The brain is made up of two hemispheres, right and left. The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body, and vice versa. There is a bridge between the two hemispheres, a thick bundle of cables called the corpus callosum, which connects the left with the right and enables communication between the two. Scientists have discovered the corpus callosum is actually larger and more developed in musicians, and that playing a musical instrument improves skill in other areas of life, such as maths.
When we play one hand of a piece of music written for two hands, we are obviously only getting half the story. While the whole is bound to be greater than the sum of its parts (eventually), we will need to start off by attending to the parts by learning each hand separately. By practising one hand by itself, we enable the hemisphere of the brain that controls it to absorb fully the movements that hand has to make. The more we consciously practise these movements, the more skillful we become as our brain processes the sensory information.
The absolute necessity to know each hand by itself seems so obvious and so basic, doesn’t it? Yet in my adjudicating work I can always hear when someone has not done this or who has done it briefly and half-heartedly – the end result is sloppy, inaccurate and unreliable. So often, successful piano practice comes down to delaying gratification (the satisfaction we get from the complete sound picture and the visceral enjoyment of playing) and instead digging foundations deep enough so that our playing really can be rock solid. How frustrating and dispiriting to be able to play something rather well one day then hardly be able to manage it at all the day after, only to find the day after that it goes considerably better!
I was giving a class recently, and one of the participants broke down in her piece, very near the beginning. She said it was because of nerves, and that she can usually play it with no problems. After reassuring her that we are all human and that nobody was judging her for this, I asked her to start again but just with the left hand. She was not able to do this – at all. We can blame nerves, but in this instance it was a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing.
I am a great believer in practising the left hand alone especially, not only because it is often the weaker hand, but also because it is the hand one does not always actively listen to. There is also no better test of memory than playing the left hand of a piece (from memory, of course) from beginning to end (needless to say, the same goes for the right hand).
I devote a whole chapter to practising separately – it’s in volume 1 of my new ebook series Practising the Piano. For details, please see below.
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If you are interested to know more about the practice tools, please click on the buttons below to preview or purchase one or both of the publications in my new ebook series. Alternatively you can find out more about the series by clicking here.
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