Practicing Four-Hands

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
Our four hands of fingers get tangled when playing the "Waltz of the Flowers" from the Nutcracker. Any suggestions??
Muddled in Mahtomedi :)

Dear Muddled,

That's the fun of four-hand playing - tangled fingers, limbs, feet, etc.! Liz and I routinely become weak from laughter during our rehearsals!

The element of physical navigation is unique to four hands at one piano, and it is helpful to isolate the issue and practice it separately. When you practice your parts individually, make sure you practice as if the other pianist is there. Drill things like "going over" or "under," "around" or "elbow in," so that you remember everything when you and your partner practice together.

That said, there are a couple tricks you may want to consider:

  • Try placing two benches in front of the keys at a slight angle to one another so that the pianist make a "V" (facing each other). It gives you more elbow room.
  • Instead of cramming your elbows into your sides (the top player's left elbow and the bottom player's right), try elevating or lowering your elbow so that it sits above or below your partner's elbow. Although it is awkward, I find it to be much less technically restricting than playing with my elbow stuck in my side!
  • In particularly nasty points, consider switching the left and right hand parts of the two pianists. Although it may not make musical sense (and "goodness!", you'll have to cross the invisible line many composers insist on drawing down the keyboard), it's frequently easier. When the two pianists cross hands, it forces them to utilize "Trick #2."

Four-hand playing it very similar to dancing - the hands and fingers are like a pair of dancers' feet - it can be just as beautiful to watch as it is to listen!