On separate hands versus hand together playing

One of the many misunderstandings around Dorothy Taubman and the Taubman work is the issue of separate hands versus hands together practice.  In contrast to the common practice of learning (and memorising) the right hand, then the left hand, and somehow expecting that to effortlessly merge into a hands together experience, she believed that this way of learning was like learning three pieces and three different situations for the torso: left hand, right hand, and hands together, not one piece. We also teach our non-playing hand not to move when we practice separate hands.

This was my experience growing up. I diligently learned each hand separately, until the special day when I (or my teacher) felt it was “time” to try hands together. The hands together always felt somehow unrelated to my previous practice, but being a “good student”, I didn’t question the process.  Putting Bach fugues hands together in particular after weeks of learning each voice, voices in combinations, and separate hands was always a headache. 

To be clear, the best Taubman teachers are incredibly flexible in addressing the particular situation at hand, and Dorothy Taubman was a prime example of this. Yes, she advocated hands together practice, to develop as soon as possible the complexity of the two handed, interdependent experience of playing the instrument. However, if a fingering needs to be checked, a shape worked out, or a technical or musical issue needs to be solved, of course we would go to separate hands. If someone is injured, the initial work is very often focussed on separate hands in retraining; there is just simply too much information to process otherwise. It’s a back and forth according to the next step the person needs to take, just as the process of learning a piece and developing an interpretation is a back and forth from the micro to macro. We have to be flexible.

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