Joe's Blog

Practice Technique 25 : Crossing Hands (as in the Goldberg Variations)

April 5, 2017

This particular procedure is based on not treating the crossing of the hands as a special case amid the more usual case when the hands are not crossed.

Regardless of the distribution of the hands, I raise my arms up high, then let them sort of dangle* back down to the keyboard, at which point I play just the current note.

The next thing is to take the arms back up into the air.  Let them dangle back downwards (without aiming at any particular part of the keyboard) and sound the next note.

This procedure is repeated on every note.

By this process, I am eliminating all memory in the body (including in the hands and in the fingers) of where the hands and fingers were a note earlier, including what notes were played and with what fingers.

When I come to a section of the piece where the hands are to cross, there should be no internally sensed difference in the procedure.  I start, when above the keyboard, with the hands uncrossed. I “dangle” downwards as before, until I reach the keyboard, and in passing notice that the hands have exchanged sides with each other, although it seems as just as natural result of starting high up and flowing down with the arms.

This procedure is an example of a more general principal that, the taller a triangle, the smaller the subtended angle at the upper vertex.  The arm has gone up one very long, nearly vertical, side of an isosceles triangle, stops at the vertex, and starts back down the other nearly vertical side – with barely any change of direction (because the vertex angle gets smaller the triangle gets taller.

Every note of the piece (or variation) is played with a hand position that feels original and unused before.

Of course I can only practice this procedure in a very slow tempo, because of the time it takes to raise the arms up and let them down again.  But what I gain from that higher position of the arms, is the feeling in my body that every place I need to go to next always seems to lie exactly vertical down from where I am.  And a little suggestive imagination it is a feeling I can retain even when the arms are lower to the keyboard.

By coming from such a height, I also minimize the interference of the hands with the other when the hands do need to cross on the keyboard.  Whatever interference is left, it is that it occurs only during the last fraction of a second before sounding the notes.

* Why have I been using the word ‘dangle’?  It feels right seomhow.  Maybe because, while the arms are getting lowered, the feeling the entire way down to the keyboard, is that the fingers are dangling from the hand, and the forearms are dangling from the elbows. that seems to be an important part of this.  This seems to open up the possibility that things will remain in a purposefully uncertain state until the moment I sound the note, where I can benefit of the hands’ natural ability to shape themselves around an object.


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