Can You Play Piano With 4 Hands?

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Welcome to I am Robert Estrin and I am so pleased to have a return visit from pianist and novelist Jack Kohl. Today we are going to discuss, “Can You Play the Piano with 4 Hands?” Truth be told, I can’t, at least not by myself! However, there is a whole genre of 4 hand piano music. You are going to get a taste of it today and there is a wealth of literature as well as people who specialize in collaborative piano. My sister is a member of the Double Digit Piano Duo and we have also played 4-hand piano music together. The other related genre is 2 piano music. Jack has played 2 pianos some, and I have played 2 pianos as well. In fact, my sister and I played a 2 piano concert together a few months ago! We also did some 4 hand piano music as well. They are markedly different experiences. What makes playing two pianos different from performing 4 hand music? What are the special challenges of 4 hand piano music?

Try listening to the Beethoven Sonata Opus 6 for 4 hands. It is played with one piano with two pianists. You’ll be able to get a taste for what 4 hand music is like with this wonderful piece of music. There are also great compositions for 4 hand piano by Schumann, Mozart, Debussy and others.

I’m sure most instrumentalists would be thrilled if they had as much music in their solo repertoire as there is for 4 hand piano!

There are some challenges pianists face working collaboratively. The secondo player who sits on the left side of the bench handles the pedaling. The primo player who sits at the treble end of the keyboard has to make sure the secondo pianist pedals appropriately for them. You really have to work as a team. Sometimes in four-hand piano music, the hands are actually intersecting. The hands will be nesting between one another.

There are some places where you have to work out getting out of each other’s way. Sometimes you may have to lift off very quickly to get out of the way so that you don’t collide!

Beyond that, there is another aspect that is fundamental to collaborative piano and that is the balance you create. You have to think of your duo as being one big pianist. Normally as a pianist, you are bringing out the melody on the very top as well as the bass on the bottom of the keyboard. But, if you are on the top with a 4-hand piano piece, if you play the bass loud, you’re actually playing an inner voice loud! Likewise, when the secondo is playing, if they bring out their melody with their right hand, that is also an inner voice, not the melody. It just steps over everything.

The secondo player must lighten up their right hand and the primo must play their left hand delicately in order to sound like one pianist creating a beautiful balance. Together, you become one instrument.

There is so much to 4 hand piano music. I want to thank Jack for coming here today and if you haven’t read any of his novels they are pretty amazing. “Bone Over Ivory” has just been released. It is a great read, not too long, and I think it is something you’ll really enjoy. He brings to his literature love and a deep understanding of piano because he is a very accomplished pianist and has done quite a bit of piano performing before he centered his career in creative writing. He has degrees in solo piano performance. Rather than getting knocked out of that world, not being a competition type of pianist with the “fastest fingers in the West”, he decided he wanted to stay in piano by becoming a generalist. He has experience playing in theater pits as well as accompanying. The metaphorical implications of all of that have never been wasted on him. He keeps a journal and writes down observations about piano playing. He has written three novels and “Bone Over Ivory” is a book of essays you can enjoy.

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