When we are first learning to play the piano, it is very common for students to learn the music hand separately. This means the student will first play the right hand part, then the left hand part. The next stage is then putting the hands together. Why do we do this? Is this the best way to learn piano?
Playing hand separately is great for beginners:
- It is less intimidating than using both hands. Because the two hands use different clefs (treble, and bass), playing one hand at a time is easier for the beginning note reader. Until the student gets more comfortable reading in both clefs, playing with two hands will be very difficult. It is like being bi-lingual!
- Playing one part a time lets the student focus on a single musical idea. Where is the phrase? Is my fingering right? Is the rhythm right? What other instrument can play this line?
Playing hand separately can be problematic when:
- Students can become reliant on doing one hand at a time, and rely on muscle memory to put the hands together. Relying on muscle memory can be effective in picking up a piece, but is not smart practicing. Remember: random practicing vs blocked practicing!
- Students have a tendency to focus on the right hand more, especially if they are right-handed in writing. The right hand usually has the melody, and is more interesting. However, every part of the music is important! Don’t forget to work on the bass part!
What are some ways we can work on playing with both hands?
- Take the plunge and play with both hands! Only with persistence will the student gain the confidence of playing both hands. Sight reading exercises will help dramatically.
- Focus on note reading. Don’t let poor note-reading skills get in the way of piano playing. Everyone can read notes. Don’t guess! Take your time and figure out how note-reading works.
- Listen to recordings. The more you are able to hear the music in your head, the more you’ll be able to play the music with your fingers.