How To Play Fast

May 6, 2012 at 11:11 PM · The head line says it all.

How do you play violin fast?

Playing fast is something I've been struggling with for a long time. I've asked several violinists including my private teacher, and no one seems to be able to tell me how to do it.

When I try, all the notes get muddy, and if it's really bad I just can't play it and I have to stop. No matter how or how much, I practice, when I try to play it the way it should be played, (In short) It sounds horrible. Other students my level seem to play fast with no problem, so why can't I? what am I doing wrong, or what am I not doing right?

Thoughts? Suggestions? does any one else have this problem?

Thanks for any help.

Replies (46)

May 6, 2012 at 11:36 PM · many suggestions, i will jsut point out a few fst, because I have to sleep soon:

practice slowly but move as if you were plaing fast. that means: very little bow, if detache, very efficient string crossings, always a good on the string feeling with the bow... evenness of up and down bow.

For practicing: make variations: play in differnet tempo with different accents, for exampöe accent every down bow. then every upbow. then every third note. pracitce with opposite bowing as written. start upbow if its written downbow.

use a metronom: start slow go fast in little steps, remember to move as if playing fast always. You must learn the right movements from the start. play with dotted rythm (especially for fast legato) play fast! play over tempo. if it sounds messy, play little sections, a bar or less. Let the sections overlap. try in tempo again and go back to practice like i wrote when you have a problem.

When playing slow always move fast with the left hand fingers, fast and totally in time.

hope that helps. playing fast is easy, its a no brainer if you know how to get there...

May 6, 2012 at 11:59 PM · Hard to know without being right there on the scene to observe. Simon posted while I was writing this; so there's some overlap. You'll probably get a collection of responses here, based on personal experience. This, let us hope, will give you at least some help for the road ahead.

Just a few things I learned from my teachers:

Work first and foremost for accuracy and evenness, not speed. One of my teachers said, "If it's even, it will actually sound faster." My experience bears this out.

Use easier material** when you drive to increase speed. Set the metronome at a pace where you can play the material error-free. Then go up 5 bpm and try again. Keep doing this in 5 bpm increments till you begin to have trouble. If you have errors, don't increase the speed. Isolate the trouble spots and work them out. Then try once again at your most recent speed.

But if you again have errors at this speed, stop. Put aside the material and come back to it later. If you keep getting things wrong at a given speed, you're going to reinforce your flaws.

____________________

**Don't know your skill level, but if you have the score of Paganini's Moto Perpetuo, try the first 8 measures at a very moderate tempo -- e.g., 88-92. Not the whole piece, mind you, but just these 8 measures. See how well -- and how evenly -- you can handle all the notes in these 1st-position measures. If you're good at this speed, then take it up in 5 bpm increments on successive takes as I mentioned above. Keep to the middle of the bow.

May 7, 2012 at 01:00 AM · To get a clear tone, there are several things that come into play.

First is a straight bow and not much of it, closer-ish to the bridge. There is a spot in the bow, around the balance point which is ideal. Practice each note as a triplet until you start feeling a bit of a click or a bite on each up/down bow. Its not about pressure, but of pulling or "spinning" the sound from the string.

Second is right/left hand coordination. Practicing in different rhythms SLOWLY as already noted helps alot.

May 7, 2012 at 02:02 AM · Hello,

I agree with a previous poster, with no video (direct observation) questions have to be asked.

*Now... is there a particular peice you are working on?

* Playing fast as in Left hand (fingering notes fast)?

* Right arm (Bowing)?

*Both Right & Left hands?

* When it comes to bowing the weight of the bow preasure must complament your contact point. I.E. Light presure at the contact point nearest the bridge will produce ponticello. Using the same presure midway to slightly over the fingerboard will give other sounds an neuances.)On youtube you'll see some fiddlers playing rather close to or over the fingerboard (notice the rosin build up.)

Experiment with varying preasures with each 5 contact points.

Building speed in general for both left & Right hand usualy is done with scale excercises with a metranome increasing its' speed and you increasing with it.

