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 Post subject: Those opposed to hands separate practice
PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2007 10:43 pm 
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Location: Canada
The Easter holiday is just about over, and then back to teaching on Monday. I have enjoyed perusing the forum this last week, and if this topic has already been covered, please direct me to it.

I am curious to hear about those of you who do not habitually practice as hands separate, even when first starting a piece. I have heard of many successful pianists who swear that they practice everything hands together at all times. Hands separate practice is something I was taught as a child, so never questioned, and even continue to do with my own higher-level repertoire that I learn for my own enjoyment. I teach it in my studio, and even request that students be able to play by memory hands separate when preparing for a competition or exam, because for most memory slips due to nervousness, it seems to be the LH that blanks unexpectedly, unless this sort of thorough memory work has been done to enforce it. The problem is, many of my students are now attempting to refuse to do the hands separate practice, and I have even had a few parents of these students remark that they feel the request to work on only ONE hand at a time as part of daily practice is somewhat insulting to intelligence of the student, unless at very beginner level. Before I throw anyone out for being belligerent, I am curious to know if maybe I have missed the boat here, and there truly is evidence of there being little benefit to hands separate practice for many pianists.
I'm especially eager to hear opinions of those of you who do not practice hands separate.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2007 1:58 pm 
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To me, practicing 100% hands-together with the goal of memorizing a piece is an utter waste of time. I probably practice 90% hands-seperate at the very early stages of memorization and 90% hands-together once a piece is barely memorized. It is interesting to note that I usually have no trouble reading through a piece, both hands going; but I will never memorize a piece that way.

In later stages of interpretation, after I've had something memorized for many months, I very seldom seperate my hands.

Seperating the hands is not always necessary; it depends on the difficulty of the music. I'm sure that different pianists have differing thresholds.

Pete


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2007 4:06 pm 
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There is no ultimate/universal/perfect way to learn or practice. A student can need to practice a certain difficult piece with hands separate for a while and another will learn faster/better practicing hands together from the start. As long as the student can play the piece right in the end, it really doesn't matter.

I don't think memory slips have anything to do with practicing hands separate or together. For certain pieces, practicing hands individually can help define the main lines at first, for example when the LH and RH parts combine unconventional rhythms. But since anyway one will need to play the piece using both hands, I really don't focus much on separating the hands for pieces with simpler rhythms. The problem with systematic "separate then both hands" practice is that certain people can feel the transition from one to the other too brutal, depending on the piece.

An alternate method (that I would qualify of "in between") I often do myself is : I play both LH + RH parts as written, except I force a ppp on one hand or the other. Just like if you would turn a volume/balance knob between the hands. For example, using this method I can "check" if a particular LH passage (in a piece I don't master yet) sounds legato enough, if its accents are done just right, etc. Otherwise, if I play the same passage with the RH at written volume, I wouldn't hear possible mistakes in the LH. This method forces you to play both parts, even though one hand is played so soft it's barely heard. IMHO, this forces one to be more involved and put more attention in the playing. Of course, this can't be applied to all students or pieces, but very often it helps me perfect the playing and the memory.

Note that I would not force or recommend this method on a student. But with me it works. 8)


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2007 4:33 pm 
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I have never practiced anything hands apart, but then I must admit I never memorize anything. So if this is useful for memorizing or not, I could not say. Interesting point about doing one hand ppp to hear the other better. This was a tip I just got from my organ teacher, to practice with different registrations on separate manuals so that you can always hear one voice above the other. On the piano, that would be more of an effort, but probably a useful one.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2007 8:56 pm 
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[quote="Cydonia"
An alternate method (that I would qualify of "in between") I often do myself is : I play both LH + RH parts as written, except I force a [i]ppp on one hand or the other. Just like if you would turn a volume/balance knob between the hands. For example, using this method I can "check" if a particular LH passage (in a piece I don't master yet) sounds legato enough, if its accents are done just right, etc. Otherwise, if I play the same passage with the RH at written volume, I wouldn't hear possible mistakes in the LH. This method forces you to play both parts, even though one hand is played so soft it's barely heard.][/i]

This is a really neat practice idea, Cydonia. It would certainly force the pianist to focus his/her ears on the details of the loud hand by sheer nature of that hand being impossible to ignore due to its volume. And yet, this would still satisfy the desire to play hands together.

Thanks, everyone, for your ideas and opinions.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2007 9:52 pm 
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Cydonia, you hit on a critical idea. Checking!

The learning process is a highly intimate relationship between the music and the pianist. Each one of us learns in a unique way. To try to teach one pianist's learning method to someone else may fail completely and vice versa due to the minutia of idiosynchrasies inherent to each person as well as each piano, et alia. While we can define all the parameters that make up one's learning style in a generalized sense, it's impossible (and silly to try) to precisely quantify things.

There is however, one common theme among the different learning modalities: for one to be successful at it, one MUST check. How each of us chooses to check is as unique as anything else human and therefore highly subjective.

Pete


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2007 10:45 pm 
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Location: Obamanation, unfortunately...
[Perhaps the shortest reply]:

I snail pace through a piece a couple of times, hand seperate, so I can hear the music from each hand. Then I slow it down even more when I play both hands together. If a certain place is giving me trouble, I seperate the hands again and play really slow until I iron out the kink.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Apr 15, 2007 12:10 am 
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Hi Nicole, :D

You're right, you could propose to the students who refuse to practice separate hands to try my little trick. This way you and the student can realize if the playing of the LH or RH for certain passages is okay or if it needs some improvement. 8)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2007 12:23 pm 
I think that the best advice comes from Chang's book on Piano Practice - only play HT when you can play both hands separate faster than the actual tempo of the piece, when you can do this - HT is much easier.

With some pieces, Hand together is a logical way to start, for example the opening of Liszt's Liebstraume 3, Faures song without words, and Griegs Papillion.
For most pre-Romantic music, HS is the way to go.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 20, 2007 3:40 pm 
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I really have never found HS very useful. In the end HT is the ultimate goal and if one learns to do this from the first note, it gets easier in time to sightread and learn/memorize music. But then, maybe it's just one of those 'different things work better for different people' things.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri May 04, 2007 10:38 am 
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From my own experience I can say that in the case of technical difficult passages (meaning difficult relative to one's own level) there is no way around HS. I think one reason is that technique in itself (at least regarding finger, hand and arm technique, not left-right coordination of course) is related only to a SINGLE hand/arm. Using HS has also the advantage that if you work hard on a difficult passage one hand can always relax while the other practices and if one hand gets tired you just exchange them.


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