can we talk about tips to play uptempo tunes? any different phrasing approaches. technical tips on handling the speed. is your touch different uptempo? how about articulation issues? legato?

do you play continuous lines? do you play half time? do you play short phrases and use a lot of quarter notes or you stick to eighth notes? phrasing accents?  

do you have a speed wall that you haven't conquered?

i myself am just now beginning to approach uptempo playing. not something i've focused on before. so i'm interested in all the tips.  

as jazzers we may be counted down in a jam session at 300bpm with cherokee so i think i better be ready...
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hi jazzwee

the approach to up-tempo should be the same as mid-tempo tunes.  use predominantly eighth notes for your lines and apply the same phrasing principles as you would in any other situation.

you may hear people playing a lot of half-time, quarter notes or short phrases at sessions or in scratch bands, but often this is because they can't handle the changes at that tempo.  

you may make a musical decision to use some of these devices if you hear it that way, but the key is to develop your technique so you're not having to compromise your musicality because of technical deficiencies (easier said than done, i know!)

however, one thing to be noted is that the eighth notes will 'straighten' out as the tempo increases until you're pretty much playing straight eighths at high speeds.  this is because you don't physically have time to make the first quaver longer up-tempo and if you try to maintain the swung-eighths feel you will sound like you're dragging.

articulation is the same as any other tempo - accent the off-beats don't worry about legato but don't play staccato either (unless you particularly want that effect); just concentrate on playing your phrases crisply and clearly so that each note is individually audible without it becoming a mush: it goes without saying you won't use the pedal much (if at all).  

finally, don't beat yourself up if somebody calls a tune you don't know well at a jam at a very fast tempo and you struggle; it's very difficult to play things you don't at high speeds and one of the burdens of being a piano player is that you rarely get to call tunes if there are horn players in the ensemble.

of course, horn players at jam sessions are all trying to show-off their chops so will call up-tempo tunes they have been woodshedding for ages at high speeds.  don't get disheartened if it's not a tune you normally play and you can't match their fluency in that situation.

a perfect example of this is tommy flanagan's solo on the album version of 'giant steps'.  tommy is a great pianist but you can really hear that he struggles on that first recording.  the reason is that he had almost no time to look at it, john coltrane just brought the tune to the date and he had to deal with it there and then as best as he could.  he played much better solos on later dates once he'd gotten used to it, but it just goes to show that even the top players can't deal with anything and everything at a hundred miles an hour without any preparation. take heart from that!

finally, as always, the best way to figure out how to play up-tempo is to listen to the greats who do it so well.

for pianists, oscar peterson is a master at keeping it crystal clear whatever the tempo and i always admire michel petrucciani's ability to play long, interesting lines on up-tempo numbers.  keith jarrett is astonishingly inventive when playing fast and is well worth a listen.  bud powell and art tatum are also natural selections here.

outside of the piano, bird and diz are no-brainers to listen to, as is coltrane.  clifford brown (what a loss) and sonny rollins are masters at super-quick stuff and i always think freddie hubbard is underrated too.

hope this helps


all of the above.  to paraphrase kenny werner a bit, you have to yield to what wants to happen.  

as for playing cherokee at 300bpm, try feeling 150bpm instead.  don't worry bout blowing a lot of notes.  just listen for nice, short musical statements.  those will often evolve into longer more complicated ones. (if you keep your head out of it)  

personally i'm not of the school that says slow practice enables you to play fast.  slow practice enables you to learn things accurately, but to play fast, you need to practice fast.  it's just a matter of how you think (or not)

~just my 2 cents
thank you barry and dr. whack for excellent comments.

if you play continuous lines in fast tempos, they have some sort of "group" accent strategy? for example, like accenting every 6th eighth note?

do you think it requires stronger fingers to play fast?
i personally don't believe that strength has anything to do with piano playing and i would second the dr's comment that a lighter touch makes it easier to play fast passages.

whenever volume is required, i have always felt that the weight of the arms yields a better tone than trying to do it all with the fingers.  however, there are differing schools of thought about this and others may disagree.

as for an accenting strategy, i can't say i ever think about it consciously when i'm playing.  whenever i have had problems with feel or phrasing, i have always found that playing along with records has paid dividends.  

the way i approach it is to put on a player i admire and just noodle along with the record.  what i try and do is copy the sound and feel of what i am hearing rather than the specific notes.

