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The Best Piano Exercise to Improve Speed

In today’s piano lesson we’re going to discuss the best piano exercise to build speed and help you improve playing scales and difficult passages. Ultimately your playing with sound more fluid and graceful.

Piano Lessons with Monica Maldonada, The Lesson Studio, Boulder, CO

Let’s say you’re trying to play a 2-octave major scale as smoothly as possible, but every time you play it sounds choppy and robotic. You play it, again and again, hoping that the more times you play it, the more steady and controlled it will sound. But, it still feels choppy and lifeless.

This exercise is something I share with all my late-beginner to advanced piano students to help them achieve better control in their playing of scales, or other scale-like piano runs. Because of this achieved control, it also improves students’ phrasing when it comes to playing more advanced pieces. Not only do they find satisfaction and control with their results, but also they have fun with the process.

Learn the to play the scale

First, learn the correct notes and fingering of the scale. Whether it’s for one or both hands, make sure you are confident with playing that scale. I do recommend that you apply this exercise hands separately if you are fairly new at playing scales hands together. And don’t worry about the rhythm just yet, that comes later. Take your time!

Play with different time feel

You will play the scale in these 4 ways at least 3-5 times each:

  1. Long-short-long (swing rhythm)
  2. Short-long-short
  3. Steady and staccato
  4. Steady and as written

After you’ve achieved full confidence in playing the scale with correct notes and fingering, play the scale in a long-short-long rhythm. This is also known as a “swing” rhythm and can sound bluesy. You will repeat this pattern at least 3-5 times. Don’t be tempted to change the fingering! The only difference will be the rhythm.

For the second way, you’ll play the scale in a short-long-short rhythm at least 3-5 times. It might take some getting used to after switching from the swing rhythm, so take your time to get the rhythm accurately before moving on.

The third way goes back to the steady straight rhythm, except play each note staccato. Again, you will repeat this version at least 3-5 times.

Finally, after you’ve played through the first 3 versions you will play it legato and straight. The scale should already feel a bit more relaxed and controlled. There is no minimum or maximum amount to apply this exercise into your daily piano routine. I recommend doing this exercise in total at least 2-3 times a day. Ultimately, it is just an extra tool you can implement in your piano practice sessions to help you feel more confident in your playing.

Final tips:

I do recommend playing with the metronome – at the pace where you can play it as accurately as possible. And as I’ve said, if done correctly this is, in my experience, the best piano exercise to improve speed.

Instead of applying this to two hands at the start, I recommend doing this exercise hands separate first – however, it can still be done playing hands together.

Also, make sure to use your whole arm when moving up and down a scale – keep your hands and arms relaxed throughout!

So next time you are working on your scales, try this exercise to enhance your skills and spice your scale practice up a bit.