Any pianists that can give some tips?

Hope this isn't too off-topic for even the 'off-topic' section, but feel free to remove if it is.

So today I got the urge to start practicing the piano again, and then I remember the part that always stumped me: playing with both hands.
Every time, left hand's good, right hand's good, then when I try to stick it together, it falls apart into a mess of notes...

Just a bit of background:
I am familiar with basic music theory and can read music, but I've only ever really played stringed instruments (and really only the violin).

So my main question ('cause I'm sure I'll have others if I manage to keep it up) for any pianists on this forum: what do you think is the best way to go about practicing playing a piece with both hands?

General practice advice is also welcome.
Maybe find some easier pieces that use two hands, practice until they are really good, and work back up to the current piece.
I'm not aware of any tips specifically relating to putting the hands together, but there are quite a lot of piano teaching vids on YouTube so it might be worth a search there.

Otherwise, just general tips:

- Practice slowly and accurately. Treat hesitation as a mistake to be fixed.
- Divide the piece up into sections and practice them separately
- Start at the end of the piece and work backwards when putting the sections together, to avoid over-practising the beginning, which is inefficient.
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I've got a book somewhere that I wish I could remember the name of... (How to forget everything you ever learned about how to play piano/play music? That's way to many words. Um. Unlearning everything about piano? Err... no... well. )

Any-way, that book spent a lot of time demystifying music theory and encouraging you to make your own arrangements for popular songs, the basic point being, your left hand is your harmony and rhythm section; your right hand is your melody. Take any melody you like, anything at all... something off the radio, a childhood song, a christmas carol (oops just missed that season!), whatever. Sheet music for voice & guitar is pretty good here.

First, play just the melody on your right hand, easy, right?

Now, if you have chord notations or can identify the current chord from your the sheet music of the melody line, then play just the named note of the chord at the beginning of each bar and each chord change on your left hand while you play the melody on your right hand. Slow down as much as you need to to make this work.

Get that up to speed, and then start getting rhythm going on your left hand, hit the note for the current chord on every quarter-note. Once left hand and right hand are in sync, then instead of playing the harmonic note of of the chord, actually play the chord on every beat. Then you can try stuff like alternating chord/note/chord/note or chord/rest/chord/note, w/e.

Anyway, having gone through these exercises with a couple songs, you can look through the stuff you want to play in search of stuff where the left hand is -strictly- harmony and rhythm. It does happen that the melody crosses between hands, and there are counterpoint melodies and stuff, but you want first to just get the ability to keep the left hand providing a constant rhythm that the right hand follows with a melody line.

Once you can do that for a few songs, it'll be a lot easier to handle music that's already fully arranged too, just keep an eye on where the melody crosses between hands and try to keep a sense of which notes on the right hand are part of the harmony and which are part of the melody. Don't be afraid to start learning a piece with a simplified version of the left hand while you pin down the melody.

If you've got your eye on playing Bach or some such purely instrumental material, well, it'll still be the same thing, ultimately. It's just a little harder to identify the pieces when there's no voice line to follow to pinpoint the primary melody for you.

Good luck!
I can only play the electric guitar, so unfortunately I can't give specific advice. I think I kinda know how that feels. I've always been obsessed with speed and technique, so for 2-3 years I would practice scales and sweep picking for hours on end. After that initial hurdle, I could play pretty much all guitar solos I'd dreamed of with a little bit of practice, but if you asked me to play a song I couldn't mindlessly slam my way through and sing along at the same time... oh boy... just gimme one of those solos by John Petrucci and I'll get the job done faster and better! hahaha /slitwrists

Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system. Most people are probably bothered by this or will downright ignore so I'm not sure why I bothered writing it in the first place (lol)... but I digress!

Anyway, if I were you I'd try practicing with a metronome at a really slow pace. And I mean really slow. This is probably nothing new to you since your technique seems to be pretty solid, but I feel it's paramount to slow down and play as clean and accurately as possible. Aside from that, I feel instructional videos may have just what you need. This is probably a really common hurdle, so there should be a couple of good videos tackling that issue. Think of really big names, people you admire, and especially people good at doing this... some of them must have already shared a couple of tips and exercises to help overcome this issue. Likewise, you may very well find a couple of good videos on youtube by people who aren't even famous.