*Any more detailed imformation will help us to know what to suggest.

I hope some of this helps.

royce

May 7, 2012 at 02:41 AM · Further thoughts:

If you're tackling a fast passage of any substantial length, try breaking it up into small chunks, working on each segment till you bring it up to tempo and can play it cleanly. Then start connecting the segments -- incrementally if necessary.

In orchestra, remember that you're not responsible for all of the notes. Of course, you should nail as many as you can in good form, but keep in mind: The note you didn't play in a tricky run is probably a note that your desk partner did play. And the note the desk partner left out is probably one of those you played successfully. It's a safe guess that no one in the audience will be aware of such mini-flaws.

May 7, 2012 at 03:58 AM · How well are you syncing the right and the left hand movement? For clear tone, they need to line up fairly perfectly. Is your bow moving parallel to the bridge? Is the pressure on the bow coming from your hand's weight or your hand's force?

These are all components to clear tone in fast passages. Moto perpetuo's a good exercise, as well as scales (the staple of any musician's menu), Sevcik, and Schradieck. You must deliver each finger on the left hand with clarity; you should be able to hear the pitch when you bring down your fingers onto the fingerboard without plucking or bowing.

May 7, 2012 at 04:52 AM · Yes! Schradieck is excelent! A former professor always told me that Schradieck is his hero! I have to admit... it's good stuff maynard! }:^)

May 7, 2012 at 05:21 AM · To learn to play fast you must practice slow but with fast movements.

May 7, 2012 at 05:30 AM · Royce: Indeed, it is. Any concerto or sonata is, after all, just connected melody lines of each basic technique. Can't do anything without the fundamentals.

But that doesn't mean I love the book. :(

May 7, 2012 at 12:12 PM · A Canadian guy called Steve Maus has some interesting blog posts on this:

http://www.sdmaus.com/violinblog/developing-speed.html

http://www.sdmaus.com/violinblog/how-to-play-fast-notes-part-1.html

http://www.sdmaus.com/violinblog/how-to-play-fast-notes-part-2.html

My own tip is to practice notes in clusters of three or four till you can play them with a single "throw" of the left hand fingers. Then you join the "throws" together. I try to get a sense that the finger drop triggers the bow, not the other way around. That way the finger is in place before the stroke begins, and things sound cleaner.

I'm a beginner, not a teacher, so take my suggestions with a healthy dose of skepticism!

May 7, 2012 at 12:50 PM · Jim wrote: "In orchestra, remember that you're not responsible for all of the notes. Of course, you should nail as many as you can in good form, but keep in mind: The note you didn't play in a tricky run is probably a note that your desk partner did play. And the note the desk partner left out is probably one of those you played successfully. It's a safe guess that no one in the audience will be aware of such mini-flaws."

AhhAAH! Orchestra as a collaborative effort - at least for the strings, don't try this if you play the triangle.... But THATS why people like to play in orchestras and not solo, you don't actually have to play everything!

Indeed, one could make the case that its far better to play the occasional note correctly than to muddle through the entire thing. Do conductors actually tell you that?

Maybe orchestra is not so bad after all... I mean, for example, you could make a deal with your stand partner to play every other note on a long run and decide who is responsible for each gerbil zone entry.. hey, if the whole section got involved you could really achieve the concordance of one instrument. And I mean one instrument...

May 7, 2012 at 01:46 PM · Relearn basic technique

Chances are you are using poor technique somewhere and when we play with poor technique we don't advance or advance very slowly.

Some things to look at with the bow arm: straight bowing, flexible fingers with bow movement, wrist bending with some string crossings. We want to see less arm movement and more wrist and finger movement when we play faster.

Right hand: Fingers close to finger board, light touch, third finger stays (hovers) over string being played. So if you are playing a lot of notes on the G string, check to make sure the third finger isn't hovering over the A string.

Left hand technique test.

