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I'm currently learning to play Comptine d'un autre été from Yann Tiersen (Sheet music(pdf) - youtube video) and when I play starting from the 13th bar I barely hear the notes my right hand plays.

Obviously I should play my left hand less loud but this seems a hard thing to do for my brain as it seems to play both hands in the same volume, and when in some occasions it works to play some of them quietly, the timing is off between the notes.

What are some good techniques to learn to play one hand less loud than the other whilst the timing stays correct?

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The sheet music you link has some notation problem. Look at the bars 17-24: there are 15 semiquavers to a bar, grouped 4-4-4-3. Is it really 15, or is there a missing semiquaver, or should the last semiquaver be a quaver ? –  ogerard Apr 29 '11 at 13:16
    
I've used that music; it's pretty awful. There's the missing semiquaver, but the notes and rhythms in the melody aren't all correct. In particular, in the 3rd system, the rhythm should be Dotted-quarter, eighth-tied-to-a-half.... –  Babu Apr 29 '11 at 13:57
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In a related note, we REALLY need a standard way of representing notation... –  Babu Apr 29 '11 at 13:57
    
@ogerard, I have an correct version printed here, so didn't notice that problem on that version, I've edited my question with the pdf version I have. –  Stormenet Apr 29 '11 at 14:46

9 Answers 9

up vote 12 down vote accepted

In general, I feel that practicing with scales is a good way to learn technique like this, be it crescendoing through a passage, playing at different dynamics, playing with different rhythms, etc.

For instance, play an octave of a scale with your right hand loudly. Then play an octave of the scale with your left hand, but softly. Then practice playing both hands together at a slow tempo. As you are able to do this without thinking so hard about it, increase the tempo. It is important to learn to be able to do this without concentrating on the dynamic with which you play each and every finger.

Once you can do this, extract the method out to the passage you are playing with. Theoretically, it will become easier for you to move directly towards practicing with both hands together at a slow tempo and increasing.

This is also the method I use for learning to play different rhythms with each hand.

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Generally, the hands are held at the same height as each other. If you lower the palm of one hand, only slightly, that hand should not play as loudly, even if your fingers are already resting on the keys before you play them, you can still lower your palm a small amount.

To play notes louder, as others have already suggested, try lifting your fingers off the keys, so your fingers are not touching them at all.

You will not need any concious techniques given enough practice.

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To the many excellent suggestions already given, I'll add something with a bit of a different slant. It's very important to work from both sides of the problem. If you can imagine exactly how you want the music to sound, you can make it sound that way. The connection between your ideas and your hands is very intimate, and I went to no end of trouble trying to "get the notes" without focusing on the music. As I have said many times before (and this for me is a very hard-won lesson), the notes come from the music, the music doesn't come from the notes.

So, work very hard to avoid an idea such as "I will learn to play the right hand louder than the left hand, and then I will learn to play my piece." (This does not mean avoid exercises; I'll get to that in a minute.) Visualize what you want in the piece, put your hands on the piano, and start to play, with the idea of making your vision a reality. When something happens that is inconsistent with your vision, stop and do it over again. If it doesn't happen after a few tries, come back to it later with a fresh mind. If it still isn't happening, it's time to look at purely technical reasons and focus more on exercises for a bit. Again, while doing exercises, visualize exactly what you want to hear, and focus on making that vision a reality. Always do that.

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I had a complete inability to play different dynamics with each hand. Whatever one hand tried to do, the other followed. I had to take it down to the very basics to learn this.

What I did was play one note on each hand in harmony (e.g. C and G). I just kept repeating these two notes, while varying the dynamics. Then I would keep my left hand playing softly while trying to vary the loudness in my right hand. Then bring my right hand back to playing softly and start varying with the left hand while keeping the right hand on soft. Practicing this I started to get a feel for controlling dynamics in the hands separately.

When I started this exercise, I had a tendency to lift my finger and bang it on the piano when trying to play loudly. With a little practice I was able to control dynamics by pushing hard or soft, without the finger leaving the key.

Practicing this for just ~30 minutes I had enough control that I could start practicing with songs (e.g. play cords softly with my left hand, while playing melody loudly with my right hand).

Hopefully this exercise can help others.

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I found that the easiest way to gain independence of the hands in terms of dynamics is to do this: assuming that you know the notes, play only on top of the keys, without pressing the key with the hand that needs to play softly (like the accompaniement) and play regularly with the other hand. If you can't do it together just play separate first. I call this "faking" with the hand that needs to play softer. After you practice like this for a bit, then let the hands play normally and you'll see how it will come naturally.

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I suggest slowing it way down, so that you have enough time to focus on what your hands are doing. Practice playing the piece (it's simple enough that you probably don't need another exercise), with grossly exaggerated dynamic differences (try fortissimo right hand, and pianissimo left hand). As you get the hang of it, bring the right hand down to a more musical volume (that is, only slightly louder than the left hand).

Good luck!

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Edited to fit this question, hope that's OK. Feel free to adjust it. –  Matthew Read Jun 18 '11 at 14:11
    
No worries! It did make the answer clearer. Thanks! –  Babu Jun 18 '11 at 14:46

There are several difficulties in this piece, but let's concentrate on what I consider the main one for the purpose of your question.

  • The left hand has alternatively one and two keys to press. The first challenge is to produce an even volume on the left hand. Fortunately, the isolated note is situated almost always inside the interval of the two notes of the chord.

    A first exercice would be, for each combination (2-notes chord, succeeding note), to first play the chord, keep the keys pressed, then repeatedly, gently and regularly press the inside note. Change the attack of the note you repeat, making it louder or softer at will, staccato or as plain as possible, say, twenty times in a row. While doing this, visualize mentally your hand (do not watch it directly) and how you are using the strength and muscles of the fingers playing the chord to control, balance, and soften the attack of the isolated middle note. Then switch: press the isolated note and repeatedly strike the next chord, with the same ideas (variations of strength and speed of the fingers, use of the pressed finger's muscles and joints to control and soften the attack of the chord). Begin these two exercices very slowly, but not too lightly, try to have your upper body relaxed, your elbow and your wrists not too high, your fingers not too curved and do not forget to make small pauses to rest, not to overwork your fingers and wrist.

Now combine this exercice on the left hand with a slow regular semiquaver routine on the right hand (two notes on the right hand for one note on the left). Then add variations of strength, speed of finger descent and height inspired by the piece.

The next day, study a passage of the piece. Practice for a few bars the left hand alone in a cycle and then add the little passages from the right. Try to lift the fingers of the right hand a little higher, depress them a little faster, and keep them on the keys a little longer, as if you insisted on the note.

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First of all, you should become comfortable with both hands separately and together. Then play really, really slowly. Stare at the hand that should be louder and focus all of your mental attention on it. Play it as loudly as possible, while playing the other hand as softly as possible. If you have little to no experience in this, just get the feel of it by playing one note/chord at a time. When you can play one note in each hand at opposite extremes of the dynamic spectrum, you'll be on your way! This is difficult for everyone, but if you practice diligently, it will become second nature after a while.

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It is seldom a good idea to stare at your hands but a good thing to have a mental representation or where they are. –  ogerard Apr 29 '11 at 9:42

You could try playing something that's easy enough that you don't have to think about the notes (like an easy piece you learned when you were starting), play it slowly or with a metronome if necessary, and concentrate on making one hand louder than the other. Once you start getting the idea, you can work on transferring it to the piece that you are learning.

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