Finger Suppleness

Question: Hello Albert,

Firstly, thanks for the lessons and advice coming in regularly, it certainly is a great help and also scary to realize how much I still need to learn.

As a retired citizen, having being a tradesperson all my life, my hands and fingers have certainly been worked hard and abused. With a musical background being mostly contemporary style music and a little simple classical music, the suppleness of the fingers was never a problem.

Now with my quest to further my studies in the classical field, I find that the lack of suppleness in my fingers is quite a problem. I follow the related information pertaining to my level of playing from your lessons very closely, I practice my scales daily, hands separately and then together which has helped to strengthen my left hand and to even out the unevenness which was there.

Do you think with any amount of practice (as in the case with senior citizens), one’s fingers will ever reach a stage where they will be supple enough to play with speed as the music demands?

In conclusion, it is so nice to see how many “oldies” are taking to the piano at this late stage of their lives to fulfill their dreams.

Thanks again.

Regards,

– Brian (Colombia, South America)

Albert’s reply: Many thanks for asking this important question, Brian. There is a natural limit to acquiring speed at the piano, and it is different for everybody. Not everybody can play as fast as everybody else, and the good news is that generally you don’t need to.

We do need a piano technique that is sufficient to the music we play, though speed for its own sake is never an actual goal in music. (The only possible exception to my knowledge is Alkan, who had an unhealthy obsession with speed.) No matter how fast we play, it’s essential to shape phrases so that they are musically comprehensible.

There is a dialectic between speed and control. Some players, myself included, can play fast by nature. Our task is acquire control and we accomplish it by discipline and slow practice. Others must work to acquire speed, and it is accomplished by mental effort (training yourself to think groups of notes fast enough) and piano exercises.

I recommend reviewing the article Improving Piano Technique. There, I mention that speed is as much a matter of releasing the keys fast enough as it is depressing them. Actively releasing the keys is called negative articulation, and it trains the extensor muscles that oppose the flexors.

Finally, it is most important to point out that you should almost never try to acquire speed! By this I mean you should almost never practice fast – that is a death sentence for your playing. Instead, practice for control by playing even the fastest pieces slowly. Only much later, once you have mastered the piece slowly, may you practice very small passages at speed. You’ll find that velocity comes of its own accord once the mind learns to think fast enough and the fingers are trained to play the requisite pattern.

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