I kneeled on the sofa, my elbows crossed over the armrest, my neck craned forward, my eyes glued to the piano. Emily was having a piano lesson and I had been invited to watch. As my best friend learned new melodies and chords, I moved my fingers simultaneously, imagining what it might be like to produce those sounds myself. It must have been a magical thirty minutes, because afterwards I went home and proudly told my parents:
I want to take piano lessons!
Well, sure, honey. There’s just one problem. We don’t have a piano.
To my great fortune, my grandmother, a former amateur pianist herself, gave me her instrument. My parents contacted piano movers and soon our house was transformed- there was a piano in the living room. What grand possibilities awaited me!
My father went over to the piano first. He did not have much of a musical education, but he knows one tune and to this day, he can sit down at a piano and play it. And so he did.
“Dad,” I said, “you played three notes in your right hand.” I sighed. Maybe this was going to be harder than I expected. See, I was born with an atypical cleft hand, which means that my right hand has only a thumb and a pinky. My parents are remarkable; they raised me to believe that I could do anything, so I played baseball, danced, did gymnastics, and found solutions to everything except counting to ten on my fingers. When I asked to play piano, my parents didn’t even think about my hand.
Yet here I was, faced with a challenge before I even had my first lesson. What was I to do? I honestly don’t remember whether it was me or my father who had this idea, but soon enough we decided that I could play it with my hands crossed. My right hand played the melody, my left hand played the chords. Ta-da!
Crossing hands is still one of the most useful, basic tools I have for adapting piano music. Sometimes I leave my hands crossed for an entire passage, while sometimes I cross hands for just one chord. Although it is, admittedly, a little awkward, crossing hands allows me to play more of the notes written and to put fast Alberti bass passages in my left hand. If you are experimenting with cross-handed playing, be sure to determine which hand is better on top. In general, my right hand crosses over my left, but for some passages it is better the other way around. If nothing else, it’s a good party trick!
Postscript: Now that my hand has grown to its adult size, I can play both three-note chords in this tune!
F# chord, first inversion:
C#7 chord, third inversion: