Playing Piano With Two Hands

In the last four lessons you have learned how to play basic pieces with your right and left hands. Today then, we are going to take the step of putting them together and playing with both hands.

First of all though, I’m going to talk briefly about how to read and understand all the musical directions on a sheet of music.

To read a piece of music:

  1. Firstly, look for any instructions on dynamics written at the top of the page: e.g. tempo or instructions on the mood of the piece and how it is to be played.
  2. Key signature: this is indicated by the sharps or flats in the first bar after the clef sign. ( See a list of key signatures below.)
  3. Time signature: the two numbers following the key signature.
  4. Finally, skim through the piece and take note of: any accidentals (notes outside of the scale –see the explanation below), or any unusual rhythms (try clapping these out).

Accidentals are sharps, flats or naturals; they indicate that the pitch of a note is being raised or lowered. Naturals are the white keys on the piano and sharps and flats are the black keys. A natural is used when, according to the key signature a note is sharpened or flatted, but the composer wants it to be played as a white note.

When I say ‘looking for accidentals’, I mean that you should look for any ADDED flats or sharps, or naturals that aren’t in the key signature. If an accidental appears only occasionally, it is unlikely to make any alteration to the key. If it appears quite frequently (e.g. all of the Bs and Es are flatted in a piece in C major, then this is a sign that the key could be changing to C minor temporarily, even though there is no key signature). Usually though, if there is a key change that is going to last a significant period of time, then a new key signature will appear.

Carrying out these four things means that you will be more prepared when you start working on the piece. Gaining this information gives you an idea of:

(a) the mood of the piece,

(b) how technically difficult it is going to be,

and (c) the rhythm.

So…on to the first piece. Because this piece contains a fairly limited number of notes, you shouldn’t find it too difficult to start with, as your hands will be staying in the same place throughout. Notice that there is a repeating refrain in the left hand: GE GE GE FGE × 2.

If you find it really hard to co-ordinate the two, try playing separate hands. This is a technique I still use – in fact, I can’t ever imagine getting to the point where I stop using it! It’s so much easier to concentrate on one thing at once. And once you become familiar with each hand by itself, you will find it a lot easier when you finally put them together.

Notice the performance direction Adagio written at the top of this second piece. Adagio is an Italian word meaning ‘leisurely and graceful.’ Practice each hand separately first and listen to the melody that each part plays before putting both hands together.

Glossary of Terms

Adagio: Leisurely and gracefully

Accidentals: Sharps, flats, or naturals that indicate notes other than those indicated by the key signature