A Pedagogical Approach to Teaching Left-Handed Piano Repertoire
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Objective and Justification Because the thematic material of a piece is usually located in the right hand, pianists often ignore their left hands. I agree with Raymond Lewenthal who states, “[…] the left hand has been in a subservient position supplying accompaniments or oom-pah-pahs’.” Pianists may find that their left hands are often weaker and less consistent than their right hands. For example, if there are difficult scale or arpeggio passages that appear in both hands, the left hand may have more difficulty playing the notes than the right. If pianists attempt to increase the tempo and power of the left-hand part, tension and injury may result. To provide more training for the left hand, I believe that teachers should assign left-handed pedagogical pieces to students of all ages and levels. I came to this topic through an interest in teaching piano to students who have physical disabilities. Some students have physical impairments or mobility impairments caused by birth defects while others have acquired defects caused by accidents of various kinds. While researching the modifications or adaptations music teachers can make in general music classes or piano lessons. I found that many students started learning pieces that were composed or arranged for the left hand because of injuries to their right hands. I encountered many collections of music for one hand at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. I became especially interested in the music I found for the left hand alone. I realized that studying this music could benefit all students, not just ones who have physical disabilities. In this paper, I will discuss a variety of pedagogical music written or arranged for the left hand, concentrating on music graded from the beginner to early advanced levels. I will present a lesson plan for each piece and discuss how difficult passages can be performed without tension and injury. I will focus on motion, relaxation of the forearm, fingering, phrasing, and tempo. My paper will focus on teaching students specific techniques for learning left-hand repertoire and describe how problem solving occurs at each level. Review of Literature Perhaps the most important sources of information pertaining to this study are the Piano Music for One Hand by Theodore Edel and Piano Music for One Hand by Raymond Lewenthal. According to Edel, there is much more music written for the left hand alone than for the right, and a large amount of this repertoire was created for various reasons, including technical development of the left hand, injury to the right hand, compositional challenges, and virtuoso display. The key purpose, however, of most left-hand music, has been pedagogical. Because most piano literature highlights the right hand, many performers eventually find that there is a crucial gap between the abilities of their right and left hands and that the right hand can do things that the left hand finds impossible. In order for the left hand to develop an equal proficiency with the right, a pianist must account for the fact that right and left hands are mirror images of each other and interact with the keyboard differently. Edel and Lewenthal both state that there is an overwhelming preponderance of injuries to pianists’ right hands and not their left hands. Although disability in the right hand can result from birth defects, accidents, nerve disorders, disease, or genetic predisposition, many players experience permanent damage to their right hands from the strain of over-practicing to project melodic elements, from incorrect practicing, or from general overuse. It can take years for a pianist to recover the ability to use both hands as before. Pianists may have no other choice but to study left-hand music alone. Therefore, it makes sense that most one-hand piano music is for the left hand alone and that right-hand alone pieces make up only a small percentage of the repertoire. While Edel provides a history and survey of left-hand piano music, Lewenthal discusses practical strategies for learning or teaching this repertoire, including how to practice, finger, and pedal one-hand pieces. Lewenthal maintains that telling a student indiscriminately to practice slowly and loudly is the wrong approach because it can sometimes cause tightness, cramping, and even injury in a young and weak hand. He recommends that “speed and agility must be acquired first, and power only very gradually added.” I agree with Lewenthal that if the performer does not want to develop an injury during practice, skills should be acquired one at a time. He/she should begin practicing a piece at a slow tempo, remembering to release tension as soon as possible after playing the notes. After familiarity develops and students can play the notes in tempo, they may then work on projection. If he/she attempts to develop speed and power at the same time, tension can often build up and then radiate up the arms and into the neck, back, and shoulders. This is especially important to remember when learning the left-hand repertoire because students will be performing many tasks that are unfamiliar to them. For the purposes of this study, left-hand pieces can be understood in two types: some written specifically for the left hand, and others originally written for both hands that were subsequently arranged for the left hand. In both cases, fingering plays a major role in student success. Lewenthal suggests that the best way of determining suitable fingerings is by trying the fingerings suggested in as many different editions as possible and customizing them to the individual hand of the student. By consulting these studies and examining repertoire found in other collections listed in the bibliography, I was able to discover a wide variety of applicable repertoire. I plan to construct lesson plans for teaching these pieces and concepts to students.