How to Play the Piano Fast

Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 2
11:13

Learning Focus
  • Exercises
  • Practice Tips
Music Style
  • Fundamentals
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Let’s be honest—fast is fun! Whether it’s in a sports car, a roller coaster, or even on piano. There’s just something exhilarating about pushing things to the limit. Therefore, today’s Quick Tip is all about how to play piano fast. You’ll learn:

  • The #1 Skill Needed to Play Fast
  • 6 Essential Cell Exercises
  • 6 Essential Scale Exercises

If you want to learn to play piano with lightening-fast speed, this lesson is for you! Let’s buckle up and get started!

The Secret to Play Piano Fast

To begin with, let’s identify two types of speed on the piano—stationary movement and lateral movement. Today’s lesson focuses on the latter, which is much more elusive. Firstly, let’s take a moment to define each type of movement. Stationary movement describes notes played within a fixed hand position or register, such as a 5-finger pattern (C-D-E-F-G). Most students find it quite accessible to play piano fast within a stationary position. By contrast, lateral movement describes situations in which the hands must travel up and down the keyboard to execute a musical idea. Playing fast with lateral movement gives your playing a flashy, professional edge. However, it also requires significant practice and patience. But, there is a secret to learning to play piano with lighting fast lateral movement. The key is fast thumbs!

Fast Thumbs

When it comes to playing with speed on the piano, it’s all about the thumbs! Fast thumbs are critical with regard to speed because they must cross under the other fingers to execute lateral movement. In fact, without fast thumbs, it’s only possible to play up to five notes quickly using stationary movement. However, once you develop fast thumbs, you can play limitless linear passages up and down the piano with impressive speed. Fortunately, there are specific piano exercises you can practice to develop fast thumbs for increasing your overall finger speed. In the following sections, we’ll examine a total of 12 finger exercises to take your piano speed to the next level.

Be sure to download the complete lesson sheet which appears at the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose this lesson material to another key using our Smart Sheet Music.

6 Cell Exercises to Play Piano Fast

The first category of exercises to play piano fast is cell exercises. Jazz trumpeter, composer and educator Mike Steinel describes scale cells as “scale fragments used in melodic material,” (Building a Jazz Vocabulary: A Resource for Learning Jazz Improvisation). A scale cell can be as little as two notes or as many as five notes. As pianists, they key to increasing our thumb speed is to isolate the cross-under motion of the thumb within various cell contexts.

Right Hand Cell Exercises for Piano Speed

We’ll begin by looking at 3 examples of cell exercises of various length for the right hand. Our first example features a three-note cell in which 2 of the notes are played with the thumb. This represents the smallest cell that may require a cross-under of the thumb since two-note cells do not require a cross-under at all.

Cell Exercise 1

Right Hand Cell Exercise 1 to play piano fast
In three-note cells, the thumb crosses under the 2nd finger. (Recorded at 200 BPM)

Fantastic! You can probably see already how these exercises are going to be game changer for accelerating your overall piano speed. Now, let’s look at a four-note cell for the right hand.

Cell Exercise 2

Right Hand Cell Exercise 2
In four-note cells, the thumb crosses under the 3rd finger. (Recorded at 170 BPM)

Great job…next, let’s try a five-note exercise in which the thumb crosses under the 4th finger.

Cell Exercise 3

Right Hand Cell Exercise 3
In five-note cells, the thumb crosses under the 4th finger. (Recorded at 130 BPM)

Great job…now, let’s isolate the left thumb.

Left Hand Cell Exercises for Piano Speed

Cell exercises 4 through 6 for the left hand are the mirror image of cell exercises 1 through 3 for the right hand. Firstly, let’s practice crossing under the 2nd finger in a three-note cell.

Cell Exercise 4

Left Hand Cell Exercise 4 to play piano fast
Three-note cell for left hand with thumb crossing under under the 2nd finger. (Recorded at 200 BPM)

Good job…in the following example, we’ll practice crossing under the 3rd finger with the left thumb in a four-note cell.

Cell Exercise 5

Left Hand Cell Exercise 5
Four-note cell for left hand with thumb crossing under the 3rd finger. (Recorded at 170 BPM)

Excellent! Finally, let’s cross under the 4th finger in a five-note cell.

Cell Exercise 6

Left Hand Cell Exercise 6 to play piano fast
Five-note cell for left hand with thumb crossing under the 4th finger. (Recorded at 130 BPM)

Congratulations, you are well on your way to play piano with lightening speed using fast thumbs!

In the following section, we’ll practice sequential cells of like-kind in unique scalar exercises that are all about the thumb.

6 Scale Exercises to Play Piano Fast

Professional pianists use both complete scales and scale fragments in improvisation constantly. However, scalar lines that are improvised do not always begin on the root and frequently require the pianist to quickly cross-under from any point within the scale at will to complete a spontaneous idea. Therefore, the following scale exercises are essential to prepare you to play fast piano lines of any length using fast thumbs. (Note, the fingerings below do not represent tradition piano scale fingerings. Rather, these exercises feature unique fingerings to drill specific thumb movements in longer contexts).

Right Hand Scale Exercises for Piano Speed

The first example below is probably different from any scale exercise you’ve seen before. In exercise 1, you’ll practice crossing under with the right thumb on every other note!

Scale Exercise 1

Scale Exercise 1 for Right Thumb to play piano fast
Scale Exercise 1 crosses under with the right thumb on every other note. (Recorded at 200 BPM)

Well done…now we’ll play a similar exercise in which we cross under with the right thumb every 3rd note.

Scale Exercise 2

Scale Exercise 2 for Right Thumb
Scale Exercise 2 crosses under with the right thumb on every 3rd note. (Recorded at 170 BPM)

You’re doing great! In the final right hand scale exercise below, we’ll cross under the 4th finger with the right thumb.

Scale Exercise 3

Scale Exercise 3 for Right Thumb
Scale Exercise 3 crosses under with the right thumb on every 4th note. (Recorded at 130 BPM)

Excellent work…now let’s apply the same approach for our left thumb in the following scale exercises 4 through 6.

Left Hand Scale Exercises for Piano Speed

The following descending scale exercises will prepare you to cross under with your left thumb at will.

Scale Exercise 4

Scale Exercise 4 for Left Thumb to play piano fast with finger speed
Scale Exercise 4 crosses under with the left thumb on every other note. (Recorded at 200 BPM)

Great job…let’s try the next exercise which crosses under the 3rd finger.

Scale Exercise 5

Scale Exercise 5 for Left Thumb
Scale Exercise 5 crosses under with the left thumb on every 3rd note. (Recorded at 170 BPM)

You’re on a roll…finally, let’s play the last scale exercise which crosses under the 4th finger with the left thumb.

Scale Exercise 6

Scale Exercise 6 for Left Thumb
Scale Exercise 6 crosses under with the left thumb on every 4th note. (Recorded at 130 BPM)

Conclusion

Congratulations, you’ve finished today’s lesson. By now, you understand exactly what it takes to play piano fast and with freedom. For more great piano exercises, simply keyword search for “exercises” in our ever-growing course library. Here are some popular courses you will find:

Thanks for joining us today. We’ll see you again soon!

 

Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May

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