Joe's Blog

The Delayed Gratification of a Chord

February 25, 2017

Originally published on Facebook: 2/2/16

A student came today with a Liszt transcription of a Schubert Lieder. She said that dividing up the notes between the hands was short-circuiting her brain. I said, of course it is having that effect on you. There is an absence of consistency as to which hand is doing what and when. The piece is for a voice (in single notes) and a piano (with a left hand and  right hand). One plus two is three.  It would be easier to play if you had three hands. As it is though, the division of labor between the hands is more complicated, as well as more changeable from one moment or one measure to the next.

I suggested we make this issue easier to deal with by first making it harder. Often the route to a goal is through motion to an opposite goal. In this case mastering the most difficult case, makes the actual case no longer seem innately hard, but compared to the most difficult case, easier.

I picked a random location in the piece. There was an octave on the first beat in the bass, it was the lowest pitches. There was a single melody note together with it in the treble. Between these two pitches, and one half a beat later, while those first notes were still sounding, there was a group of intermediate pitches in both hands. This added up to a total of nine notes (5 written for the left hand and four for the right hand).

Start with the lowest pitch, and in ascending order of pitch, play first one and then another note. Keep the pedal down the entire time. The goal of the procedure was the postponed gratification of hearing all nine notes sounding together as a chord. We don’t get to that point until the ninth note adds in its sound to the other eight.

Redo this procedure. Start varying which hand and which finger plays each of the nine notes as they are adding up sequentially in time to a final ‘whole’ that is sounding simultaneously in time. You can use the same finger of the same hand. One can alternate a finger from one hand and then the other. Try this is a variety of permutations. Be creative. See how odd a sequence of hands/fingers you can create.

The goal of this repeating sequence of pitches, created in each instance with different physical steps, is to divorce what one is doing physically from what the resulting sound is. Eventually it becomes irrelevant which hand plays which note and which finger. The mind is fixed on the one constant phenomenon: hearing the effect of all the notes  sounding together. If you reach this point, then it truly doesn’t matter how you divide up the responsibilities for the notes between the two hands.




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