when i feel i am 'getting it' i'll switch the record off and practice playing on my own.  if i feel i am losing the feel i am striving for, i put the record back on and play along until i can get back into it.

i would recommend picking tunes to play with that don't modulate too much (something like autumn leaves or just a blues for example) that you can pretty much blow over with one scale and focus all your attention on the feel.

finally, i also agree with whacky about needing to practice fast to play fast.  however, if you can't play a tune at mid-tempo, there's no point playing it fast.  

when working on fast tunes such as tune up or ladybird i have played with band-in-a-box, starting the tempo at around 160 and ramping it up by 10-20bpm until i'm at the speed i want to perform it at (for those tunes around 240bpm).

i highly recommend getting comfortable blowing on a tune at mid-tempos before you crank it up.
a couple of quick tips might be:
swing straights up a bit.  it is not that you do not swing but you will notice that your eigth notes start to sound like straight eights.  so the trick is to flow with this ... do not fight it... this is supposed to happen.  
try just feeling one or two beats per measure instead of all four or three as the cse may be.
just for background, i think i've mastered the medium tempos and can push myself up to about 180bpm without mishap. at 200bpm, i'm not consistent. i falter with fingering and such, and i'm more afraid to arpeggiate. but it's coming. i'm maybe just a couple of weeks away from comfort at that tempo. doing it faster is much more work.

i was asking my teacher this today and he said that at the fast tempos, there's no time for the arm or wrist to be snapping up and down so there's more finger strength involved, which may be why i can't do it well?

i can actually play pretty quick scales so a scalar movement is easier. but i realize that i need to avoid using the 5th finger for anything that requires fine work as it really screws me up faster at fast tempos. the fingering between black and white notes seem to be issues too at fast tempos.

also something i just discovered was that i could play faster if i just sat a little higher (couple of inches up). less effort i thought. i've been trying to find the optimum weight to use for playing fast and realized that i was putting too much weight on the finger so i was just experimenting with lightening it up so i'm just at the edge of my desired articulation. looks like it's all experimentation.
one thing i learned was to play legato even at higher tempos. i guess that's a style thing and i have a teacher that stylistically plays like that. chick corea doesn't play legato. he super articulates those detached notes. anyone for or against playing legato at fast tempos?
chick most certainly does too play legato.  we all do. i think you are confusing when he is playing percusively to mean that his overall technique and tone is not achieved by a finely tuned legato touch.
chick can play legato of course. but he likes that fast percussive detached playing, which i hear him favor much more in recent time. but i've also heard him play fast legato too. well he always plays fast. but he has mastered that percussive touch for sure. it's a unique sound almost.

but again to quote barry "don't worry about legato", which is why i bring it up.
more questions: what do you like do with the lh at fast tempos?
i do something like this with my left hand in fast tempo. i like it and can do do with or without a bass player:

with my lh at fast tempos i play less.
this is the method that wss pioneered by the late great  
bud powell with what is known as shell voicings.
mike, i do shells too but what do you rhythmically? footballs? jabs, and if so what kind of pattern?
when i practice shells i practice them like i practice all voicings prety much. very simply with a goal of accuracy.  i hit them on the fist beat of every measure and hold them down for the entire measure until i hit the next chord.  what i do when i am performing i do not really know.. the performance and the practice room are two different things for me in general.  my guess is that i play em a bit more percusively in perfomance jabing as you say, but it is nothing that i practice.  i practice rhythms as a seperate entity  but i do not practice playing left hand chord rhythms for playing while playing right hand lines... that is not my thing.
oh gee, sorry--i guess that wasn't jazz. my apologies.
hey casparus, that's some active lh you have there! that's great. and i'm impressed with those leaps, always like combination stride and walking bass. as a separate project, i've been working on including the lh in the solo, not as a walking bass but some more random pattern. so i thought your video was quite helpful. thanks for that.

jazz/blues -- it's all the same.
talking about needing to practice fast to play fast, many always say you need to practice slow to play fast.  

well as i started playing faster and faster, i found problems with my playing position that inhibited my playing. i found problems with the 4th finger causing my hand to freeze or locking up the 5th finger. these would not have showed up after playing at medium tempos. there's a lot of these to solve now. fingerings that worked for me before have to be redone as some cause too much tension at high speed. arm weight needs to be re-calibrated for the lighter touch required.

i just wanted to say how important that advise is that barry gave. there's more work to be done but i've made some good progress.

