Piano Q&A: How do I read both hands at the same time?

For today’s episode of PianoTV, we’re going to try a new Q&A format. Previously we did a big monthly Q&A where I answer four of your questions, but I’d like to try breaking that big video into shorter weekly ones.

We’ll give it a whirl for a month or so and see if it works. I’d love your feedback on this new approach!

And as always, if there’s a piano question that’s getting you down, feel free to leave a comment to this video – perhaps I’ll select it as the next question.

Question

Read both hands at the same time on piano

This is a question I’m asked fairly frequently, so I thought it would be the perfect one to start our weekly Q&A session off with.

So how do you read two hands at once?

That’s one of the great challenges of piano. The majority of instruments require you to learn one clef only, but since pianos can make sounds with both hands, reading two clefs is necessary.

The problem that most people run into with this is that they try to do too much. They try to read music that is too difficult to digest at their level.

Perhaps the piece they’re learning is very readable hands separately, but hands together becomes an insurmountable burden. Then they’re reading one note at a time, “chunking” the piece together at a painfully slow tempo…and it never seems to improve.

Reading books

When we read sentences in books, our eyes scan ahead as we read. We don’t just read one letter at a time – that would take forever! The same should be true of reading music. Our eyes should be able to not only comprehend the note we’re playing, but also look ahead to upcoming notes and shapes

If you can’t do this while playing hands together, try playing something MUCH simpler – simpler than you think is necessary.

I’ve grabbed some pretty easy Czerny sheet music here. It’s from his op. 599 collection called Practical Exercises for Beginners.

If you were to read the first piece hands separately, it would likely be painfully easy. That’s good at this point!

What we want is a reading experience that doesn’t give you massive brain-strain. We want to be completely comfortable reading this. You should feel like you’re pushing yourself a little, but it should still feel doable.

It should be easy enough that your eyes are able to jump ahead as you play, just like you would read a book.

Ideally, you’ll get pretty good at this little excerpt in several tries.

Keep building your reading stamina by doing little exercises like this daily, slowly upping the difficulty level. If you start hitting the point where it feels like you’re not “comprehending” the notes (kind of like reading words you don’t understand), scale it back again.

Eventually two-handed reading will start to fall into place! But just start REALLY simple.

Read both hands: A note

A note: When I’m putting a piece hands together for the first time, it’s never “easy”. I always have to go quite slow, especially if there are complicated finger patterns. But I usually see improvement within a few days, and I feel as though I’m “comprehending” what’s on the page.

This is just to say that putting a piece hands together doesn’t generally start off perfectly. So don’t be discouraged if your first attempts feel clumsy and slow. Just keep an eye out – there’s a big difference between awkward first steps, and a complete lack of coordination.

With awkward first steps, you’ll eventually improve. With a complete lack of coordination, you’ll just keep falling over and over again with little to no improvement. If this is happening to you, scale it back.

xo,

Allysia

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.

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