More on left-right brain relationships in piano technique

The other day Marko got each hand going pretty well separately in one little Bartok piece, but when he put them together, there was always a pause before he would play the new left hand chord. I finally figured out how to smooth out that pause – but it took a major reconstruction of his mental apparatus!

He told me that when he puts the hands together he thinks of the right hand notes, then shifts over to the left hand chord, figures out what that is, then shifts his focus back to the r.h. melody, then back to the l.h. for the next chord, etc. I recognize this: it’s something I did for a long time in sight reading – I found it very difficult to perceive the notes of the bass and treble staffs simultaneously.

“But the music is polyphonic,” I told him. “The actual r.h. notes are only 10% of the picture, the l.h. notes another 10%. The remaining 80% of the music’s content and meaning is tied up in the relationship between right and left, between melody and accompaniment, between one strand of melody against another. If you keep going back and forth, you’ll never perceive that relationship and your music-making will remain sterile”

The trouble was, his reading is so rudimentary that I couldn’t use the printed page to help him experience the magic of polyphonic relationships – I needed a more practical means.

“When you play your l.h. chord, notice what interval is formed between its top note and your r.h. melody note. When the melody moves up or down, keep track of how the size of that interval changes. Look at it visually on the keyboard, see the pattern of black and white keys and notice exacly how the distance between the notes of your two hands fluctuates as the melody proceeds. Then when your l.h. chord changes, see how the interval between your hands again changes, now because of movement in your l.h. as well as (or in some case, instead of) your right.”

Voila! We had found another way of joining the brains. Deciphering the notes is a left brain function, but mapping their spacial relationships is most definitely right brain.

This way actually suits Marko a little better because it has an analytical component. Linking the linear, left brain musical text to right brain body movement or rhythmic pulse is more experiential,  more foreign to Marko. Having to actually perceive, ‘oh, that’s a fourth, oh, that’s a sixth’ gives him a way to be intellectual even while he is waking his right brain up.

Another step forward in this epic journey!


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