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Tutorial: Shared ideas about practicing J.S. Bach Invention 13 in A minor (BWV 784) Videos

As I observed an 11-year old student work on this Invention at lessons, I came up with some ideas to improve the performance landscape. These included an awareness of the dualism of rolling arpeggiated 16ths and detached 8th notes in the opening. More often than not, the arpeggios can sound too flat if the whole arm and flexible wrist aren’t enlisted. And it’s easy to short shrift the 8ths and not be attentive to their definition and resilience that permeate the Invention. The subject extends from the opening arpeggio through the 8ths and is in a counterpoint relationship of two voices.

I have an older play-through of this composition rendered on my Steinway piano that I’ve added as a second video. I should really catch up, and play on my Haddy Haddorff so it matches up with the piano used in this lesson.

Approach: Separate hands, shape phrases, experience each voice independently before interacting with the other. (Realize the dynamism of each voice as it relates, overlaps, and is engaged in dialog/counterpoint)

Slow, behind tempo practicing is recommended. Be aware of sequences, modulations, resolutions, and the drive to the peak of the piece where the voices/hands converge starting in measure 19.

Play through on the Steinway grand:

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More on boosting the Left Hand in piano playing

In poring over my library of blogs, with October, 2010 as their anniversary date, I found this one from May, 2011, with an embedded video that explored more ways to weigh in with the Left Hand.

A recent comment by a visitor on the subject of Left Hand enhancement, enlivened the discussion and synched in with my videotaped examples.

Dustin said:

October 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

“Hi. What I do is practice hands together scales – But with a twist!

“Pick a hand, any hand. Right or Left. Then play the scale itself but without pressing the keys down. It’s basically like just touching the keys. But the most important thing is to actually play the OTHER hand very strong and deep into the keys.

“So one hand is touching the keys and other is actually playing them. Then switch hands and do the same thing. After you can do this without thinking at slow and fast tempos, then try the following.

“One hand super super soft and the other forte. So instead of just touching the keys you will actually press them down but every so gently. Then switch hands.

“This teaches the hands to act in different ways – If you are having trouble with a passage in a piece, then try the same method. Just touch the left hand keys without pressing them down and actually play the right hand – then switch hands.”

Trust me, it works! 🙂

My comment: Agreed, yes it does! Thanks for posting!

Keith Snell, composer, teacher, music editor, and performer made these astute comments about composing for the Left Hand only:

“There are four basic reasons composers write music for the left hand alone:

1. Technical development. In most two-hand piano music, the demands made on the right hand exceed those for the left. To help equalize technical development between the hands, there is a body of left hand alone music written for this purpose.

2. Compositional challenge. For some composers, writing for the left hand alone is their Mt. Everest. A composer’s skill can be stretched by setting particular parameters, discovering new possibilities through self-imposed limitations.

3. Injury. The repetitive nature of practicing, can cause injuries such as tendonitis, carpel tunnel syndrome, and focal dystonia. Damage to a hand or arm can also occur through accidents. In either case, music for the left hand alone can become a necessity.

4. Showmanship. Pianists and audiences alike often find pleasure in moments of pure virtuoso display, and without a doubt, a certain portion of the repertoire for left hand alone is intended to impress and amaze!

It is my opinion that the best music written for the left hand alone usually falls into two or more of the above categories. For example, most composers who undertake to write for the left hand alone chose to do so because they find the challenge of interest, yet they may be writing for an injured pianist. Or, a pianist/composer may start by writing a piece for left hand technical development, and end up with an excellent concert piece of virtuoso display.”


Take note that Leon Fleisher and Keith Snell, among other fine pianists, suffered with focal dystonia and were compelled to seek out repertoire for the left hand. The Ravel Concerto composed for this very hand alone, is one of the most well known pieces in this universe.