There are two images I have attached.

In the first one it says, I guess, play the top note on the treble clef with your left hand (cross hands). But how on earth am I supposed then to play the chord in the bass clef? My fingers are not long enough to play all the notes written in both clefs.

Could you please help me, how should I do this? If it means I should play all the notes in the treble clef with my left hand, that sounds even more fantastic. The fingering indicates that I have three second fingers, which is not true at least for me. Is that a typo?

A similar concern is with the second image. Although it says "Pedal" there, I still do not see how it is possible to play all the notes in the bass clef at the same time.

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    Please make proper citations : provide name of piece, composer, publisher or edition detail. First, as respect to the composer but also because the right answer might depend on style, period, etc.
    – ogerard
    Dec 25, 2017 at 7:09

2 Answers 2


The wavy vertical lines to the left of the chords mean "arpeggio": in other words, you are being told to roll the chords. Given that both both passages have Ped indications (the lines and carets under the bass stave in the first excerpt), you aren't obliged to hold the notes with your fingers, so you can indeed cross hands in the first passage.

(Edit: To clarify, the horizontal line under the bass stave in the first example means to hold down the pedal, with the carets meaning to release the pedal, then depress it again. The example shows syncopated pedaling, meaning a release and attack of the pedal after the chord is sounded in order to tie the chords together in legato fashion. In this particular case, I would consider doing this after starting the chord, but just before crossing hands.)

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    In general, whenever the range of a chord exceeds your hand span, you're expected to play it via arpeggio even if there isn't a waved mark. Pianists have very different body measurements, and this convention makes it easier to notate things without worrying whether or not you are demanding the impossible. Towards the end of the romantic era, a lot of composers omitted the arpeggio mark even when writing monster chords that were obviously too wide for anybody to play, even Rachmaninow himself. Feb 17, 2015 at 7:30
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    In these particular cases, you aren't being given a choice, though, @Kilian. I can span tenths, so, without an explicit arpeggio sign, I would tend to play such chords without rolling. It's also a matter of form: the arpeggiation of the chords so marked is meant to be heard - in fact, in the first example, you'd probably roll the chords relatively slowly. The arpeggiation in chords that you roll faute de mieux shouldn't be obvious.
    – user16935
    Feb 17, 2015 at 8:08
  • (Granted, without rolling, the layout of the chords in the first example would be a real stress.)
    – user16935
    Feb 17, 2015 at 8:15
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    Thanks a lot! As I understand, when arpeggiated, these notes should be played as sixteenth notes, or just as fast as possible? Or should they be equally divided throughout the length of the written note?
    – John Smith
    Feb 19, 2015 at 0:14
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    Depends on a number of things: tempo, rhythmic context, number of notes in the arpeggio, written duration, and so forth. Taste even, sometimes. Arpeggios of this sort are played a little out of time: if they were measured, they would have been written out in full. In the first example, the written durations are long, I'm guessing that the tempo is slow, and the crossing hand imposes a delay, so a slow roll is in order, possibly roughly 16ths. If the second example is moderate in tempo or faster, the roll is going to sound like fast ascending grace notes: "t-t-lump", so to speak.
    – user16935
    Feb 19, 2015 at 0:37

The other answer didn't explain exactly, but in the first case, you're supposed to cross over and play the top note with your left hand. So you roll the LH chord, then continue the roll into the RH, and finally cross over and play the top note with your left hand. The pedal will keep everything sounding.

The second example is just a simple one-handed roll. Use fingers 5-3-1, and if your hands aren't big enough to span the 10th, pivot on your 3rd finger. Again, the pedal will hold everything together.

  • Yup, exactly, @Matt. The short rule is that you roll from bottom to top all the notes covered by the length of the arpeggio sign. I had considered that as sufficiently obvious from the two-handed and one-handed examples given, but, on sober reflection, I suspect I was wrong. +1 for adding the necessary detail.
    – user16935
    Feb 18, 2015 at 2:16

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