A lively Linked-in discussion is percolating about ways to practice piano and develop technique. Ardent defenders of a Hands Together approach insist that hands alone playing fits only elementary level students. (Deprecation is noted)
The Hands Together contingent misses the mark.
A solid supporter of ground-up/layered learning, I can draw on my interview with George Li, an accomplished pianist, to corroborate my opinion.
Shirley Kirsten: As of 2012, in the present, what is your daily practicing routine? And can you fill us in on your approach to learning music?
How, for instance, do you warm-up at each session? (scales, arpeggios, 3rds, 10ths, 6ths?) Are there other routines that you might share?
George:” When I practice, I usually go by 1-hour periods. I practice 3-4 hours a day on school days, and 7-8 hours on weekends and holidays. When I work through pieces, I practice slowly in order to thoroughly understand the harmonic phrases and musical details with separate hands as needed.
“I also use dotted rhythms, practice phrase by phrase, and work out different voices separately.”
OK so George’s qualifier of “separate hands as needed” indicates that he doesn’t always practice a whole piece hands alone. But further into the interview, he explains how analysis of harmonic progressions factor into his practicing, meaning that his process is conscientiously broken down into various components and dimensions that feed his learning.
What else is new? I would have easily predicted his replies based on the caliber of his artistry.
Recently, I received correspondence from two adult piano students expressing interest in how virtuoso pianists such as Lang Lang, Murray Perahia, Evgeny Kissin, and others, practiced pieces in an initial learning phase.
In this regard, I wish I had easy access to a segment on Perahia’s creative process that was aired on German TV. He was separately practicing the Left Hand ostinato (redundant bass pattern) from Chopin’s Berceuse to flesh out its phrasing and shape.
As a substitute for the original footage, I’ve included his performance as a point of reference.
And here’s a snippet of Kissin practicing the Right Hand alone of Liszt’s “La Campanella” prior to a concert.
Exploring voices in Baroque music through separate hand practicing.
The Bach Two-Part Inventions: (or three-part Sinfonias) require separate hands playing and exploration.
Such voice parceling is indispensable to understanding the “counterpoint” of the composition, with its weaving, imitating and overlapping parts.
The video amplifies:
In a word, separate-hand practicing should not be diminished in importance, or relegated to beginners. It’s a living, breathing process that fuels the ultimate development of a piece to a high standard of performance at all levels of study.