Starting on the A string play a one octave A scale and watch the left hand, fingers, wrist and thumb. What you are looking for is excessive movement of these body parts. We definitely don't want to see any wrist or thumb movement, just some light up and down movements of the fingers.

May 7, 2012 at 02:17 PM · Another thing to bear in mind with some orchestral pieces is that, especially with modern works, the composer is trying to get a particular effect. The result is likely to be that there will be at least one passage that, to put it kindly, does not lie easily under the fingers or bow, or, next step up, is next to impossible to play as written and up to tempo unless you are prepared to practice it for ever and a day. The logical answer when faced with this conundrum is to play to the effect the composer wants. I've been in this situation with Sibelius, and the conductor was very helpful with advice to this end.

May 7, 2012 at 02:30 PM · Basic technique - when possible have a finger in readiness on the next note while you're playing the first. This especially applies with string crossings.

Start a phrase with the bow on, and engaging, the string (no "airplane landing" technique, as my teacher says).

Coordination is improved if the bow is in contact with the string. If the bow is bouncing, then while it is the air you cannot be certain of the exact moment when it next lands. If fingers are busy trying to get into place on the strings at the same time then you have a recipe for "muddiness". Important - this advice doesn't necessarily apply if your initials are any of JH, YM, IP, IO, and quite a few others ;)

May 7, 2012 at 06:00 PM · Bethany,

From my experience, you can't learn to play something fast by playing it slowly. To play fast you have to practice it fast. This does not mean that you practice the whole piece at full tempo over and over again. Nothing will be accomplished from that form of practice. A good piece to learn how to play at a fast tempo would be Paganini Moto Perpetuo. I would practice it in groups of 4 with stops in between. All the other things discussed still stand. You fingers should not be flying all over the place, you should't be gripping the violin with your left hand, you should be using the wrist and fingers of the right hand for this piece, you should be practicing it somewhere near the middle of the bow, because it will be sautille at full tempo. Do not go for sautille. I would also vary the rhythm. first long short, then short long so that all the fingers learn to fall on the finger board with speed. It is very important that you stop between each group of 4 for now so that you can be ready for the next group of 4 following etc. Go for a good sound which means the bow has to be in the string. I don't know your level of proficiency but if the Paganini is not your level then use a piece that you are working on. The same principles apply but you may have to break it into groups of 2 or 4 or 6 depending on the piece.

May 8, 2012 at 04:09 PM · Joel, you said:

"… you can't learn to play something fast by playing it slowly. To play fast you have to practice it fast. This does not mean that you practice the whole piece at full tempo over and over again. Nothing will be accomplished from that form of practice."

Agreed -- in the sense that slow practice alone won't do. Yet sub-performance tempo practice does have its place in the whole strategy. Slowing to a crawl is often unnecessary and counterproductive; but taking new material at, let's say 100 instead of the target tempo of 152, especially with a metronome, can be a great aid in pinpointing areas of hesitation. As I know from experience, speed-building comes in part from eliminating hesitations.

Picking up on your point about not practicing the whole piece over and over: Again, I agree with this -- and it's often just a few isolated measures or note combinations that are troublesome. Don't lose time rehearsing the parts you can already do well. Isolate the hard parts and work them out first.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The subject of Schradieck came up earlier in the thread. This brings up another point I should make to the OP: Keep the fingers down as long as possible. The first exercise in Schradieck's Book I of technical exercises goes right up and down the scale. As you place 1-2-3 in going up the scale, leave them down as you place 4; then lift 4-3-2-1 on the way back down. Eliminating unnecessary finger movements is another aid to building speed and efficiency.

May 8, 2012 at 09:30 PM · There is a David Finckel video (although he plays a cello the ideas are universal) on the topic that is really good. You can get a link to it from his website.

May 8, 2012 at 10:58 PM · as others has stated, practice it slowly, and use short bowing techniques, with even tone.

Hope it helps..

May 9, 2012 at 02:23 PM · I'm also working on increasing speed. My teacher is having me use a metronome and slowly ramp up the tempo while playing as cleanly as possible.

