Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cans of Word Worms: Crossing Hands

Thing was the name of the disembodied hand that greeted visitors to the Addams Family manse in the famous cartoons created by Charles Addams. Many of us recall an image of Thing from the TV series of the mid-60's. Actor Ted Cassidy, who also played Lurch, usually played Thing as well. He used his right hand to complete his duties, but occasionally he would use his left hand to see if anyone realized the difference. While we were well aware that the table on which Thing rested covered up the rest of Ted's body, we were still fascinated by the movements of the helpful hand.

Hands are probably the things we are most aware of in our own bodies when we play the piano. First of all, as I mentioned before, they are highly touch sensitive. Secondly, they are always in our peripheral vision. Thirdly, we learn those abbreviations "RH" and "LH" almost from the first lesson. Those abbreviations are very helpful, but they can suggest a bit of the disembodied "Thing".

Crossing hands, for example, is something Thing could never do, in part because we believed he had only one hand. Those of us with two hands can actually cross them. If we lay one hand on the other, they are crossing. That is not usually what pianists do when we cross hands, however.

What we usually do is move one whole arm in front of the body so that the left hand is playing keys higher than those the right hand is playing. It can happen over a small distance or a large distance. In close hand positions, the hands can actually be sharing the same keys. They still rely on the arms to get them there, however.

Now when I teach "cross hands" pieces, I remind myself to say "cross arms". This may often be accompanied by some large arm movement away from the piano, allowing the student to sense how the whole arm takes the hand through space. We also explore how spiraling through the spine can help with very large crossings.

This may seem a little kooky, but it's not mysterious, creepy, or ooky, whatever that word means.

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