Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hands Together, Hands Apart

     Tara Gaertner, at "Teaching the Musical Brain", posted a most thought provoking question. Why do we practice hands apart? 

This is certainly standard procedure in my studio. Although, when we do sight reading exercises I expect the hands to play together very slowly. I did not understand why I knew this to be the best method until I read Tara's blog post.
"What this means for pianists is that playing the right hand by itself is not really the same as playing the right at the same time as the left hand.  So why do we practice hands-separately?  "
   Tara's understanding of how the brain works helped me see why hands apart does not make it easier to play hands together.
   "In other words, if we are playing the piano with only one hand, our motor cortex is inhibiting the motor cortex of the opposite side.  So, if we’re practicing only the right hand part of a piano piece, we’re probably learning to inhibit the left hand.  And when we learn the left hand part by itself, we’re probably learning to inhibit the right hand.  Is it any wonder then, that when we go to play the song hands-together, it’s still really difficult?"
    But here is the thing, if a student starts a piece with no aural model playing hands together can end up being just a cacophony of sound. I think finding the melody line with the right notes and rhythm helps to set off the harmony. I remember going to piano lessons myself and having the teacher comment that I certainly played with conviction but I had lost a whole harmonic line. The notes were there but because I couldn't hear the  part I was not able to articulate it enough to bring it out amongst the other parts. Separating melody from harmony seems to speed up the understanding process. But does it speed up the process of playing together?

"I think the bottom line is that, although there’s certainly value in hands-separate practicing to focus on details, we don’t really improve at playing hands-together by practicing hands-separately.  This is definitely a different approach than the one I was taught with, and it’s not really what I’ve been doing with my own students.  But I’ve also noticed that my own children are always eager to play their pieces hands-together before they know them well hands-separately, because it’s more satisfying to hear both parts at once.  And we could argue that satisfaction in playing is really what it’s all about."
   I think I am going to stop letting a week go by with assigning hands apart. Learning a smaller portion with hands together may be the more desirable outcome. 

No comments:

Post a Comment