Why You Need to Practice Hands Separately – Now!

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Prevent Traffic Jams with Hands Separately Practice

© Alexandra Gl – Fotolia.com

Hands separately! Those words are in every one of my lesson assignment books starting when I was four years old. It was the way my teachers showed me how to practice carefully and attentively. As I got older, my teachers assumed that I had a complete repertoire of practice techniques, including hands separate practice. I regret to say I didn’t always use the techniques I knew.

Part of my job as a teacher is to help my students develop their practice techniques as well. But sometimes I hear a “traffic jam” of notes in their lessons, a place where things aren’t going smoothly.  That’s when I know they need reminding of one of the most powerful tools at their disposal: hands separately practice.

Hands separately practice is indeed one of the most valuable tools we have. Used regularly, it can prevent those tangled traffic jams from happening. And it can help sort out the tangles if they do happen.

In case you need reminding, here are nine ways hands separately (H.S.) practice can benefit you:

1. Fingering. If a passage has tricky fingering, H.S. allows you to conquer it.

2. Technique. Working one hand at a time allows you to concentrate on your technique: mechanics; evenness of fingers; clean, noise-free playing.

3. Get it up to tempo. Playing each hand alone at tempo will help you get hands together faster.

4. Ear training benefits. When playing one hand alone, you can practice note reading or sightsinging.

5. Memorization aid. By learning one line of notes at a time, you can speed up memorization.

6. Fast way to find and fix problems. If you need to diagnose the cause of a traffic jam, working hands separately will show you where the problem lies.

7. Check accuracy. H.S. practice allows you to check the accuracy of notes, fingering, rhythm and dynamics.

8. Time saver. You will most likely need H.S. practice sooner or later. Doing it sooner, before traffic jams happen, helps you learn the music faster, because you will learn it correctly the first time.

9. Because it works. Guaranteed.

Ready? First, right hand…

What  practice techniques are your favorites?

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  • Nancy Saunders

    As a mature beginning harper I find I am frustrated by the slowness of my progress. I don’t know whether this is just the norm for someone trying to learn as an adult, whether my practice techniques are inadequate, or whether I am simply not able to progress fast enough to keep me feeling positive. I appreciated your post about practicing hands separately; this is a useful reminder that going slowly is a good idea for everyone. I would be most appreciative of any additional wisdom you might have for someone like me. (I am naturally musical, but learn new music VERY slowly). Thank you. Nancy


    • Anne Post author

      Hi Nancy, There are so many factors that contribute to learning music: practice techniques, certainly, but also note reading, technical development, rhythm and aural skills levels. And sometimes a student just needs to learn how to get from slow, careful practice to faster, perfromance-oriented practice. A coaching session or two with a good teacher should help show you how to address your particular areas that need strengthening. Does this give you any ideas?


  • Bernd

    I always start with the left hand – because it’s weaker and slower. If I start with the right hand, then, after it has got the right swing, continue with the left, there is immediate frustration. “Oh no, my left hand can’t manage anything at all…” It is kind of an illusion, but it can set you off nevertheless. So starting with the left hand (which needs more practice anyway, right?) prevents this kind of frustration.


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