Czerny study op. 740 no.2

Tempo: Czerny’s own tempo is dotted minim = 60, which works out at 180 /four semiquavers. Scary!

Czerny subtitles this study “The passing under of the thumb”. So we are already starting with the wrong idea. I challenge any pianist to play this study at this speed passing the thumb under (they may tell you they are passing the thumb under, they may even believe that they are doing it. But any slow motion video of their hand movement will show this not to be the case). No, no, no, you must pass the thumb over. In fact you must not pass the thumb at all, you must displace your hand laterally. The best way to do that is to break the arpeggios into chord patterns, and play the whole thing like that.

Bars 37-40, left hand F# arpeggio. This is how to go about it. The arpeggio goes:

F#-A#-C#-F#-A#-C#-F# [and then descending] C#-A#-F#-C#-A#-F# (I am adding the F# from the next bar for purposes of overlapping).

So here is how you acquire the technique to play this arpeggio.

1. Have an aim. In this case the general aim is speed plus complete accuracy.

2. Play each note in isolation. Take your time. Your aim is to get the appropriate finger used to pressing the appropriate black note. So start by playing several times the first F# with the fifth finger. The black key is narrower than the white keys, it is easy to miss it/slip out of it. So try different finger conformations. As a general rule, black notes respond well to flatter fingers. However this is personal. At this stage you are simply investigating what seems to work best for you.

Then proceed to the A# with the third finger. Pay special attention that you “firm” the finger only at the point of contact of the key. Use this first item to investigate the ecapement level (it changes slightly from piano to piano). Remember that after you reach the escapement level you cannot control the hammers any more so you might as well relax. Therefore fingers tighten only for a fraction of a second. Also investigate arm usage at this stage when you are doing a single note at a time. There will be myriads of possible movements. Later on as you add more notes the range of possible movements will be severely restricted.

3. Now move on and play two consecutive notes: F#-A# with fingers 5-3. Start by playing them as chords (it is the fastest you can play any two notes: together).

Try different ways of pressing these keys (from the fingers, from the arms, etc.) Your aim is total accuracy with ease. You will have to control and fine tune the distance between fingers 3 and 5 as well as the degree of curling (as I said you may find that the flatter the fingers the easier it is to press black notes). Aim at the very centre of the key. Also investigate the difference between doing it more to the edge of the key, or more towards the wood.

This looks like a lot of detail, but actually since you are dealing with only two notes, it should take less than a minute to fully investigate everything. Then break the chord and play the two notes slower but still at an unbelievable speed. (It will be slower, since nothing can be faster than together!). Use the arms/forearms to move the fingers. This needs to be demonstrated, but I think you will get it. Then start slowing down so that you can observe more closely this movement: you are now playing in slow motion, you are not playing slowly. As you slow down, make the movement larger, as you speed up, make the movement smaller, but it is still the same movement. This is the most important step: figuring out the movement/sequence of movements that will allow you the sound you want.

Again this takes no time at all, since we are dealing with only two notes. Now move to the next two notes – but not C# and F#, but A# and C# with fingers 3-2. This will create an overlap that as you will see in a moment is crucial for this to work.

Repeat everything you did for F#A#: start as a chord, then break the chord and investigate the movement. You will find this to be easier than the previous one, since fingers 3-2 are fitter than fingers 5-3. Proceed to do the same for C#-F# with fingers 2-1. This will probably the easiest of all movements.

As you can see, by using this procedure you will be automatically practising more the more difficult fingers/positions. Now the next two notes are completely different: F#-A# with finger 1-3. Here you cannot play these notes as a chord, since it is the point at which you must displace the hand laterally. You must use your arm to move the hand and position the fingers from playing F# with finger 1 to playing A# with finger 3.

This is the movement that will ultimately limit your arpeggio speed. All the movements you have done so far can be played at infinite speed (as chords), but this movement cannot be played at infinite speed, since you cannot play it as a chord. So in an even fast arpeggio you will actually have to slow down all the other movements to the fastest speed you can manage for this pair of notes. Therefore, ultimately this is the pair of notes you will really need to work on. After you mastered the basic movement on the other notes, concentrate on these two. Anything else will be a waste of time. Keep working like that until you have covered the full bar (adding the first note of the next bar).

4. Now you are going to start it all over again, but this time instead of working on two notes, you will be working on three notes: F#-A#-C# (easy); A#-C#-F# (easy); C#-F#-A# (difficult on account of the hand displacement); F#-A#-C# (difficult) – A#-C#-F# (easy).

Do each group of three notes both ascending and descending. The easy ones start from a chord position and slow down. The difficult ones are difficult exactly because you cannot play them as chords. Your main aim is the investigation of movement patterns that will allow you top speed and consistent accuracy.

5. Move on to four notes: F#-A#-C#-F#, then A#-C#-F#-A#, then C#-F#-A#-C# and finally F#-A#-C#-F#. You truly worked on the smaller groups, the larger groups should be much easier, since you already drilled the basic movements thousands of times. Again because you are working on such small sections, it should not take more than a couple of minutes on each step (probably less time).

6. Now groups of five notes: F#-A#-C#-F#-A#, then A#-C#-F#-A#-C# and finally C#-F#-A#-C#-F#. by now your fingers should be really flying.

7. Finally the last two groups: F#-A#-C#-F#-A#-C#, and A#-C#-F#-A#-C#-F#.

8. Now you should be able to play the full arpeggio with ease and speed plus total accuracy. The final step is to play the arpeggio several times non stop.

9. The whole process should take something like 30-40 minutes. After that you will know the arpeggio forever, if you do one last thing: repeat exactly the same routine for the next seven days (it will take less time on each succeeding day).

This is the most efficient and powerful method to acquire technique. But no one wants to do it. There is some powerful mental block to it. You have been warned.


  1. Excellent!
    And you are right: nobody wants to do this; they will continue looking for a magic pill that will enable them to suddenly play like a virtuoso, without having to put forth any effort. What they don't understand is that virtuosos are virtuosos precisely because they LOVE the long hours of practice, the intense practice regimens, the sustained effort! Here, you just offered a gold mine, but few, if any, will show up with a shovel ;)

  2. Wow, cool post. I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real hard work to make a great article… but I put things off too much and never seem to get started. Thanks though.
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