I hope that helps!
Edited: 2016-12-31, 10:41 pm
Ah-hah! I remembered the title finally (well, close enough to find it in a search):

'How to Play the Piano Despite Years of Lessons' is the title.
It's a really good book, as I touched on before, for demystifying music theory and getting at the core issues of how to make music. Including getting your left and right hand to play together. Smile

Not that I've played 'piano' (or the electric keyboard that I own anyway) in years, but still. What I learned from that book served me well for banging out music on piano and guitar, and still somewhat informs my singing and flute playing. (To the extent that I'm a musician, it's mostly Irish flute and a bit of singing. Someday I'll get back to guitar and piano, I'm sure. Mostly sure. I'm not getting rid of them anyway! Nooo!)

All this music talk, I think I'm gonna go hit up another episode of 四月は君の嘘 Smile .... since, y'know, 響け!ユーフォニアム is over... Sad
Edited: 2016-12-31, 11:30 pm
Thanks for the suggestions! I'll start implementing them tomorrow, after I clean off the desk that the keyboard went on so I don't have to move it from the closet to the bed and back again...
I agree with everything said here so far, but I wanted to stress FlameseeK's advice specially (as it is exactly what I'd say, too):
FlameseeK Wrote:Anyway, if I were you I'd try practicing with a metronome at a really slow pace. And I mean really slow.
I'll add that getting up to speed won't usually happen fast either, so don't get frustrated if you seem to be unable to switch to the next gear; just keep practicing.

That said, try to find some ways to alleviate the burden of repetition over repetition and make your study hours more efficient: choose some pieces that are both really funny for you to play and stress your weak points (you can look into the myriad of "studies" that exist -sorry if they aren't called like that in English, I think they are- by lots and lots of historical teachers and composers, for instance; but folk, blues or jazz pieces for beginners -or whatever rings your bell, for that matter- are worth exploring). Do also the kind of things that anotherjohn exposed in his third point (to avoid over-practicing some parts, which is not only inefficient but also will bore you more).

If you played the violin you probably know that lots and lots of hours of (not so) rotten repetition is the only way to get good at it. Yeah, pretty boring, I know. But when it comes to muscle memory, there's no such thing as what Anki is for regular memory (though some form of rudimentary spaced repetition will be beneficial if you want to keep a good amount of pieces in your repertory... but mainly because regular memory is also involved in that). The only way to get better at, say, swimming, once you know all the theory, apart from doing complementary exercises (and that's also why I recommend the metronome thing and the "study" type of piece), is just to swim a lot: sometimes just plain swimming, sometimes practicing some controlled, focused routines. Like with biking, skating, dancing, skiing or anything that's based on your motor skills, once you acquire some abilities you won't forget them easily (anyway that's not the best analogy, but whatever).
By very slow, are we talking somewhere around 50bpm or should I go slower? I have a metronome around here somewhere (or can just use an app), so I'll be sure to do that.

I'll definitely be trying some different pieces for a while. The song I wa working on before making this thread, a piano arrangement of 渡る者の途絶えた橋 from Subterranean Animism (yes, Touhou music... good music, fun games), was the slowest and simplest of all the 'I really want to learn how to play this' songs I had gathered a while back, but since the left hand isn't just playing single chords, maybe I should set it aside for a while.

If anyone is interested in what I've been trying to put together:
Doesn't sound much like the song from the game, but honestly, I prefer this one.
By the way, if you don't mind being a weird guy like me, I also recommend "practicing" basic patterns even you're away from your instrument if you have the time.

Back in the days when I still play the guitar, there was a time I wished my right hand were as efficient as my left hand on the fretboard... you know, for versatility, being able to explore new possibilities, as well as putting up a good show on stage.

One day, I decided to just tap away the same patterns I did with my left hand whenever I had nothing better to do. Little by little, my fingers started to become more nimble. What I did is every different from playing the guitar, so it would still take me a while to get used to doing the real thing... but my fingers are a lot more responsive and also move a lot faster now... even my pinky, which was next to useless! The best thing is that literally nothing changed in my routine. I didn't have to set aside time to practice or anything. My life would have been exactly the same if I hadn't done this.

