming there aren't bad habits involved. Everyone's different, but it is always better to be accurate first, then work on fast, and never so fast you can't be accurate.

If you become uneven at faster tempos, then stick with what you can do evenly even if it's quarter notes. You are building in the accuracy and relaxation at a slower tempo that will eventually allow you to do the same at a faster tempo.

Playing classical piano takes years of good practice habits with good advice from someone who can observe what you do and respond to that. Focus on building that good foundation and enjoying the process.


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Originally Posted by Morodiene
To the OP: You mention you were playing a few years before seeking lessons, and quite honestly, you have to really think you've been playing piano for 7 months. Not even that, since you weren't starting form ground zero, you were starting from a few years of bad habits that need undoing before you can move forward.

So in this context, 7 months is a very short time. I don't work on speed with my students until at least a year if not longer - and that's assuming there aren't bad habits involved. Everyone's different, but it is always better to be accurate first, then work on fast, and never so fast you can't be accurate.

If you become uneven at faster tempos, then stick with what you can do evenly even if it's quarter notes. You are building in the accuracy and relaxation at a slower tempo that will eventually allow you to do the same at a faster tempo.

Playing classical piano takes years of good practice habits with good advice from someone who can observe what you do and respond to that. Focus on building that good foundation and enjoying the process.


Great answer. My 'self taught' period wasn't nearly as long, and 5 years prior to starting again with lessons, but I still was starting 'below zero' as there was quite a bit of damage control to be done. That is an important point.

I am not as far in my lessons either, but I too suffer from impatience and frustration over the things I CAN'T yet do. Kids learning to play probably couldn't care less, but as an adult, after a lifetime of listening to music, one is painfully aware of just how BAD one sounds LOL

Taking all of y'alls advice to heart (or trying to) smile


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Originally Posted by Morodiene
Originally Posted by Greener
Originally Posted by Dwscamel
I was "self-taught" for a few years before starting classical lessons. I'm in my 7th month of lessons.

I've always struggled with "runs" (scales, groups of grace notes, any passage containing many short notes). I simply have no control over the dynamics, evenness, legato-ness, or speed.
...

My teacher has suggested practicing more slowly ... and "just being patient".
...
Add the evenness, dynamics, and other problems mentioned above, and I feel lost.

Does anyone have any suggestions for improving these aspects of my playing?


I like what your Teacher has suggested around being Patient. What on earth do they have you working on that requires speed at 7 months into lessons?


Let's not jump all over the teacher on this because often it's the student who gets antsy about being able to play fast. Their teacher did say to be patient, so to me that means the student is trying to run before he can walk.

To the OP: You mention you were playing a few years before seeking lessons, and quite honestly, you have to really think you've been playing piano for 7 months. Not even that, since you weren't starting form ground zero, you were starting from a few years of bad habits that need undoing before you can move forward.

So in this context, 7 months is a very short time. I don't work on speed with my students until at least a year if not longer - and that's assuming there aren't bad habits involved. Everyone's different, but it is always better to be accurate first, then work on fast, and never so fast you can't be accurate.

If you become uneven at faster tempos, then stick with what you can do evenly even if it's quarter notes. You are building in the accuracy and relaxation at a slower tempo that will eventually allow you to do the same at a faster tempo.

Playing classical piano takes years of good practice habits with good advice from someone who can observe what you do and respond to that. Focus on building that good foundation and enjoying the process.


To Greener and Morodiene: I didn't read the OP as being overly concerned with speed (tempo), but more with evenness and control, especially with runs, by which I assume he meant relative speed (for example, a quarter note followed by a bunch of sixteenth notes).
Originally Posted by dwscamel
I've always struggled with "runs" (scales, groups of grace notes, any passage containing many short notes). I simply have no control over the dynamics, evenness, legato-ness, or speed.

A good teacher, practice, and patience (lots of patience) will serve him well.


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In addition to agreeing with what's been said above about working slowly, being relaxed, and being patient with yourself about only being at this for 7 months:

What you said about "all the notes sound like quarter notes" is interesting. Do you have a metronome? If so, maybe you could try this: some 5-note 5-finger scales with the metronome in quarter notes as usual. Then turn the metronome to a much slower speed and try playing the same 5-note scale in 8th notes. Turn it slower and try playing it in triplets. Not trying to play fast at all, just trying to subdivide the beat evenly. I almost wonder if the issue is rhythmic rather than physical.

(Most physical issues with rapid scale playing have to do with thumb crossings, so we usually would work on speed in 5-finger scales and patterns before trying to do anything with fast thumb crossings..)


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hreichgott,
That's a fantastic suggestion and an excellent observation regarding rhythm problems! +1


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Wow, I'm happy this thread got packed with so many great replies!

It's too many to respond to everyone individually, but I just came home from my lesson and saw all these posts. A few points:

-I'm acutely aware that being self-taught is a disadvantage, but my teacher always disagrees that I started "underwater", so I think my problems are normal, not "above-average" in severity;

-my teacher isn't big on showing me physical movements, so it's a lot of trial and error right now. "You play piano with your ears." That said ...

-I do PLENTY of trial and error, and I've found some tricks to reduce tension. For example, I used to sit too far to the left of the damper pedal, so that my leg would hurt after a period of time using it. I've since fixed silly habits like that. If you watch Gould, Richter, Horowitz, Gilels, etc., on YouTube, you'll see a huge range of postures, distance from piano, height, hand positions, arm movements, everything . . . so I think that finding good, specific PHYSICAL movement is a highly individual thing. What works for me probably doesn't work for you and vice versa (though the concepts behind the movements suggested in this thread are helpful).

-I'm not rushing speed. My teacher is not rushing speed. But the Czerny 5 (School of Velocity) I'm playing shows me how much work I have to do before I'm capable of speed smile.

-@hreichgott: That is a BRILLIANT insight -- I struggle with reading rhythms the most, relying on 1. memorizing common patterns and 2. using the metronome for pieces (my teacher is 100% against this). I can definitely play 2 against 3 and I've worked on triplets before, but maybe you're right that an uncertain rhythm makes fast thumb-crossings more difficult, botching the entire passage. In fact, there's a noticeable gap between the first three notes of a C major scale and the next five (where the thumb crossing happens) unless I play slowly. I'll try what you said anyway to confirm that this is one of the stumbling blocks; if it is, then I have something specific to shoot for (improve rhythm to improve thumb-over/under). smile


Beethoven - Op.49 No.1 (sonata 19)
Czerny - Op.299 Nos. 5,7 (School of Velocity)
Liszt - S.172 No.2 (Consolation No.2)

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Dwscamel, You're welcome, I hope it helps. I have been very focused on problems with my own thumbs recently so it is at the top of my mind. Let us know how you get on.


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Beethoven/Liszt - Symphony no. 7
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I love Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and new music

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