A Helping Hand

When I was in my teens I had the good fortune to participate in Christopher Elton’s masterclasses at Downe House summer school. One of the things he got me to do was to play the left hand part with two hands, to make an arrangement that was technically far easier to manage so that I would be able to recreate the sounds the composer envisaged with reduced technical difficulty. I could use the two-handed version as a crib, an aural role model for the one hand to aspire to. I heartily recommend this way of practising! Play the two-handed version in alternation with the one-handed (intended) version, aiming to make the single hand sound as good, if not better, than the hands together. The two hands teach the one hand how it’s done. There are a few more applications of this way of practising, especially good for memorising. Take the music written in the bass stave, for example, and make an arrangement using two hands. There will be more than one way of achieving this, and it will be good practice to exhaust all the possibilities.  I stress the bass stave only because it is often hidden from active listening by the right hand which is above it not only in terms of pitch but also in musical importance, but of course do this with the contents of both staves. There aren’t any hard and fast rules to this really – try to retain the integrity of a line by playing it in one hand if possible but even this is not necessary. Have a close look at a score and you will very often find that the notation is “stems up, stems down” – the composer, […]

Some Thoughts On Legato

We have all played the game of Stone, Paper, Scissors. On a count of three, each player forms the hand into one of three gestures which they throw at each other. The idea is that stone blunts scissors, scissors cut paper and paper covers stone, and so on. You can ask a pianist to throw from their hand an interval of your choice, with no reference to a keyboard and the result will be accurate and immediate. If the guage in the hand is then matched up to the keyboard (no cheating here!), the measurement will invariably be spot-on. Try this out on someone – any realistic interval between any pair of fingers. This shows that our hand is capable of ultra-precise measurements of distance, which we do by feel rather than by eye. Of course it takes a bit of experience, but even intermediate players will be able to do this. Some errors in piano playing can be traced back to a faulty sense of measurement. The most obvious example of this is skips, where eye-hand coordination is responsible for measuring either a large distance, or a fast one, or both. (I plan to do a whole post on this soon.) Less obvious, perhaps, are errors in passages where the hand is constantly moving from one position to another and where the internal measurements in the hand need to be very reliable. PRACTISING STACCATO PASSAGES LEGATO There are two main pitfalls in managing staccato passages. Even though a passage is intended by the composer to be articulated staccato, this does not usually mean that each note is not still part of a longer, implied line. Aurally, we still need to hear the intervals, and physically, […]