Search

Separate Hands to Begin: Fingering, Timing and Notes



Welcome back to our series on well-structured piano practice for adult beginners. As a reminder, it’s recommended you have two things in place before starting:

  1. Practice Space: Pencil and eraser, metronome or the Speakbeat App to help you gauge your timing accuracy, and -- ideally -- quiet space.

  2. Practice Plan: This plan should include proper warmups.

Today’s blog will focus on the initial phase of “working out" a new piece of repertoire music.


Creating practice sections within the music


In our last blog, we discussed breaking more challenging pieces into sections and then further breaking the sections into phrases. Very broadly speaking, you can think of sections as “paragraphs” and phrases as “sentences.” Oftentimes, longer phrases will need to be reduced to even shorter “semi-phrases.” Our goal is to create parts to work out before putting the whole back together.


I find many students tend to focus on completing one measure and then moving to the next. This rarely makes sense musically speaking. Students who practice one measure at a time almost always end up having hesitations at the end of every measure. Yikes! That makes 4/4 time sound like 5/4, with a long pause at the end of every measure, a kind of “chugging” effect that we definitely want to avoid. If you feel you must practice measure by measure, please be sure to work across the barline to the first beat of the next bar, ensuring momentum across the bar lines. (In other words, work from beat 1 of a measure to beat 1 of the next.)


Begin with separate hands


In early level music, the right hand is oftentimes more rhythmically complex, but the left hand often shifts around more. So each hand may have its own special challenges. Keep this in mind. Rather than practicing one hand and then the other, you may want to spend more time with whichever seems harder for you.


Do you focus on learning notes first, to the exclusion of everything else? Of course, it’s important to learn the notes, but it’s equally important to understand the timing and decide on fingering. So how can you extract these separate elements -- fingering, timing and notes? Here are a few suggestions which may be helpful.


Of course, start by sectioning off your music. Next, for each hand, determine the following:

  1. Fingering: What is your starting note/finger? Where are the shifts or finger crossings? Mark and circle the fingering at the shifts and at any points which aren’t obvious to you. (In the beginning phases of learning, remember it’s better to over-mark fingering than to under-mark. Yes, I know some will disagree with me on this, but clear fingering helps you see the distance between notes --intervals-- more clearly.)

  2. Timing: Are you able to clap the timing for the section, separate hands? If there are any segments which aren’t clear, definitely do some homework to figure those out. Please, don’t play the passage yet -- just clap while saying rhythm syllables or counting. (I’ll discuss how to use rhythm syllables in a near future blog. In my opinion, syllables are far more effective than counting with early level students.)

  3. Notes: Learning the notes will come last and will come much more easily once you’ve completed the things listed above.

  4. Expressive elements: dynamics (degrees of loud or soft) and tempo (speed) should be practiced after you can play hands together at a moderate tempo. We’ll discuss this next blog.

By bringing focus determining each of the separate elements before you play, you'll very likely avoid practicing mistakes. This may seem a laborious process, but it will ultimately save you time and ensure you have the proper framework in place when you begin to coordinate hands, increase the tempo and incorporate the expressive qualities of the music. As you advance, you’ll be able to navigate new music much more quickly, but even then you’ll always want to take a strategic approach to new music.


I hope you’ll find these tips helpful. Until I see you again, I wish you happy -- and productive -- practicing!



114 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All