Maybe you already know that hand independence is important for piano players but do you know why? What does hand independence allow you to do? Read this article to find out.
While browsing through piano-related videos, whether piano tutorials or online courses, you’ve probably come across the term “hand independence” at some point. And while you may have heard that hand independence is important for piano players, you might not know why.
And so, in this article, I’m going to dive into the reasons why hand independence is so important for piano players and how you can start or continue working on this skill.
1. To bring out certain elements
Unlike wind and string players who only have one line of music to play (string players sometimes have more than one line but it’s rare), piano players have the melody and the accompaniment and sometimes several lines of music to play simultaneously (think of Bach’s fugues with 5 voices!). And not all lines are created equal. It is up to us to decide what’s important and what should be heard at any given moment.
We are like a conductor who stands in front of an orchestra, gesturing to certain instruments to play louder while the rest of the orchestra is to play quieter. We have a whole orchestra at our fingertips (the keyboard) that we need to control to make beautiful music. It’s not enough to just play what’s written. We must conduct the different parts and make everything into a coherent whole.
Most of the time, if not always, the dynamics in piano music are written between the two staves, implying that both hands are to be played at a certain dynamic. However, that doesn’t mean we should play both hands at the same volume. If we played everything loud when it said forte or everything soft when it said piano, the listener wouldn’t know what to listen out for.
It would be like looking at a person who wears clashing patterns such as a plaid shirt, striped pants and polka dot shoes! (No offence, if that’s you!) Where would you look since all three patterns are screaming for your attention!?
If that’s your style, go for it! But, as piano players, if we want to refine our playing, we must choose our clothes carefully. Maybe wear complimentary colours for the top and bottom and a plaid scarf as a feature. People looking at you would then automatically be drawn to the scarf as it would clearly contrast with the plain colours of your clothes.
Translating to music, we need to learn the art of bringing out certain things like the melody, and playing other parts quieter, like the accompaniment. And the best way to do this is by learning hand independence, that is, by training our hands to do two different things at the same time such as playing soft in one hand and loud in the other.
Playing one hand louder than the other requires practice because the hands automatically want to copy one another!
Try playing a C major scale with the right hand playing louder than the left hand and if you’ve never tried this before, you’ll notice that the left hand will want to play as loud as the right hand. So, you need to train your hands to play two different dynamics.
Hand independence is also necessary for shaping the music using phrasing. Instead of keeping the music flat like a flat landscape, we want ups and downs in the music, hills and valleys in the landscape. That’s why we need phrasing. We need to sculpt the sound.
At the piano, phrasing is achieved by dropping the hand on the first note of the phrase and then coming off on the last note of the phrase. This is not too difficult to do once you get the hang of it but when phrases overlap, like in contrapuntal music, your hands need to work independently and that is more challenging.
Hand independence is also required when we need to play two different types of articulation. For example, legato in one hand and staccato in the other. Physically, this means holding down the notes to play legato while coming off the notes to play staccato.
When you first try to do this, it will seem impossible because the hand that is supposed to play legato will want to come off with the other hand! This again requires practice.
4. Note values
Playing different note values in both hands is probably not as difficult to do but it still requires hand independence and hand coordination. You need to tell one hand to play quavers, for example, while the other plays crotchets.
You’ll also need hand independence to play different patterns simultaneously. For example, an Alberti bass in one hand and a melody made up of patterns such as arpeggios and/or scales.
Play more musically
Go watch any professional concert pianist and you’ll see how independent their hands are. Not only do they move their hands in all kinds of ways but if you listen closely to their playing, you’ll notice how certain elements are louder while others are softer. The melody is always played louder than the rest. You’ll also notice the phrasing and the articulation and how it all comes together to form a three-dimensional landscape.
By working on or improving hand independence, you’ll improve your overall playing and musicality.
How to get started
If you want to be able to do all the things listed above by acquiring hand independence, then I invite you to join the Sight-Reading Club where you’ll get instant access to the Hand Independence Challenge I ran last month, in July. It contains exercises designed to work on dynamics, phrasing, articulation, note values and patterns.
You’ll also find 20 hand independence exercises (in Stage 2 of the Roadmap) along with many other challenges, exercises, drills and sight-reading material.
If all you want is access to the hand independence material, you can just join for a month and then cancel. I won’t be offended! 😊