what do you mean by "footballs"?
7, footballs = whole notes

as far as chick, when i think of classic now he sings, now he sobs chick corea, i do not think of a particularly legato articulation. his eighth notes are extremely detached (not staccato, just detached) and practically even eighths rather than swung; matrix is a classic example of this. i mostly think of chick's legato lines as more something he does when he plays synthesizer, but that's just me.

there is a really phenomenal book by the great piano player david berkman about practice techniques, and there is a great chapter about learning to play at fast tempos, primarily focused on the tune giant steps.

essentially, berkman teaches that in order to get something, you have to give up something. maybe you can play giant steps at 150 bpm, but not 260. maybe you can play giant steps at 260 bpm, but you can only play half and quarter notes. maybe you can play giant steps at 260 bpm, but only the first 4 bars. in any case, you tackle the problem from several different angles, and you gradually improve.

for me, playing fast has always resulted from a lot of practice improvising at a slower tempo. you must also not use a lot of force -- you have to be really light and relaxed: this is the biggest obstacle. you should be very light and it should almost feel like you're not doing anything when you play at fast tempos. if you're practicing something you can't do well, you will probably be tense, and this will make your playing heavy and strangled. this will not work at a fast tempo. play at a tempo where you're in control, and gradually ramp up.

mike is right, don't try to swing your eighth notes when you get fast. they should sound about even at fast tempos. your accents and articulation will provide the swing.

barry's approach is good, too. one thing that i found important, though, is to practice both at slower tempos and at the actual target tempo. i wouldn't play eighth notes at the target tempo when i was first starting, but i actually really struggled with feeling relaxed in my body when i was in a playing situation in a fast tempo. i would tense up because it was fast, and difficult, which made it difficult to just even think straight. you have to get used to thinking at a fast tempo, i'd say that's half the battle right there.

as far as comping, you don't need to comp much. i probably play at most one, rarely two chord comps per measure at tempos above 240. otherwise, it's gonna sound too cluttered, and you don't really need all that -- a good eighth note line will establish the harmony. to learn this, listen to the miles davis "four and more," especially herbie's solos on so what, seven steps to heaven, and four. besides being amazing solos on blazing fast tunes, everything he does is good and worth imitating.

i think it all  boils down to:

if you want to play fast, you must practice playing fast. if you want to play slow, you must practice playing slow.  

as i said earlier, practicing slow is essential for teaching your hands what to play, but as you found out, when  playing at faster tempi you may encounter  technical dilemmas that you would not have encountered when playing slower.

playing fast does not do much for you slower playing either.  you really must practice at various speeds and develop the ability to adjust.  you will most likely end up on gigs where the tempo on tunes is not where you accustomed to playing them.  

as hm said, you must practice remaining relaxed regardless of what tempo you are playing.  start with breathing normally and focus on releasing unnecessary tension in your extremities.  try to relax and enjoy the show:)
7, funny with 'footballs' but you know how it looks in music notation, () - just flip it horizontally :)
hepcatmonk, i saw some really early videos of chick playing standards. he was quite young then and he was actually playing legato and surprised me a bit, particularly because of his predominantly detached, percussive, and highly articulated playing. i was looking at a chick video last night of a more recent time and he does bounce his arm a lot when playing fast. a contrast to hiromi where the arm is steady.

i myself play straight eights definitely over 160bpm. since i'm influenced by more modern jazz, i tend to be more accent focused than triplet feel focused. unless i'm playing slow like 120.

lightness was the biggest issue that i believe really had slowed me down. i hear all of you. i've been lightening all week and basically calibrating the appropriate weight to use. also getting a feel of where the weight should emanate from --more arm or more wrist. i'm not sure i've determined yet.

i was asking my teacher this and he said that i do because the wrist and arms cannot move as fast at the really fast tempos. he said at fast tempos, there's more economy of movement.  

of course, i also look at chick and the drummer in him seems to enable him to move his arm and wrist very quickly.
arm weight, definitely. basically, you don't want your hands to be locked - wrist and arm need to be working in concert to play fast. it's not really finger strength. basically, to play fast, your arm weight provides the sound. your fingers should feel really like they are "tickling" the keys.

the great jazz pianist and pedagogue luke gillespie taught it thusly -- play a five finger run, c d e f g as fast as possible. you'll find if you articulate it very strongly with each finger, you can't play fast at all. however, if you do it in one motion, almost like a very super slight rolling of the wrist, just using the fingers to barely pull the keys, you can play these five notes extremely fast. you want it to sound like a concisely articulated blur, if that makes sense (the notes are clearly sounding the way they're supposed to, but it is so fast it sounds like a blur). this actually takes some practice to do well.

