Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Handle Same Notes with Both Hands

Discover how to play the same note with both hands.

In this video, Robert tells you how to approach a passage of music where one or more notes have been written in both hand staves. How do you play those notes? Do you really have to play them with "both hands?"

Released on November 5, 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 Robert Estrin presenting a viewer question today. Have you ever noticed that you sometimes have the same exact note written at the same time in both hands? That's right. How can this be? So, I'm going to show you why, first of all, and how to handle such a thing. I wonder how many of you have experienced this in your music? I'd love to hear from you.

I've taken the example today of the first two part invention of Johann Sebastian Bach. Now, this is a good example that really clearly shows why composers will write the same note in both hands. The reason for it is the counterpoint. In this case, it's very well delineated because the two part inventions are simply two parts, that is, there are never more than two notes playing at the same time, they are two separate melodies. You may be familiar with this invention. Here's the beginning of it.

So, you notice each hand is playing a separate melody, but somehow with the genius of Bach, it works together. It is like a tapestry of melodies. Later music of Bach, other music of Bach I should say has three, four even five voice fugues. Can you imagine with your ten fingers negotiating five separate lines all doing their own thing? That's a subject for another video for you.

In the two part though, we can really see why he does this and why he'd write both notes. I'm going to call your attention to bar 13. It's a beautiful example. I'm going to play each part separately first so you can hear what Bach is writing and how he arrives at this counterpoint. The right hand has this.

And it's actually the 9th... the 8th note that... I'm calling your attention to the E.

All right, now what is the left hand doing? Left hand has this.

So, if I play up to that same note and the left hand you'll see it's exactly the same E on that 3rd beat.

So, if you play the hands together, you'll actually have both fingers on that E.

Well, you don't actually have to play it with both hands. That is the secret. The reason why composers put the notes in both hands is to show you the sensibility, so that when you play it, you'll hear the connection of each voice in your head. So, you'll make sure that, that note is a ready part of both lines. Listen to it together and see if you can hear how that E is contained within both voices just like two people were singing and at one point both sang the same note. Here's how it sounds.

If I stop on that E, you'll hear...

So hopefully you can hear how that E is part of both the top voice and the bottom voice and again to play through the measure, here's how it sounds put together.

Now, this is just one example and a very, very clear example of how the counterpoint necessitates both hands playing the same note at the same time even though you don't physically have to put two fingers on the key. Often times, in later period music and the romantic era, music of Schumann and Chopin and more complex music, [inaudible 00:03:54] and Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, you'll get all sorts of interesting times when both hands are playing the same key and they are simply trying to show you as a musician, the sensibility as to what is really going on in the counterpoint.

So, that's the answer to this question about playing the same note with both hands. You just have to think it and understand the composer's intention but you don't actually have to play with both hands on the same key. Thanks so much for joining me at I am Robert Estrin. I look forward to seeing you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Joseph on September 25, 2021 @3:55 am PST
Hi Robert, love watching all your videos, very educational! I have a question similar to the one you answered here. How do you handle the same note played by both hands but play an 8th rest apart? I am trying to learn a piece that at some point, the left hand plays middle C as a quarter note and at the same time the right hand has an 8th rest followed by the same middle C but as an 8th note. Technically you’re still holding middle C with the left hand when it is time for the right hand to play the same middle C an 8th rest apart. I hope my question made sense, can’t find an answer. Thanks in advanced!
ian on August 1, 2018 @4:24 pm PST
Hi Robert!
We need you to run for PM in Australia watched another tutorial and loved it: Great Teacher and keep it up, I learn more from just your clip. More teacher's like you and the world would be happierSmiley Face
Robert Estrin - host, on August 3, 2018 @7:30 pm PST
It is refreshing to focus on music instead of everything else going on in the world!
ian on August 5, 2018 @3:52 pm PST
That is why I love your tutorial's and that's what most people around the world should look to MUSIC and being a bit more brighter outlook on life:Smiley Face)
Paul Hannah on August 1, 2018 @6:08 am PST
Thank you so much for this great question and excellent explanation. I too, not being a professional musician, wondered how to deal with this situation. I will continue to listen with anticipation future notes!
Christopher Slevin * VSM MEMBER * on August 1, 2018 @4:53 am PST
Thanks Robert for the clarification.. often wondered about that.
François H. Leroux * VSM MEMBER * on November 6, 2014 @6:04 pm PST
Oh Robert, Robert, Robert,
Thank you so much with this "same notes" explanation! You have no idea of the number of different answers that I had when I asked that question before! As we say here in Québec, "on va se coucher moins niaiseux à soir", litteraly... I'll go to bed less stupid tonight!
Warm thank you!
Brigitte Biedermann * VSM MEMBER * on November 5, 2014 @5:37 am PST
Thank you so much for explaining this. I have often wondered how to handle that and decided to play the note only with one hand, but it is not always obvious. I encountered something similar in the transcript of Massenet's Meditation for piano solo (bar 50) where the left hand plays an arpegio and the right hand the meldody and fingers clash on the last two notes of the arpegio. Your very helpful explanation will help me overcome this now.
Brigitte Biedermann * VSM MEMBER * on November 6, 2014 @12:24 am PST
And thank you again, after your Video I tried that difficult part and overcome the problem. Feeling happy ! ;-)
John Beach * VSM MEMBER * on November 5, 2014 @5:13 am PST
Good explanation of the same note in more than one part, which occurs frequently in vocal music, with tenors and basses or tenors and altos or altos and sopranos singing the same note at the same time.
It does occur in hymns and can catch a player by surprise on a first playing.
Robert - host, on November 5, 2014 @11:26 am PST
This is exactly how to understand the why piano music has the same note in both hands - they are part of 2 different voices!
Graeme Costin * VSM MEMBER * on August 1, 2018 @4:47 pm PST
Was the Bach example written for piano (harpsichord) or for pipe organ? If for pipe organ, the two parts may have been intended to be played on different manuals with different pipes. If so then the completeness of the two parts would have necessitated both hands playing the same note (even though on different manuals)?
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on August 2, 2018 @2:25 pm PST
The sample featured in the video is the version for piano (or harpsichord). Bach wrote them originally for harpsichord or for any other kind of "single" keyboard. To answer your question, no, they were not written originally for organ.

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