Monday, November 8, 2010

Addition to the practice routine

If what I do can even be described as a "routine"!

I am right-handed. I work on a computer all day, and to try to balance out overuse, I keep the mouse on the left side of the keyboard and in general try to do things ambidextrously as much as I can. But my right hand still bears an extra burden in terms of fine motor tasks. Then I go home and practice the piano, and it's a fact that most piano music exercises the right hand far more than the left.

So I've been noticing over the past few months that my left hand feels slighted in terms of how much exercise it's been getting. I've noticed it especially since I started working on the Bach D minor prelude from WTC I, in which the right hand gets a significant workout while the left hand just plays a walking bass in eighth notes. After an hour of practicing this piece, my right hand and arm feel pretty buffed, whereas my left hand feels like it's been taking a nap. So I decided to add some left-hand-alone work to make up for this deficiency.

My first piano teacher did this. Part of her standard assignment would be an exercise out of Hermann Berens's "Training of the Left Hand: Forty-Six Exercises and Twenty-Five Studies for the Left Hand Alone."

Here's a sample page (courtesy of SheetMusicPlus):

Naturally, with the callowness of youth, I didn't appreciate this much at the time, though I did like some of the studies -- they are musical. I may even get old Berens out of the music stockpile. But last night, I turned to Brahms's arrangement for left hand alone of the Bach Chaconne in D minor. I read through the entire piece (the first time I've ever been able to do that!), and sorry, Herr Berens, but this piece is in a different universe.

Brahms said of it (in a letter to Clara Schumann),

The Chaconne is in my opinion one of the most wonderful and incomprehensible pieces of music. Using the technique adapted to a small instrument the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I could picture myself writing, or even conceiving, such a piece, I am certain that the extreme excitement and emotional tension would have driven me mad. If one has no supremely great violinist at hand, the most exquisite of joys is probably simply to let the Chaconne ring in one's mind. But the piece certainly inspires one to occupy oneself with it somehow . . . There is only one way in which I can secure undiluted joy from the piece, though on a small and only approximate scale, and that is when I play it with the left hand alone . . . The same difficulty, the nature of the technique, the rendering of the arpeggios, everything conspires to make me-feel like a violinist!*

I'm not sure I want to feel like a violinist, but I think that tackling the technical challenges involved in bringing this very familiar piece (I've not only heard it performed but have lived through various friends learning it, on both violin and guitar) to life will be very helpful, beyond simply exercising my left hand.

So I will add this into my mix and will see how it develops.

*From La Jolla Music Society, Copyright 2010

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