Another practice exercise if I can explain it correctly is to play 'double time' with my bow arm. Say I have four quarter notes in a measure - normally that would be four bowstrokes...however, she is having me play each quarter note twice so I have 8 bowstrokes for the 4 notes (kind of like if they were actually 8th notes), does that make sense? It's developing muscle memory. So pick a song that's easy for you, and do regular time with your left hand and doubletime with your right hand, instead of da da da do dada dada dada.

She also pointed out I need to make sure I'm keeping my wrist loose enough to accommodate the movement and not lock it up and try to saw away because then it sounds muddy.

May 9, 2012 at 03:24 PM · Practice Left Hand Pizzicato. That helped me.

May 9, 2012 at 04:40 PM · Jim,

You responded "Agreed -- in the sense that slow practice alone won't do. Yet sub-performance tempo practice does have its place in the whole strategy. Slowing to a crawl is often unnecessary and counterproductive; but taking new material at, let's say 100 instead of the target tempo of 152, especially with a metronome, can be a great aid in pinpointing areas of hesitation. As I know from experience, speed-building comes in part from eliminating hesitations."

I agree with that too but the key words are "new material" If you are learning a new piece then by all means slow it down and put the pieces together properly (fingers, bow, bow placement, etc). However, if you already know the notes and have been playing this music for some time, just not up to tempo, then my advice for learning to play fast applies.

May 9, 2012 at 07:10 PM · I don't know what it is: sometimes, it just doesn't work for me to gradually speed things up. On some pieces, things fall into place if I just take the tempo leap to the target tempo.

Another things that works well is overclocking -- if the piece should be at 180, practice at 210 a few times. From then on, 180 is a leisurely stroll. :-)

May 9, 2012 at 08:26 PM · Can someone answer what the goal is for fast? For example, how fast do you need to be able to play 16th notes detache at 4/4 to be 'adequate' for an average orchestra?

May 9, 2012 at 10:08 PM · If the goal is "fast" then look in the opposite direction and consider something like "Spiegel im Spiegel". For what it's worth, in my opinion a "simple" piece like that is ten times more difficult to play than any "fast" passages in most orchestral pieces.

May 9, 2012 at 10:47 PM · Trevor - I don't think your post makes sense :)

If the goal is "fast". Then the endpoint is surely "fast". Maybe if the goal is "difficult" then Spiegel might be harder... of course if you simply can't play fast then I'm sure even if you murder Spiegel its still better than not playing at all...

But how fast does a violinist need???

May 10, 2012 at 12:29 AM · I actually have one exercise wich I try to drill my fingers with for speed (besides of schradiek and scales): Kreutzer 9th! What are you people think about that exercise?

I use it sometimes to warm up. Right now I will try to maximise the speed.

I use to play through the whole thing always with metronome, first slowly (quarter around 60 or less) then faster (now until aroun 120 aiming for 140) The exercise itself is not too hard, but as some of you might know there are different fingerings wich can make it harder. I play the beginning everything with 2434 and when the beginning comes second time I play everything 1323. The exercise is actually not very good for training first finger quickness, but for third and fourth and to frame the hand in a good position.

To me this exercise is not only a great warmup but also a benchmark wich indicates my fitness on the violin, wich can be different from day to day and more longterm.

i used to be a very bad fast player before my last teacher drilled some russian style technique into me. Including this Kreutzer work and Schradiek. I remember really having trouble at low metronome marks with Kreutzer 9 I had to build up speed over months and years of slow practice. slow tempo and fast movement. But also speeding things up and playing it through gave me a sence about violinistic strength and stamina. When I work on it today, I know it by heart and its availible in every situation. That is a very good tool to have with you to warm up reasonable before concert.

May 10, 2012 at 02:16 AM · "The exercise [Kreutzer 9] is actually not very good for training first finger quickness, but for third and fourth and to frame the hand in a good position."

This is about how I feel regarding this exercise. It's the sort of drill I will do every other day but not two consecutive days. It's quite demanding for the hand and forearm muscles, and I like to give the muscles a fair interval to rest after something like this before I hit them again the same way.

