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The whole question is in the title actually. I'm arranging some songs, and I wonder whether most pianists can play the ninth E–F# by their left hand. In my arrangement it's in the comfortable bass position (E2–F#3 in the scientific notation) and it's in a series of sustained half-notes so no hurry down there.

Will most pianists be able to play it? Is there any standard on what to assume people manage?

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    If you want to be conservative, don't write chords with stretches beyond an octave. (Remember that children play the piano, not just adults!) On the other hand some music genres assume everybody can stretch a 10th, which is just not true. I would say that 9th with the thumb on the black note is "right on the limit", unless you can use the sustain pedal to hold the notes. – user19146 Jan 14 '17 at 23:27
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It's tough to say whether "most" can, since we don't really have full statistics on the piano-playing population.

With that said, composers throughout history have used the interval of a 9th relatively frequently. If you are arranging these songs for piano players that have at least a fair amount of experience, they will have encountered 9ths before and will know how best to deal with them. (The difficulty really comes with adding in a third pitch in the middle of the 9th; E2--B2--F#3 is much more difficult to play than E2--F#3.)

There's no real standard, but as aleph says in his comment, the 9th is right about the limit. 10ths and larger exist, but they are more rare and typically only occur as rolled chords.

  • I wouldn't dare force someone into E2–B2–F#3! – yo' Jan 15 '17 at 12:22
  • @yo' Why not? For me it's quite comfortable. This doesn't depend much on hand size (if you can play the ninth without the note in between), but more on how far you can stretch your hand, which is something a pianist should train anyway. – 11684 Jan 15 '17 at 17:05
  • Hand shape also matters. Try playing that chord on the left hand, then see what happens when you play it with your right hand! – Richard Jan 15 '17 at 23:40
  • I see block 10ths in stride piano too often. Granted, I'm hard-pressed to find any female stride pianists, and that's probably why there are so many 10ths in stride piano--men have bigger hands. – Dekkadeci Aug 7 '17 at 13:14

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