Another Use for Belts

Belts are useful.  They hold up your pants.  Or, if you need a little extra support, your violin.  

violin belt 2

I learned about this adaptation from Samantha, a fiddle player in California.  When Samantha was twenty-one, she was in a car accident.  Even though she had no major injuries from the accident, her neck hurt playing violin.  She tried to raise up her shoulder rest and use extra pads.  Then she explored using a strap.  Samantha experimented with many straps until she discovered one that worked best: a thin, leather-woven belt.  


Samantha puts the belt around her neck and then fits it around her fiddle.  It allows her to look up, talk, sing, and give instructions to musicians and dancers.  What a great solution!

belt on neck       violin belt
Thanks, Samantha, for sharing!

Divide and Conquer

Today I started learning Liszt’s O quand je dors to play with a friend.  As I sightread the piece and began to write in fingerings, I split up an arpeggio between my hands.  Easy.  I arrived at my solution instantly; it is second nature to me now.  Yet I didn’t always know how to divide notes this way.  With the hope that one of my readers can benefit from this, I will pass along my secret!

After the introduction of the song, Liszt writes an accompaniment pattern that looks like this:

O quand je dors measures 8-10:


It is possible for me to play it as written.  However, my right hand would jump around a lot, and it would be difficult to play with control and sempre legato.

Here’s what I do instead:


By taking the peak of each arpeggio in my left hand, my right hand can hover over two notes (the low G# and B in measure 8).  My left hand has plenty of time to travel to and from the bass notes, and the pattern feels and sounds smooth.  Liszt repeats this figuration for about two pages, and my solution works every time! Ta-da!

I divide arpeggiated passages like this often. Sometimes the patterns are much trickier, so the solution is not immediately obvious. Occasionally I will practice one solution for days, only to find something better. A good solution makes all the difference!

Before ending this post, I would feel amiss if I didn’t mention one of the perils of breaking up lines into small chunks: it is easy to play unevenly.  I can still hear Arlene’s voice telling me not to make “two note groupings” by rushing the notes in my right hand. She called me out on it every time.  And I am a better pianist for it.

**Added July 2017**

Here is a video of the entire piece.  The audio quality is not great, but you can watch my hands.


Hot Jazz: Fingers Working Overtime

Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) was one of the world’s greatest guitarists.  His improvisations and compositions have inspired jazz and popular music guitarists for decades.  Fortunately, Django recorded extensively during his short life; he made over 900 sides of 78-RPM records between 1928 and 1953.  Listen to one of Django’s solos and you will marvel at his speed and agility.  

Django’s playing is extraordinary.  Just listening to him, you would have no idea that he played with only two fingers.  
Django was not born with a limb difference, but he damaged his left hand in an accident.  When Django was eighteen years old, he came back to his caravan one night after a recording session.  As he looked around, his candle wick fell onto his wife’s highly flammable celluloid flowers, immediately setting the caravan ablaze.  Django and his wife escaped, but Django’s right side and the ring and pinky fingers on his left hand were badly burned.  The tendons in these fingers shrunk and he couldn’t extend them.  During the eighteen months that Django recovered from his burns, he developed a new technique system to play guitar, relying almost exclusively on his two uninjured fingers.  A few video clips exist where you can see how he plays.  This one gives more information on Django’s life.  Enjoy!

Sliding Around

Playing piano is all about illusion.  

Playing piano with a limb difference is all about illusion and resourcefulness.  

If you need to do the work of ten fingers with fewer than ten fingers, it makes sense that each finger will have to play more notes in compensation.  Depending on your limb difference, there may be dozens of options for alternative and creative fingering.  In this post, I’ll share one of my most useful tricks:

Sliding from key to key with one finger

All of the videos will show an atypical cleft hand (mine), but the principle could be used for pianists with other limb differences.  

There are 4 situations where sliding could be useful:

Black Key to White Key

This is the easiest slide and the one I use most frequently.  As with any of these slides, practice making the connection legato.  

G Scale* **

*I call my thumb 1 and my pinky 2

**I have my own fingerings for each scale.  However, they are not always useful.  Complete scales are rare, and it is more likely that pieces contain scale fragments.  My scale fragments often have different fingerings than my “scale fingerings.”  

Black Key to Black Key

This is harder than black to white, but still possible.  

White Key to White Key

Slowly lift the first key until you can fall onto the second one.  

White Key to Black Key

This combination is the hardest.  If you can figure it out, good job!

I use sliding constantly; it is a critical tool for me!  When I write in my fingerings, I write 1-1 or 2-2 to indicate the slide.  Feel free to ask me questions about alternative piano fingering.  I would love to brainstorm with you!

Last Note: I am wholly and forever indebted to my college piano teacher, Arlene Kies, for teaching me how to use sliding.  We spent many hours together puzzling over how to create and improve my technique.  At least one of those hours was spent going over the types of slides and practicing them in isolation.