It could be something simple and short, but still challenging to do with both hands at the same time. Since you're basically training your brain to process what you want each hand to do more independently, it should be easy to find simple patterns that accomplish that.
(2017-01-01, 2:06 am)sholum Wrote: By very slow, are we talking somewhere around 50bpm or should I go slower? I have a metronome around here somewhere (or can just use an app), so I'll be sure to do that.

When learning a new tune that is normally played at 120 bpm, I usually start picking it up at ~30bpm and work up from there. Of course, that's learning a melody line by ear which is a considerably different experience from playing a piano piece from sheet music, but by and large I think 1/4 'normal' time is a reasonable starting point. If you get the foundation down, bringing it up to speed isn't hard, but trying to play at speed from the start is nearly impossible unless you're a considerable veteran of both the particular musical style and instrument that you're working in. Even then, starting at 1/2 normal time would be perfectly normal. Sight-reading a piece at speed or repeating a piece by ear after one listen are lovely dramatic moments in cinema and do -occasionally- happen in real life, but are hardly normal.
Slow practice is fantastic, even if you're working on something you can already do. I like to think of it as a chance to train your brain and teach it how to control your fingers with perfection. So I think you should play as slow as necessary to have next to perfect control of your fingers. I haven't played in a while so it's hard to say, but I guess 50bps should be a solid starting point? As a rule of thumb, I think you should be able to focus 100% every time you move your fingers... it's almost as if you were practicing a single note at a time. I remember I used to practice scales and patterns while making a point of keeping all my fingers as close to the fretboard as humanly possible, and I gotta say it's really hard at first!

Of course, you have to speed things up a little later once you start to get the hang of it, but everything should be under control. And even if you can play it really fast, you should still not abandon slow practice as it's the best way to train your brain to get as close to perfection as possible. Sometimes, it can actually be more difficult to follow a certain rhythm at a fairly slow pace than if you play everything fast.
Edited: 2017-01-01, 2:41 am
Yeah, I'll second the figures given by SomeCallMeChris, from 1/4 to 1/2 depending on several factors (which he summarized pretty well). But anyway, YMMV, so do some experimentation yourself.

Maybe the others won't agree with me on this, but another advice I'd give you, taking into account that having to study separately for each hand is something new to you so maybe you were doing this otherwise, is to try to learn only very short sequences (say just one or two musical measures) with each individual hand before practicing them together, and keep practicing only that sequence until you build enough confidence with that small fragment, at the reduced pace discussed earlier, playing with both hands at once, before you start with the next fragment, one hand at a time. Once you have two or three of these fragments, specially if they form a whole musical phrase, try to practice them together a few times: that would be rewarding to you and also help you practice the linking of the fragments. But don't stress too much this part, we'll practice the linking later, so pass onto the next group of two to four fragments, and keep repeating the process, until you have enough to try to practice the whole thing (that could be the whole piece or, say, one or two sheets if the piece is long).
sholum Wrote:By very slow, are we talking somewhere around 50bpm or should I go slower?
There is an anecdote that someone who overheard Rachmaninoff practising said he was playing so slowly they couldn't tell what the piece was. It turned out to be Chopin's double thirds study (op 25 no 6). That's perhaps a bit extreme unless you're preparing for a concert though.

What I like to do when practising slowly is try to figure out why I can't reliably play it fast, because there are invariably telltale signs at slower speeds of problems that turn into real mistakes only at faster speeds. Hesitant feeling, fingers a bit unsecure, striking keys off-centre, etc.

It goes without saying, but another thing to watch out for is diminishing returns, which tend to kick in particularly hard on the piano. Improvement tends to come at its own pace over the longer term despite efforts to speed it up.

Another thing to pay attention to is how things go on your *first* attempt during a practise session. When repeating a section it's always from a warm state, but playing from cold can give a better idea of where you stand. And when playing it should always be at a speed you believe to be secure, not just play at the target tempo and trust to luck.