Wednesday, January 30, 2008

14. One Hand at a Time

In an online discussion of sight-reading tips, one piano teacher recommended reading through an entire hymnal playing only the left hand part, then going through a second time playing the right hand, and finally playing both parts.

So for the last two days I've been playing just the left hand part of the hymns, and this exercise has some advantages:

  • First, I'm playing at speed (for example 85 BPM). This gives me practice at recognizing and playing intervals quickly. If I want to learn to play pieces at the normal tempo, perhaps it's smart to do some practicing at a normal tempo.
  • Second, I have a little more time for working on looking ahead, and recognizing intervals. Yes, I'm playing faster, but it feels that my mind is freed up a little to work on these aspects of sight-reading.
  • Third, one gets more playing in. I can plow through almost twice as many songs when I'm playing this fast.
  • Fourth, it's less discouraging. Although I always try to play fast enough that I make some mistakes, I sometimes sound like someone who actually knows how to play the piano. Even if it's just the bass part, it sounds more musical than playing the whole song at a glacial pace.
However, this exercise has one big disadvantage: I'm not practicing the one thing that gives me the most difficulty, namely reading and playing four or more notes in two hands at the same time.

So, I plan to use this learning technique in addition to my hands-together practicing. In just the two days I've been doing this, I already feel that my left hand playing is more automatic, with less conscious thought required. Some passages just seem to play themselves.

On a side note, one problem with hymns is that they'll often include intervals in the left hand that are not playable with one hand. Like this:

This is a bother, since you have to interrupt your sight-reading practice to deal with it. Some piano forum members recommend either playing the upper note with the right hand, moving the lower note up and octave, or playing the lower note and a copy of it up an octave.


Anonymous said...

Never read hymns with "one hand only"--makes zero sense. It's vocal, not piano, music. Tenor part should be played by the RH whenever possible.

Anonymous said...

I do this technique all the time. I play violin so I usually just worry about the bass clef, seeing as how treble is my predominant. I find it easier to practice the hand that you feel less comfortable with twice and the other one once, just to get it in your head more, and then play with both. Just a tiny tweek to the original instructions.