Thursday, April 08, 2010

Teaching Hands to Work Together

Sometimes as a pianist, it would be nice if the right side of my brain would control my right hand and the left side my left hand.  But I don’t think it works that way and as a result some rhythms are a challenge for me.

Playing one note or chord in each hand at the same time is easy.  Even playing two or more notes with one hand while the other hand holds a note or a chord is not hard.  But playing 2 against 3 or 3 against 4 or in this case 6 against 9 takes some practice.

The first time I encountered this was in a Franz Shubert Serenade probably at about age 12.  I remember the look on old Mr. Lightburn’s face when I told him I had figured out how to do it my using fractions, dividing the beat into 6.  From then on I kept my methods to myself.

There was something sort of cool about fitting that note between the other two and keeping everything in smooth rhythm, sort of like walking and rubbing your belly at the same time.

Currently my friend Deborah, who plays the double bass, and I are working on a sonata by Misek, a little-known Chech composer.  In the beautiful andante movement, he falls in love with 6 against 9.  I get a warm-up for this with 2 against 3 at the end of the first measure. 

Then a few measures later he does it.  You can see I’ve been practicing fractions again with my little penciled in annotations.  This time the count is 18.

I fall back into simple triplets, while Deborah gets to fit her 6 against my 9.  That was the point at which we stopped playing last night and we both decided we needed more personal practice.

Try it and you will see what I’m talking about.  While you tap 9 times with your left hand, tap 6 times with your right hand.  If you do it long enough, your brain finally gives in and accepts this weird rhythm.

I must confess to being considerably more challenged by 3 against 8 as is the case in one measure of the Chopin waltz I’m playing.  But even that is coming along with practice.

It’s these sorts of things that make it absolutely impossible to think about anything else while you are playing the piano.  At least that’s true for me.  I’m much better at putting the minutiae of the day aside while practicing than I am while sitting on the meditation cushion.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your last sentence made me laugh out loud -- so true for me, too!

I love that Schubert piece; it looks simpler than it really is to get the right feel, huh?

Your fraction method of counting the polyrhythms makes total sense to me; I think you have a lot of company with that one!

With your 6 against 9 -- it's more easy for me to see & feel that as three successive beats of 2 against 3...

Wish I could hear the two of you play!


12:55 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Anon -- Yeah, I did see the successive 2 against 3, but it just felt better to think of the whole measure to me in those 2 measures.

I knew you would "get" my approach!

11:09 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Are you the type of person for whom it will just "click" one day? (That tends to happen to me but I have no idea if it's normal.) I can't imagine to get my hands to work together in any way, shape or form, much less on a keyboard.

Good luck! You'll get it. You work so hard!

9:13 PM  

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