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I'm a self-taught piano novice, can play easier two handed pieces (e.g. Minuet in G maj), struggling with chords. My favourite piano listening piece is BWV582, Bach's Passacaglia/Fuga from an Angela Hewitt CD. Just for fun, I looked up the score (http://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/09822) from a Eugen d'Albert transcription and had an ill-sounding go at the first page.

Of course this piece is way out of my league, but my question is about how better pianists put their fingers (or how they stretch them) when playing notes like the last 2 of the 12th bar (left hand) or the first 2 of the 16th bar (left hand).

I don't have very small hands, but this was too far. How extreme is this sort of thing? Does the spread come with practice, or should one cheat? Or is this because it's originally an organ piece?

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"Or is this because it's originally an organ piece?" Yes - that's exactly why your fingers are having to play such a range in the hands. The left-hand bass part is played by the feet on the organ, freeing up both your hands to play the rest. –  Widor Apr 16 '13 at 12:02
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Well, my hands aren't particularly big, but I can easily stretch them an octave and perhaps a ninth sometimes. From what I've heard, that's about common.

Here, the first interval you mentioned is a tenth (in the twelfth measure). That is larger than what I could reach. However, because they are not sounded at the same time, the D could be hit with the thumb and sustained with the (damper) pedal while the 5th digit would reach up to the F. It's not really cheating to use the sustain pedal to enlarge your range.

In the sixteenth measure, there is an interval of two octaves between the C beneath the F clef and the middle C. Now, the composer knows that no one can reach this far. So, he notated the middle C to be played by the right hand and the low C to be played by the left hand. Again, use the sustain pedal to sustain the low C and then reach up with your fifth digit to the G.

The one downside of that in this particular case is that the middle C will be held when you don't want it to. There are a few ways to avoid this depending on the piano you are playing on. If have a Sostenuto pedal, strike the low C a little before and use that pedal to sustain it, while leaving the middle C alone.

Some pianos, instead of having a Sostuneto pedal in the middle, have a bass-damper. This would be the most useful in this case because you could play it as normal and use the pedal to only sustain the low C. The C's would both be sounded at the same time, but the middle C would still only be an eighth note.

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I'll just add that the spread of your hand will increase slightly with practicing, but this is not something that should be forced and not even something to pay attention to. Let it happen naturally. –  ecline6 Apr 15 '13 at 16:23
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