Updated: Nov 28, 2021
Adults who are new to piano are often surprised how hard it is to play a piece hands together. They play the melody with their RH and it seems pretty good. They play the chords with their LH and it’s pretty good too, and then they try it hands together and it’s an epic failure (or at least it feels that way). What happened? Why is this so hard?
Playing hands together requires patience plus something else. That something else seems like a mystery. How can we teach an adult to play hands together and minimize or eliminate the frustration?
First let's take a look at our hands and what we are asking them to do. We have two hands that are doing different things... they're playing different notes. That's hard to do. Our brain’s left hemisphere controls our right hand and our right hemisphere controls the left hand. (my-ms.org. Brain Anatomy - Part 1. The Cerebrum).
The second thing to note is the brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When we multitask the brain is not multitasking, it’s switching tasks quickly and that doesn't work when it comes to playing the piano hands together. (npr.org. Think You're Multitasking? Think Again. Jon Hamilton).
What is the solution? To get to know each hand individually… really well, autonomically well. That means lots of repetition and the good news is our brains are programmed to notice repetition. When we repeat anything often enough (like a chord on the piano) it becomes autonomic. This is the solution to the mystery. It is what happens when we repeat a passage at the piano and allows us to play hands together and accomplish amazing feats at the keys. With repetition, our scales become autonomic, our chords become autonomic, a passage of a piece becomes autonomic, and we can play hands together!
How do you apply this to a piece you are currently working on? Try this simple formula for learning to play a piece HT. It goes like this...
LH x2 RH x2 HT x1 Repeat up to 3 times.
Do NOT be tempted to repeat only the HT part. Play it once and then go back to HS. Take 4 bars of any new piece and try it. (Working on small sections is more successful than working on large sections of a piece).
When you first try this formula on a 4-bar section of music, you will likely be successful at playing LH and RH by themselves, and you will likely fail the first time you try it HT (I usually do). By going back to LH only, you will be much more focused on what your LH is really doing. The same is true with the RH. When you repeat a passage HS after trying it HT, your focus will switch to a deeper level. You will be paying more attention. When you try it HT again it will be better, maybe not perfect yet, but better. Each time you go through the cycle you become more familiar with each hand and more autonomous.
As you progress and become more familiar with the passage, move to this formula:
LH x1 RH x1 HT x2 Repeat up to 2 times.
Continue to play a little HS in order for each hemisphere of your brain to get a handle on what you are asking it to do (pun intended 😊)
Our adult brains are adaptive and will accomplish this task. It’s not a mystery. The shortest route to enjoying the experience of creating music with both hands is PATIENCE, REPETITION and practicing HANDS SEPARATELY.
LH - Left Hand
RH - Right Hand
HT - Hands Together
HS - Hands Separately
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