How to Gain Speed With Your Scales | Piano Marvel

How to Gain Speed With Your Scales

Scale Ninja Piano Marvel

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The purpose of this technique is to help you develop speed and evenness in your playing.

It is fairly common for pianists to injure their hands when they get to this level. Please do not injure yourself through bad technique or repetition beyond your capacity. Use good technique and build up strength gradually. How do you know when you are approaching injury? It is a tricky question and only YOU can diagnose it because nobody feels what you can feel in your body. It is not bad to get tired or worn out. This is how we build muscle and strength. If you suspect you are getting an injury, play it safe and ease off. Tightness is the enemy of speed and the ally to injury. Learn good relaxed techniques to prevent injury and pick up speed.

You should know your scale inside and out before you start to work on these exercises designed for speed. It is recommended that you first master the 1 Octave Scales and 2 Octaves Scales correctly. I recommend that you first become a ninja in both Scale Ninja - Beginner and Scale Ninja - Advanced in the Piano Marvel library, and then come back to these exercises to develop your speed. You should be intimately familiar with groupings, crossing and thumbs together advice on each of the scales in the 2 Octaves Scales videos.


Scale Ninja Video Image

Watch the Scale Ninja Video

STEP 1 - Assess Your Speed

I recommend that you first assess your speed to see where you are currently. You can do this with a metronome or in Scale Ninja - PRO in the Piano Marvel library. 

Speed Chart

Speed Chart Scale Ninja

Now it’s time to work on increasing your speed, accuracy, evenness, alignment, and fluidity. The two major factors to consider are:

  1. Muscle Memory
  2. Speed Through Technique

STEP 2 - Muscle Memory Practice

90% of your speed comes from practicing muscle memory. The first thing that will help you get speed is to build solid muscle memory of the scale. The result of muscle memory is that your muscles take over because they know how the scale feels. You play so fast that your eyes and brain cannot keep up, so the only way to get this kind of speed is through muscle memory. Consider the following advice:


  1. Practice SLOWLY! - If you practice correctly slowly, the speed will come naturally.
  2. Never play a wrong fingering pattern - Unlearning takes longer than learning. It confuses your muscle memory to learn two patterns, drastically extending the time it takes to learn. 
  3. Relax! - Tension causes your muscles and tissues to rub excessively, increasing your chance of injury.
  4. Don’t injure yourself - Work until you are tired, take a break as needed.


Here are 8 exercises that you can do to increase your muscle memory. Play the scale,  hands together in the following rhythmic patterns. Just think of them as long-short patterns, don’t worry so much about the rhythm.

Rhythm Chart Scale Ninja

STEP 3 - Speed Technique Practice


Speed Through Technique (10% faster with Speed techniques)

The fastest, most relaxed, and most even technique comes through rolling your wrist with the fingers as relaxed as possible while maintaining a clean and even sound. You can practice this technique with the following exercises. 


All the scales can be divided into groups of 3 and 4 without the finger crossing. (At top and bottom of the scale you will sometimes have a group of five.) Find the groups of three and four and roll the notes as fast as possible with a wrist roll, making sure your hand is relaxed and your notes are clean and even. Do the following patterns with each hand separately.


  1. Roll 4x each group of 3 and 4. Each hand separately.
  2. Roll 1x each group of 3 and 4. Each hand separately.


The next step is to work on making your crossings smooth. Each hand separately, do the same exercises above with the addition of the next note in the pattern, which contains the crossing. Roll the notes as fast as possible, making sure your hand is relaxed and your notes are clean and even. The crossing is the hardest part to keep clean and even.

Caution sign

This is the most likely exercise to get wrong and injure your hand. Injury most often comes from repetition on the crossing the thumb under, especially with scales that have an augmented 2nd, such as the B Minor scale. To prevent injury, do not overwork your hand. If you feel tightness or pain, ease off or stop. The best technique for crossing is not to stretch the finger under so much as to throw your hand quickly into the next position. There is of course some crossing because as soon as your thumb plays its note, it begins to cross under towards its next note. What is really happening is that your hand is lifting upward, then if your hand is relaxed, the thumb naturally follows under, collapsing into the hand’s relaxed state. Three techniques are combined almost simultaneously. 1) The wrist is rolled, 2) the thumb collapses inward, 3) the hand is thrown into the next position. 


  1. Roll 4x each group of 3 and 4 with the first note after the crossing. Each hand separately.
  2. Roll 1x each group of 3 and 4 with the first note after the crossing. Each hand separately.


STEP 4 - Muscle Memory Enhancement


The last step is to reinforce muscle memory with one final exercise. Start by playing the first two notes of the scale moving up then back down. Go up the scales again, but add one more note, then come back down. Repeat the process, adding one additional note each time until you have added all 29 notes in the 4-octave scale, up and down. Then repeat the process by removing one note of the scale until you are back where you started with just two notes in the scale. Make sure to never play a wrong fingering. 

Example Scale


STEP 5 - Assess Your Speed


This is what you have been waiting for. Did it work? Can you play your scales faster? There is a very good chance that if you went through each of the exercises above correctly, your speed has increased. Sometimes you need to let it settle into your hands a few days and repeat the exercises. Take a break, relax your hands, if you are cold, run your hands, wrists, and forearms under hot water then let’s see if your speed has increased.


Here are a couple of tips for you. 


If you are having trouble getting your hands aligned so that the right and left hands sound together, try the following: Think of your left hand pushing the right hand up the scale and your right hand pushing your left hand down the scale. The right hand should not pull the left hand up the scale, it makes the left-hand lag behind for some reason. Push! Don’t pull.


Video - Step by Step Instructions

How To Gain Speed With Your Scales


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