"so, there you have it," he said, "that's the secret to playing fast! now you just need to have that feeling when you play everything..."

for the past few years, i've been working on playing like this...extremely relaxed, just using my fingers to pull the keys. back when i studied classical piano, it was important to play this way too -- i for some reason stopped worrying about this so much when i started playing jazz piano, and it held me back. this practice has resulted in a great improvement in my sound, and also the facility with which i can play at faster tempi.

you don't need more strength to play at fast tempos. you need more dexterity, and lightness. think about it -- a good drummer playing at a fast tempo will be much lighter, often quieter than a mid-tempo shuffle.

i think this video may be of some help:

dr whack, in your video of valentina (the interview), she says her hands are very strong with a lot of muscles. hmmmm. if it's all arm weight, what purpose would that serve then?

at non-blur speeds, like 200, it seems doable with just arm weight. at 250 and above, at least from what i feel, it seems like theres more involved here. i can play scales very quickly, much faster than i can possibly improvise. but playing a scale seems easy enough as one continuous motion almost. on the other hand, the constant reversing of direction in improvisation seems to require some different forces.

now i say this with the understanding that fingers aren't really putting in so much force because of the lightness of the touch. but i still feel it there, no matter how much armweight i use. maybe because i articulate more (i play  more legato)?

after working on this heavily for a couple of weeks, i feel increased musculature in my hand, and i feel a strain on my shoulder from constantly lightening the arm (i've been doing this for hours a day so i figure this isn't abnormal).

any signs of trouble here?
this is how i explain it too:

"the great jazz pianist and pedagogue luke gillespie taught it thusly -- play a five finger run, c d e f g as fast as possible. you'll find if you articulate it very strongly with each finger, you can't play fast at all. however, if you do it in one motion, almost like a very super slight rolling of the wrist, just using the fingers to barely pull the keys, you can play these five notes extremely fast. you want it to sound like a concisely articulated blur, if that makes sense (the notes are clearly sounding the way they're supposed to, but it is so fast it sounds like a blur). this actually takes some practice to do well.

"so, there you have it," he said, "that's the secret to playing fast! now you just need to have that feeling when you play everything..."
i studied with jeffrey ( for a while.

he had the kind of technique such that speed did not seem to be an issue. i asked how he remains relaxed even when playing fast. his answer was something like that:
it doesn't matter how fast you play, the ratio of how much your fingers get to rest on the keys when they are not playing is the same.  

i understood that it was very much about relaxation. the amazing video posted by the doc shows how relaxed she is while playing blazing fast. and how the pinkie, when not playing, is simply resting on the keys.  

having said that, he had 2 technique to conquer playing fast:
1. accuracy. play very short segments (2 notes), as fast as possible. focusing on hitting the target. then make it 3 notes, then 4.  

2. speed. just build it up one notch at a time. when it's comfortable, add a few clicks.  

i'm probably doing a terrible job at explaining. studying with one of those classical pianists, if just for an hour, might reveal things that jazz teachers are not used to teaching that much.
i think you did a nice job of explaining it.  this is not really the kind of thing that can be described in words alone.  that's why i thought that video might help.

it is interesting that valentina talks about muscles in the other video as a lot of pianists seem feel they aren't using any.  the fact is we do use our muscles.  i'm using mine as i type this.  if you play piano as many hours a day as valentina obviously does, you're most likely going to develop more muscles than the average person.  long distance runners develop muscles much different from those of weight lifters.  as knotty said, it takes a while to build that kind of endurance.  

strength makes it easier to perform difficult tasks easily.  most of us stand upright on two legs without even thinking about it, but before we developed and/or trained those muscles we were kinda floppy.
gonzalo rubacalba appears to use a lot of arm motion on the single note lines?  

hiromi seems to use less arm motion on her single note lines?

mccoy has a technique called "mccoy" , check out that fast hand on the solo:

here you can compare herbie and chick, both are wearing short sleaves and their arm actions are exposed:

yes, muscles, tendons, bones, gravity, lifting and dropping arm mass, all inter-coordinated...
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