"Hands tog" is piano teacher language for "hands together".
Which is probably the biggest challenge any student will face when learning the piano - going from playing "hands sep" (separately) to "hands tog".
I was working with a student this afternoon who was struggling to play her piece hands together. She could play it fairly confidently hands separately, and I wanted to her to have a go playing hands together during the lesson, so that it would be one of her 'action points' for her practice during the week. We ended up doing this:
As you can see, the focus in today's lesson was the middle two lines. She was able to play the chords in the relevant hand as though on 'auto pilot' but struggled with the crotchet+2 quavers melodic pattern in the other hand. I got some sticky notes, ripped them into tiny pieces, and covered up the melody notes that were not 'on' the beat. Then my student had a go putting the reduced version hands together. It worked! It worked, because 1) psychologically, it was more manageable having broken down the task to just playing the notes that 'go together', rather than adding in the ones that 'go in-between' as well. As she feels more and more confident with this approach, she will remove one of the sticky notes at a time, and have a go adding those in. Next lesson, we'll be working on the other two lines.
I love sticky notes!
My students will often hear me say to them, "ok, count yourself in...".
Hang on, what does that even mean? To "count in"?
Well, it's all about the numbers you say before you start playing.
At the beginning of each piece, you have the time signature. This is two numbers, one on top of the other. The top number indicates how many beats are in each bar, and the bottom number indicates the type of beat (4 = crotchet beats, 8 = quaver beats, 2 = minims).
So, if the time signature states 4/4, there are 4 crotchet beats in a bar. So you would count in by saying out loud, "1, 2, 3, 4" at the exact speed at which you want the pulse of the music to go, and then you would start playing in time to that pulse that you have established. If the time signature states 3/4, there are 3 crotchet beats in a bar, and you would count "1, 2, 3".
I also get my students to tap their foot (or tap their toes inside their shoe) along with the counting, and then to continue tapping their foot/toe whilst playing. It's not easy - it's a bit like co-ordinating patting your tummy whilst stroking your head in circles - but it is so worth getting into the habit and well worth the practice.
Another good tip is to actually imagine how the piece goes in your head before you start counting in.
Parents/carers - you can help out here by checking to see if your child is tapping their foot whilst playing, and if you tap along too, you will easily be able to check to see if your child is inadvertently speeding up or slowing down!