Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Cross Hands

The crossing hand piano technique is explained in detail in this video

In this video, Robert tackles how to approach cross hands passages, with practical examples taken from Beethoven's famous Pathetique Sonata.

Released on May 7, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to I'm your host Robert Estrin with a special show today, how to approach crossed hands playing the piano. Why would anybody want to cross their hands on the piano anyway? Is it just for show? We're going to cover all of that today, and the example we're using is the first moment of the famous Beethoven, so that out of the Pathetique Sonata in C minor. Now, so why would you ever want to cross your hands? Why would a composer have you do that? I mean, you've got the keys here couldn't you just re-divide them? Well, the fact of the matter is sometimes, it really does make sense. As you can see, I'm going to demonstrate by playing the middle section that has this to cross section parts of this sonata, the first movement, in the exposition and again, the recapitulation. I'm going to play the first one, the exposition, and you'll see why it makes sense, how one hand just stays there playing. Well, the other hand goes back and forth. And then, I'll show you how to approach it so you can get nice fluidity in your playing, not just in this Beethoven Sonata, but any time you have quick cross hands playing in any music.

Just beautiful writing, isn't it? So, you can see the logic behind it. Having the hands crossover so would keep that left hand constant with the chords, and the right hand... It almost sounds like three hands, doesn't it? The duet between the top and the bottom. So, the secret to being able to get from one part and cross the hands, and be able to control it beautifully, and get the dynamics you want, is being prepared ahead of time. That's right. So, as soon as you do the crossed hands, you get over not just the first key, but all the keys you're going to play, and you not only get over those notes, but you get over in a completely relaxed manner. So, here is how to practice it. You start off and you stop just after the point of the crossed hands, but you don't play those notes. You just hang over them with nice relaxed hand over all the keys. Watch.

You noticed how I'm over the three notes here, and the four notes here, I should say, and I'm ready to play them, but I don't play them at first. Instead, I'm just over them, very relaxed, ready for them. That way, I can use the minimal amount of finger motion to get those notes to speak gently, and with beauty, without any tension. Watch again.

I'm ready to go. And then, once you get comfortable with that and you're over all the notes, not just the first note, but all the notes. You're over all of them, play them and then go on to the next time where it crosses back over the left hand. Watch. So, here's how to practice the next section. And, here, my right hand is now over these notes. Once you're comfortable with that, you have those notes and continue on to the next crossed hands. Before you know it, the whole section has come together. This gives you the possibility of playing with a lightness, and a beauty, and control. And, the other thing is you'll be ready for the notes. So, you won't have awkward rhythm with delays in getting there too late, you'll have control, and it will be beautiful. And, you can use this will all your crossed hand playing where you have to cross quickly.

Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here at
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Alicia on March 10, 2021 @12:48 am PST
HI Robert, the Beethoven pathetique sonata tutorial is so helpful as always! Is it possible to make a video of how to use the pedal for movement 1/3? i'm confused with the all the staccato notes. Thanks.
Robert - host, on March 10, 2021 @7:27 am PST
That's an interesting question. You should be able to make the music sound good with no pedal. Then just use dashes of pedal for color and to add volume to notes.
Alicia on March 10, 2021 @6:49 pm PST
Yea it sounds a bit weird when i added the pedal.Thanks a lot Robert. Have a great day Smiley Face
Shelly on May 18, 2020 @1:13 pm PST
Why do you switch from right hand cross under to right hand cross overr?
Robert - host, on May 18, 2020 @4:19 pm PST
How to approach crossing hands in music is totally dependent upon what is in the score. Sometimes you have to figure out how to navigate the music in order to facilitate things.
Robert - host, on May 18, 2020 @5:42 pm PST
You have to find a way to negotiate cross hands sections that work!
Shelly on May 18, 2020 @7:07 pm PST
Thanks. I wondered if there was a general rule.
Grace on January 20, 2016 @2:13 pm PST
Hi Robert! I love watching your videos - always so helpful! I wondered if it's possible to ask you a question about this section of the Pathetique (but not about crossing hands)? Basically, I'm very confused about how exactly to fit the mordents in. I've been trying to play them so that they start on the beat, but I think that I'm not fast enough at them because they are sounding a lot like triplets when at speed. Do you have any advice for how to practice them/get them on time? Thanks for any help!! Grace
Robert - host, on January 20, 2016 @5:32 pm PST
There are many ways of approaching ornamentation. Vladimir Horowitz played the mordents on the beat and very quickly. Others play the the mordents just before the beat. Many people play the mordents as triplets.

Ultimately the most important things about any ornamentation is to play the notes musically. Your concern should be negotiating the mordents to sound pleasing and that you can play them reliably.
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on January 21, 2016 @3:19 pm PST
Grace, I second what Robert says about ornamentation. You may find useful the following PDF file we setup a while ago about ornamentation symbols:

I hope that can help with the interpretation of the most common ornamentation signs.
christopher Slevin * VSM MEMBER * on May 7, 2014 @10:12 am PST
Interesting but how does one know when crossing hands is called for?
Musical ignoramus.
Robert - host, on May 7, 2014 @12:59 pm PST
Fortunately composers arrange the notes on the staves to indicate which hand plays. Sometimes it's necessary to use symbols: m.s.(left) and m.d.(right)
Carol on May 7, 2014 @7:50 am PST
Thank you. I am "not there" yet, but your videos help me keep on trying.
Karen Clouser on May 7, 2014 @7:07 am PST
I really enjoy your lessons. Thank you. I play, just for my own enjoyment, at a semi advanced level. (the later Beethoven sonatas, etc). However, working them up concert tempo takes me a long time. My question is: Is a piece considered "learned" if it is played at a slower tempo than what is heard in concert? Thank you again.
Robert - host, on May 7, 2014 @10:26 am PST
A piece is learned if it is memorized. If someone asked you your name and you had to look at your license to tell them your name, have you learned your name - probably not! The same is true of a piece of music.

As for knowing a piece but not being able to play it up to tempo, it's important to study repertoire you can get up to tempo eventually. If you have pieces in your repertoire that you cannot get up to speed, you should consider other pieces you can get up to tempo. While you may have learned the piece, you will not be able to play a satisfying performance of the work if you can't get it within the zone of an appropriate tempo.
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