7. Hands Separate Practice: Acquiring Technique¶
Essentially 100% of technique development is accomplished by practicing hands separately (HS). Do not try to develop finger/hand technique hands together (HT) as that is much more difficult, time consuming, and dangerous, as explained in detail later.
Choose two short passages, one each for the right hand (RH) and the left hand (LH). Practice the RH until it begins to tire, then switch to the LH. Switch every 5 to 15 seconds, before either the resting hand cools and becomes sluggish, or the working hand becomes tired. If you choose the rest interval wisely, you will find that the rested hand is eager to perform. Don’t practice when the hand is tired, because that will lead to stress (unnecessary muscle contraction) and bad habits. Those unfamiliar with HS practice will generally have a weaker LH. In that case, give the LH more work. In this scheme, you can practice hard 100% of the time, but you never practice with fatigued hands!
For the two difficult sections of Für Elise, practice them HS until each hand becomes comfortable, up to speeds faster than final speed, before putting the hands together. This may take from a few days to several weeks depending on your level of play. As soon as you can play HS reasonably well, try HT to check that the fingering works.
It should be emphasized that HS practice is only for difficult passages that you cannot play. If you can play the passage adequately HT, by all means, skip the HS part! The ultimate objective of this book is for you to be able to quickly play HT with practically no HS practice after you become proficient. The objective is not to cultivate a dependence on HS practice. Use HS only when necessary and try to reduce its use gradually as your technique advances. However, you will be able to play HT with little HS practice only after you have become pretty advanced – most students will be dependent on HS practice for 5 to 10 years, and will never completely abandon its use. The reason for this is that all technique is most quickly acquired HS. There is one exception to this option of skipping HS practice. That is memorizing; you should memorize everything HS for several important reasons (see 6. Memorizing). Therefore, although you may not need to practice HS, you may need to memorize HS unless you are an advanced pianist with good mental play. Such advanced topics will be discussed later on.
Beginning students should practice HS with everything they learn so as to master this critically important method as quickly as possible. With HS practice, you acquire finger/hand technique; then with HT practice you only need to learn how to coordinate the two hands. By separating these tasks, you learn them better and faster. Once the HS method is mastered, the student should start to experiment with playing HT without using HS. Most students should be able to master the HS methods in two to three years. The HS method is not just separating the hands. What we will learn below are the myriad of learning tricks you can use once the hands are separated.
HS practice is valuable long after you have learned a piece. You can push your technique much further HS than HT. And it is a lot of fun! You can really exercise the fingers/hands/arms. It is superior to anything Hanon or other exercises can provide. This is when you can figure out “incredible ways” to play that piece. This is when you can really improve your technique. The initial learning of the composition only serves to familiarize your fingers with the music. The amount of time spent playing pieces you have completely mastered is what separates the accomplished pianist from the amateur. This is why accomplished pianists can perform but most amateurs can only play for themselves.