A new way to practise
Nigel Scaife, ABRSM’s Syllabus Director, looks at the benefits of practising hands separately and how our new Piano Practice Partner can help. Practising with each hand separately is a core learning activity for all pianists. Virtually all pieces can be usefully practised in this way, helping students to develop control, improve technique and gain general musical awareness. During lessons, teachers often play the part of one hand while the student plays the other. Playing with just one hand while hearing the other part helps with both technical and musical development as students can focus on a specific area – such as rhythmic fluency, sense of phrasing or articulation – within the full musical texture. But in practice sessions this has not been possible – until now!
Introducing our new app
With Piano Practice Partner students can play one hand while listening to the other hand’s part at the same time. The app is available for all pieces set on Grades 1 to 3 of our new Piano syllabus and provides a really useful tool for candidates at these early grades.
Musical context at the right speed
Using this app, students can work on the more challenging aspects of a piece in a musical context. These might include playing triplets against duplets or syncopated rhythms, or achieving uniformity of articulation between the hands where similar musical material is shared. Importantly, Piano Practice Partner uses our SpeedshifterTM technology so that students can play at a speed which works for them – slowing down or speeding up the tracks as needed. You can also set loops to repeat parts of the piece if you want to focus on a particular section. Slow, careful practice with attentive listening is such an important aspect of learning to play the piano – something this app supports in many ways.
Balance and synchronisation
Piano students can sometimes forget to pay enough attention to the left hand, as they naturally emphasise the top-line melody in practice sessions. So being able to hear the right-hand melody while playing and focusing fully on the left hand and the way it interacts with the other musical material will be of real benefit to many developing pianists. Creating the right balance between the hands is something else that Piano Practice Partner can help with. Students could play the left-hand part alone and ‘mime’ or ‘ghost’ the right-hand part while listening to it on the app, and vice versa. Alternating the hands means that each receives equal attention, encouraging students to listen to the interaction and balance between the hands. This kind of practice can also be useful in terms of synchronisation. It helps students to listen carefully to the placement of notes and avoid any ‘splitting’ of chords. As pianist Lang Lang writes: ‘Both hands need to work together but also be free to do individual things. You only manage that after lots of practice with separate hands.’
An incentive to practise
With its playful visuals, this easy-to-use tool is perfect for supporting young students with their practice. They can play along to real musicians’ performances, either exactly as recorded or as metronomic performances with the rubato removed. And just as playing with another musician is a great motivator, using Piano Practice Partner can increase a student’s incentive to practise. It helps to make the necessary repetition more musical and with a virtual friend to play along with, practice becomes more enjoyable and rewarding.
See the difference
Why not ask a student to practise a piece for a week with each hand separately using Piano Practice Partner and see what a difference it makes? By playing with a virtual partner, students can increase their motivation, confidence, fluency and technical security. It can help with rhythmic stability, tonal awareness, physical control and dexterity, and stylistic expression, as well as encouraging students to look ahead and keep going when they play. Hands-separate practice will never be the same again!
This article was originally featured in the October 2014 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.
Piano Practice Partner is available for iOS and Android devices in both smartphone and tablet versions, from iTunes and Google Play.
The app comes with three short excerpts from pieces at Grades 1 to 3 of our Piano Exam Pieces 2015 & 2016. The excerpts are free, allowing you to try out the app before buying the selection of syllabus pieces you need.
You can find out more at: www.abrsm.org/practicepartner.