This post deals with the “how” of double notes. Because double notes appear to be very finger-based, making demands on the weaker fingers on the outside of the hand, they should be practised with care and certainly not for hours on end!

Firstly, then,  some advice on INJURY PREVENTION:

  • Avoid awkward hand positions and angles by aligning the hand with the forearm.
  • Maintain flexibility in the wrist, especially laterally.
  • Adjust the position of the elbow to enable fingers to pass over other fingers more easily. For example,  you are holding RH 4 and 2 and you need to ascend a step to 3 and 1. If the elbow is in leading mode, it will require more of an adjustment since the 3rd finger has to go over the 4th. For this reason the elbow will need to be closer to your torso in double note passages that move away from the body.
  • Incorporate finger strokes into the arm whenever possible. This might involve only tiny movements (more on this later in the post).
  • Practise softly and loosely before building in key speed.

GENERAL PRINCIPLES

  • Fingering – in a legato context, compromises often need to be made as breaks in the legato are inevitable. If you can’t join both parts, find a fingering solution that enables a join in one part. If the break is in the lower part of the RH, it will not be so noticeable. Look at the alternative scale fingerings in Part One of  Moszkowski’s “School of Double Notes” for ingenious fingering suggestions, which will inspire you to explore various unconventional fingering possibilities, fingerings you probably wouldn’t have thought of. In this extract from Beethoven op. 2 no. 3, I prefer the following fingering, which probably would not immediately spring to mind:

  • Use the whole length of the key.

SUGGESTIONS FOR PRACTISING

  • Play detached before playing legato, checking wrist alignment on each pair of notes.
  • Know each part completely independently by itself. Always use the fingering you will end up using when you play both parts together. Know one part with no muscular reference to the other, play it as though it existed by itself. Play it with shape, expression and good sound.
  • Practise playing one voice while miming the other voice (i.e. touching the keys but not sounding them). Then reverse this. (NB. This is not easy!).
  • Play one voice forte, the other piano, then the reverse.
  • Play one voice legato, the other staccato, then the reverse.
  • Tapping practice: play both parts together but repeat the note in one voice. If you are working with the outer voice (the top RH or bottom LH), I recommend doing the tapping forte tenuto at a slow tempo, to give the weaker fingers on the outside of the hand a bit of a workout. For the thumb side of the hand, I suggest piano leggiero, and a shade faster, to encourage lightness in the thumb.
  • Practise playing broken intervals from the upper voice to the lower, then from the lower to the upper. If the situation lends itself to this, you can play in real parts with an overlapping legato.
Here are some variants on the above from Alfred Cortot’s edition of Chopin’s Etude in G sharp minor (which I posted last week).

 

TO INCORPORATE INTO THE ARM

Certain double note passages need to be played from the fingertip. A good example of this is Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso, where the finger action feels like plucking or scratching from the surface of the keys. In other instances, it is possible and advisable to incorporate finger movements into the arm using a controlled undulating motion of the wrist. The “down” motion coincides with strong notes or beats, other notes played on the rise (the range of motion need only be a couple of centimeters). For powerful double notes the jackhammer arm is a good tool: each note is played with a strong downward thrust of the arm, the rebound linking into the next motion but the fingers remaining in contact with the keyboard.

I will leave you with a double note workout demonstrated by Alexander Peskanov, and another clip where Edna Golandsky discusses the role of forearm rotation in double thirds.