Piano teaching, Practising

A helping hand

We know that practising hands separately in the earliest stages of learning a piece is very important – and goes on being important even when the music is well known. It is often worth returning to separate hands practise to make sure certain sections are secure or to highlight particular aspects of a section, such as an interior melody embedded in the left hand or the voicing of specific phrases or chords, or to test one’s memorisation.

Sometimes sharing a single stave of music between the hands offers a useful way of voicing and shaping a phrase or section. I’ve been doing this with the left hand part of the slow movement of Schubert’s Sonata in A D959 to help me create a particular effect in the bass line – the first beat is detached and the second and third beats are marked as a drop slur, with the third beat becoming the lightest beat in the bar. By practising the drop slur with the right hand, I’ve been able to experiment with a more precise articulation of this section which has helped enormously when I play the bassline with the left hand alone.


I tried this technique recently with a student to enable her to voice the opening of Einaudi’s ‘Ombre’. After the introductory chords, a quaver figure is introduced in the left hand over descending sustained semibreves. Ultimately, one should aim to play this with the left hand alone, but in the early stages it is worth taking the quavers in the right hand. This serves two purposes: it brings focus to the long sustained notes, which form a simple melody in their own right and underpin the entire piece; and allows one to shape the quavers so they are played both evenly and musically.

ombre copy

Another way of using one hand to help the other is to play a tricky section in unison. By introducing the other hand to the picture, the weaker hand feels more supported and playing a section in unison creates a more confident sound which in turn can bring greater security to a section. I’ve been doing this with a triplet figure near the beginning of the Schubert Sonata (bars 13-15). The right hand is more secure here, and when the left hand joins in at bar 14 it can sound ragged and out of time. To remedy this, I play the whole section in unison, giving a little extra weight to the first note of each group of three. Then I cross my hands and practise it again (I was pleased that when asked to do this by my teacher, I pulled it off successfully first time, which shows that section is now well known).

Simply swapping the parts around tests brain and fingers and will demonstrate whether a passage is truly known. Try incorporating some of these techniques into your practising – you will be surprised by the results.

More on this subject here

Symmetry in Practice

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

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