For muscle-building, not speed, I've found that such exercises are more effective at a moderate pace.

Re: "… when the beginning comes second time I play everything 1323" -- as I recall, Todd Ehle makes a similar point about this drill in one of his videos. He had asked his teacher about continuing to use 2-4-3-4, but his teacher had told him, "You'll never get there." Eventually the lactic acid builds up, and the muscles give out.

May 10, 2012 at 07:34 AM · My old violin teacher was a great fan of Fiocco's Allegro. If you can play that cleanly at a metronome speed of 120 for a quarter note, then I think you can play fast enough. Note, this is fast but still not insanely fast, yet I think it provides the idea of "fast enough" what Elise is after. As other people on this thread have remarked, playing fast is mostly a left-hand issue. In playing Fiocco fast you have to strive for minimal finger movement: leave some fingers where they are while moving only one other finger. Playing fast requires independent finger action.

As for orchestra work: many baroque music and Mozart serenades have long, very fast passages that have to be played absolutely cleanly (even in spiccato) by every member of the orchestra, otherwise the result is just a blur of sound. I think orchestra performance is heavily underrated. These guys can really play you know!

May 10, 2012 at 10:12 AM · Jean - thanks, thats a very practical bellweather. I actually checked Arthur Grumiaux playing this (there is a DVD of encores by him that is sensational)and he played it at 120. I'll dig it out and see what my speed is now (though there were always a few of places where I came to a stop).

And yes, I do respect the abilities of orchestral violinists - each of them had to achieve soloist skills to even get in.

May 10, 2012 at 08:36 PM · "Re: "… when the beginning comes second time I play everything 1323" -- as I recall, Todd Ehle makes a similar point about this drill in one of his videos. He had asked his teacher about continuing to use 2-4-3-4, but his teacher had told him, "You'll never get there." Eventually the lactic acid builds up, and the muscles give out."

Thanks Jim for the new goal ;)

May 10, 2012 at 08:56 PM · The way I was taught slow practice, you do it to know exactly what it is that you want to speed up, and to train for maximum freedom of movement. Once you have eliminated conflicting impulses and unnecessary movements, playing fast becomes much easier. And one can practice in rhythms, too.

May 10, 2012 at 09:05 PM · "...eliminated conflicting impulses and unnecessary movements..." in slow practice thats really the essence of it! Thank you!

May 11, 2012 at 12:29 AM · Can someone please explain what these number sequences are? Sorry if I'm clueless....

May 11, 2012 at 12:48 AM · Hi Bethany,

"Playing fast" can mean a multitude of things. For instance, are you referring to long bows with fast fingers? Or perhaps you mean fast moving string crossings. Or maybe fast bows on one note? Before I can even BEGIN to answer your question, I need to know what kind of passage you are referring to.

The golden rule of violin playing, however, is that if you can play something accurately slowly, AS IF it were being played fast, you can play it fast. In other words, if you are accurate and precise at a slow tempo, generally playing fast is not a problem if you know how to achieve the end result. This is the teacher's job. Sorry I can't be more helpful, since I need more info to work with.

Good luck!

Daniel

May 11, 2012 at 08:44 AM · elise: its fingering :)

May 11, 2012 at 10:12 AM · Simon I figured it was but it was how you introduced it:

"I use it sometimes to warm up. Right now I will try to maximise the speed.

I use to play through the whole thing always with metronome, first slowly (quarter around 60 or less) then faster (now until aroun 120 aiming for 140) The exercise itself is not too hard, but as some of you might know there are different fingerings wich can make it harder. I play the beginning everything with 2434 and when the beginning comes second time I play everything 1323."

You mention 'play through the whole thing', 'the beginning' and 'second time' - which sounds to me as if you are working through an excercise using those fingering sequences. Is there something element missing?

May 11, 2012 at 10:54 AM · Eventually the lactic acid builds up, and the muscles give out.

