Joe's Blog

How one hand can help the other

April 5, 2018

Summary: Play runs evenly. Be your own teacher by having one hand help the other.

Years ago while I was playing a Mozart Concerto, I was frustrated in the first movement because I could not play evenly a scale-like run in the right hand.  The notes were not pearly.  They were not pellucid, they didn’t shine because of their evenness.

I could not seem to solve this issue myself.  I was an adult pianist, yet I felt I needed a guide, a teacher, to help me.  I needed someone to give me a model of the evenness for which I was striving; a teacher, or if not a teacher, then a conductor to follow.  I wanted something more than just a sound-model – hearing someone else play it and then trying to imitate it.

Quite by accident I took one of the fingers of my left hand (my fourth finger), and began flexing it over and over at the speed of the run, as if chiding my right hand: “why can’t you play it like this?”  Fortunately, the next thing I did was to play the right hand while making the repetitive gestures in the left hand.  All of a sudden, the right hand sounded its notes evenly.  Somehow it seemed as if the finger of the left hand was in control of the fingers of the right hand.  From the right hand’s point of view it seemed something more than just following an example.  What sort of connection had changed between my two hands?

Our body exhibits bilateral symmetry.  The center is unique but the left and right sides are mirror images (or nearly so).  When we clap our hands we take full advantage of the power one arm lends to the other when they make mirror like motions.  The center of the body acts as the mediator and connects and transmits the reinforcing motions of the arms.  Take any passage that is done by the right hand and make corresponding mirror-like gestures with the left hand.  The right hand will feel less isolated, less like it has to take care of the task all by itself.  Something is balancing it, something is making it whole.  It no longer seems awkward or happening at an extremity, “out on a limb,” as it were.

The teacher lies in yourself.

I used to say to tell my students “lessons are all about practicing.”  Everything we do at a lesson is but a model, a sample of a dialogue between the ‘teacher in you’ and the ‘pupil in you.’  Eventually you will successfully internalize both people in this dialogue.

I remembered these words when I was wiggling my left hand finger to even out my right hand fingers.  That wiggling finger had taken on the role of the ‘teacher in me’ and showing the other ‘student in me,’ my right hand, how to go about playing evenly.

It was more than just ‘moral’ support or advice being given from myself to myself.  There was a direct transference of physical energy from one side of the body to the other, each completing in space the movement of the other.

I instinctively had given the single finger in my left hand an important advantage over the right hand.  It was not cramped down onto the keyboard forced to depress certain keys.  It did not have to articulate different fingers according to a certain order.  So, it was more than a model of evenness, it was a model to the right hand of liberation, of not being constrained by which particular finger was playing which particular note at a given time.  My right hand took vicarious pleasure in what the left hand did.  Perhaps due to the “mirror” neurons in my brain, the right hand could take on the feel and internal sense of motion of the left hand, more so because of the literal connectivity of the arms through the center of the body.

Future blogs:  1. Contrary motion versus parallel motion.   2.  Parallel motion in even steps in one hand versus uneven steps in the other.

Reminder:

These blog entries are not ‘timely’:  they do not address issues that relate to the present news of the world.  They address perennial issues faced by most pianists when striving to excel in their playing.  I encourage you to search backwards in the blogs to find the ones that will yield the greatest benefit to you.  You are also welcome to contact me to suggest a topic that you would like to see appear on the site.

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