piano finger exercises

Need for Speed: 5 Piano Finger Exercises to Increase Speed

piano finger exercises

Do you have a need for speed? Below, piano teacher Ryan C. shares some piano finger exercises that will help you increase speed when playing the piano…

What makes a great pianist fun to watch? Is it his or her sense of musicality and his or her ability to play gorgeous music with apparent ease? I think both.

However, there is another skill that really makes a pianist great…speed!

Have you ever watched an amazing pianist play ridiculously fast and wondered to yourself: “How in the world does he or she do that?”

I’m here to give you some insight into how pianists are capable of playing at such fast speeds. The remainder of this article will give you a few piano finger exercises that will substantially improve your piano playing speed.

As always, remember that tone quality should be your primary focus when you’re learning and that too much speed too soon can oftentimes be detrimental to learning.

Here are some piano finger exercises you can do to increase your speed when learning to play the piano.

Note: If you’re more of a visual learner, check out the video where I walk you through each exercise. 

5 Piano Finger Exercises to Increase Speed

1. Be Aware of Your Thumbs

I’ve noticed in my own playing and my students playing that sometimes our thumbs tend to be lazy.

Specifically, when doing scales, the thumbs should cross under the hand and prepare the next note as soon as they are able to do so.

For example, if you were playing a D Major ascending scale with your right hand, you would want to play the note D with your thumb, and E with your index finger.

Immediately after you play the note E, cross your thumb under your hand and prepare near the note G.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be sitting on the key G, but it should be moving up the keys so that it will be prepared when you need to play it next.

Likewise, if you were playing the same scale in a descending pattern with your left hand, you would perform the same task, but simply would be playing the scale in reverse.

Practice the motion of playing your thumbs, then index fingers, then preparing your thumbs again multiple times each day.

I can’t emphasize enough how well this piano finger exercise works. It may seem superfluous, but it absolutely makes a difference.

2. Play with Finger Staccato

This is a great piano finger exercise that actually takes a little time to figure out.

In essence, you’ll play notes of your passage or notes of a scale in a staccato that comes primarily from your finger.

You will want to avoid using your arm or any unnecessary muscles when doing this.

When doing this exercise, try to mentally challenge yourself to use as few muscles as possible. See just how much force it takes to push down the key.

You’ll be surprised to find that it actually takes very little force at all. Be aware of what your hand is doing and try to play only from your fingertip.

3. Block Scales-Chords-Passages

This is an awesome exercise for improving both scale speed and chord recognition. Suppose you have a section of music that looked similar to the section of a Mozart sonata below.

piano finger exercises

Rather than playing the left-hand as separate notes, play each measure (and each chord change) as a blocked chord.

Not only will you be able to identify the notes you’ll need to play with greater ease, but you’ll also have a better understanding of the harmony of the piece.

This same technique can also be applied to scales, but it takes slightly more practice to do so. When doing so with scales, you’ll want to play every finger simultaneously except for your thumbs, which will act as pivot notes and should be prepared early like we were doing in the first exercise.

4. Play with Alternating Rhythms

This exercise is very simple, but provides great results. If we look at the left hand in the Mozart piece from the previous example, we’ll see that it’s playing an Alberti bass pattern (alternating bottom – top – middle – top) and also has even eighth notes.

Rather than actually playing the notes as even, instead change the rhythmic values of the left hand to variations of dotted eighth and sixteenth notes like the ones below.

piano finger exercises

5. Practice Your Scales and Arpeggios Every Day

It seems rudimentary, but it really makes a difference. My students who practice their scales every day can not only play faster than my students who don’t, but can also play with more musicality because they aren’t struggling to figure out notes.

Now It’s Your Turn!

I hope that these piano finger exercises will help you increase your playing speed. I do these piano finger exercises every day and I have seen substantial improvement in my playing speed from before I started them.

Please comment below if this article helped you in any way. I’m always excited to hear feedback!

Photo by Brian Richardson

Post Author: Ryan C.
Ryan C. teaches piano, ear training, and music theory. He is a graduate of San Diego State University with a B.M. in piano performance. Learn more about Ryan here!

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4 replies
  1. Cybele
    Cybele says:

    Thanks! These are bits and pieces we all learn at some point but it’s nice to have them collected. The other exercise which is also helpful (for me, at least) is to practice passing the thumb under after 4 notes rather than 3, and playing the passage in reverse – several times, both hands separately.

    Reply

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