Interesting....this must the reason we *don't* press down firmly on the string when one play fast. And one allows the fingers to twitch, and not lift them far from the string.........

May 13, 2012 at 12:51 AM · So I went back to the 'bellweather' Fiocco's Allegro - and I find I have to relearn it. I can barely play it at 80.

Which raises an interesting question. If a one of you hot shots goes back to this piece - which is in Book 6 of Suzuki - (or even better reads it for the first time), how long does it take for you to get it to, say 100/quarternote? Anyone like to take me up on that as an experiment?

I'm interested basically if when one has reached an advanced level whether you can just sight read it at that speed or if you have to learn it too, albeit at a much more rapid rate.

May 13, 2012 at 09:26 AM · What is this Fiocco Allego please? I cant find it for violin on imslp just for string orchestra, trumpet etc. You just play the first violin voice of it? i would like to test to sightread it at 100, But I dont have the sheets

May 13, 2012 at 12:02 PM · any chance the sheets are online?

May 13, 2012 at 12:08 PM · Its played by just about everyone - Itzak, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4KLosVvEFo

grumiau (#38)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmxPvtvgtYo

but noone plays it as easily asa menuhin

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QosO7n7VQU4

An interesting piece as its accessible to players form earlyintermediate to advanced - all depending on the speed/musicality that its played at.

And the music is easy to get - its in BOok 6 of suzuki and often in anthologies (Intermediate violin music is one I have). Note however, that the annotations vary greatly.

May 13, 2012 at 12:43 PM · ok I found a version online and I tried at 100.

I must admit, I cant sight read that very well at 100. I struggled in many places due to fingering, especially with key changes. second time i tried at 90 wich wasnt sight reading anymore. But the same places were difficult.

I am a very bad sight reader though, I know some people who could sight read this at around hundred. but it wouldnt sound so nice i think. its a good piece by the way, very good for my students for example. I will practice that maybe later this day and try how fast I can get this with practicing. But the trills are very difficult also at 100 and at 90. Even Menuhin slows down there. Perlman is more straight at that place.

May 13, 2012 at 02:04 PM · Simon - its OK, we will let you slow down to Menuhin's speed there...

I'm glad I'm not the only one slowing there - but what a great finger excercise! The whole piece is a role model for fast finger work as it is both musically interesting and yet has very few 'other' difficulties such as complex or high- position shifts (but there are some fun parts) - excepting of course the afore mentioned trill decorations.

May 13, 2012 at 09:45 PM · Thanks Elise, I feel better now ;)

Btw. comparing this piece to some of the Bach solo movements. Why not take them? for example the giga of the d minor or the presto of the g minor and so on.. also amazing music and best sounding on an healthy speed.

For example, Mr. Milstein:

May 14, 2012 at 08:33 AM · Listening to Perlman's version, my attention is drawn to the crispness and clarity of the beginnings of his notes - that fiddle has a lot of top end, and Perlman is using that very successfully to give a good crunch to his articulation. I believe that is what stops fast playing from sounding muddy.

PS - I. P.'s little finger is off teh bow almost the whole time...

May 14, 2012 at 10:22 AM · IP was here just two weeks ago and I thought I had picked a great seat to watch him play - but it was set up for chamber music (silly me) so all I got was his back.

HOWEVER (and its a big however :D ) all was not lost - my line of sight was along the line of his bow arm. And yes, his little finger seems to have a life of its own. I suspect it just can't keep up with its larger brothers: What I saw was that he uses his arm as little as possible while his fingers are extending and contracting all the time - I don't mean just at the top and bottom of the bow action but it seemed for every note even along a slurred passage (and it did not sound portamento). Almost as if the fingers were controlling a second bow, independent of the arm. Fascinating - I wondered if this was a method to get more sound from each note - to give him that soloist clarity.

PS that milstein is gorgeous. How does he get it so ringing and melodic....

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Business Directory
Violinist.com Business Directory

Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning
Violinist.com Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Violin-Strings.com

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin

Warchal

Barenreiter

Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine

Subscribe