Joe's Blog

Playing in Extreme Speed

June 13, 2018

Play a passage slowly, then play it in extreme speed, and you will notice that the motions the body makes have changed.  Faced with speed, the body abandons the muscular coordination that worked in the slower tempo. Suddenly, almost instinctively, the body invokes or brings into play other group of muscles that it didn’t previously use.

To discover these alternative motions for speed, it is rarely of use to start practicing the passage slowly and gradually increase speed.  The body gives us little prior indication of what it will do in speed when we are playing more slowly.

Arpeggios:

The origin of an arpeggio, from the point of view of time, is a simultaneous chord and not a sped-up melody.

How to “riffle” through a chord:

Example: to play C E G at extreme speed.  First, play it as a simultaneous chord (C-E-G).  As before, after playing the chord several times, “tilt” things a little so that the chord, in spite of the pianist’s “best intentions,” (sic) comes out slightly skewed: for instance, with the C first sounding just ahead of the E which in turn sounds just ahead of the G.  A slight change of inclination will cause the sounds to come out in the order G E C, or, E C G, or E G C.  Regardless of the order in which the notes sound, the important thing is for the pianist to feel that she is playing a (simultaneous) triad.  If one holds each note into the others, the result, a moment after the last note begins sounding, is the same simultaneous sounding chord.

The result of this procedure is an arpeggiation that is at an extreme speed, a speed beyond any one that could be obtained by trying intentionally to play the notes sequentially.

Scales:

The origin of a scale, from the point of view of time, is a simultaneously sounding diatonic cluster and not a sped-up group of single notes.

How to riffle through a cluster:

Example: to play C D E F G at extreme speed (using all five fingers).  First play it as a simultaneous cluster (C-D-E-F-G).  After doing this once or twice, try it one more time but this time a little more haphazardly so that the notes come out in a quick sequence.  The intent is still to play the cluster simultaneously, except one “misses” by a fraction of a second, so that the notes in rapid succession.  If one holds each note into the others, the result, a moment after the last note begins sounding, is the same simultaneous sounding cluster.

The intent remains to play the notes simultaneously.  Even though the result is sequential the hand retains the feeling of playing the notes simultaneously.  The result of this procedure is a scale in an extreme speed, a speed beyond any that could be obtained by trying intentionally to play the notes sequentially. By being this ‘sloppy’ in articulating the cluster, the result is a scale, but one that is so quick that it cannot be matched by moving the separate fingers.

Moral of the story:

Speed is better attained by starting even faster and slowing down than starting slower and speeding up.  There is a speed-barrier which resists being approached from the slower side, but offers little resistance to being approached by the fast side.  One simply jumps over the barrier.

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