It is an integral part of my own work to practise each hand alone on occasion. I have a little twist on this though, because I will expect my left hand to be able to play the music the right hand needs to play, and of course the other way around too. If I can do this comfortably and accurately from memory, then I know I know the music on a deeper level than just from muscle memory – and this gives me greater security in performance.
Even with my younger students, if we need to work on one hand by itself, I might ask for it with the “wrong” hand on the last repetition – just to see how well they really know it. And if they are working on an étude, such as Burgmüller’s Arabesque, op 100, no 2, it would be a shame if we did not take the opportunity for the left hand to develop the same skills as the right hand has to acquire.
So, we practise little exercises in contrary motion with both hands together based on the three- and five-note slur patterns the right hand plays in the étude. It takes only a little extra effort but adds huge value:
These ideas are nothing new. Chopin’s first Etude from the opus 10 set is a tour de force for the right hand, the left hand just planting down octaves. The great virtuoso, Leopold Godowsky recreated this work not once but twice, involving the left hand fully. In fact, the second version is for left hand alone.
Here is the first version, played by Marc-André Hamelin.
And here is the second version, for left hand alone, played by Ivan Ilić.
A while back I wrote a blog post on symmetry in practice, explaining how to help both hands develop equal skill at the keyboard. It is a practice tool I discovered only fairly recently, and I have had great success with it in my work. How heartening to learn that Marc-André Hamelin uses symmetrical inversion too! Here he is demonstrating it.
One of my students, Mark Norgate, was quite taken with the idea of using this in his own practice, and I recommended he start with Vincent Persichetti’s Reflective Studies to develop the necessary skills. In each short study, one hand is an exact mirror of the other and once you’ve got the basic principles you become quite skilful at doing this with tricky passages from your pieces, or just passages where you would like the other hand to develop the same technical skills.
After a while, much to my amazement, Mark sent me something he created – Chopin’s op 10, no 1 in his own mirror arrangement. With Mark’s permission, I am very happy to present both the score and the mp3 recording. I hope you enjoy the somewhat psychadelic experience of listening to this piece in an entirely new way.
Here is how it sounds:
Before I leave this subject, those of you who play Schubert’s E flat Impromptu should know about Brahms’ left hand arrangement, entitled Study after Impromptu Op 90 No 2 by Schubert in E-flat Major. It is well worth looking at!
Follow this link to the score
Here is a performance by Paolo Restani.
I will end by including my own video-demonstration on symmetrical inversion, made for Pianist Magazine. Do have fun with these ideas – a little tricky to get the hang of to start with but well worth persevering.