PracticePrompt Blog

Independence Day

Posted in Deliberate Practice by elwynrees on February 28, 2010

Well Hand Independence….  I’m struggling with keeping a left hand ‘groove’ going and in time whilst playing syncopated melodies, licks and fills in the right hand and so on…. I just can’t do it!

Here’s one solution:

Hand independence in piano playing is a very important, but somewhat neglected aspect of technique.  Let me explain further.  There seems much written and available about finger independence with dozens of exercises available such as Czerny or Hanon, off course you must also do your scales and arpeggios (more or the same?).   We strive to improve our finger dexterity, but, it seems to me that much of this work is either done hands separately, or hands together with the hands mirroring each other exactly or, playing in an integrated way with the hands seemingly acting as a single unit.

However, a lot of “popular” music blues, jazz, and rock if you play a solo piano piece, then you are your own rhythm section.  There’s no bass or drums to simply comp along with LH whilst the right does the melody/fills/breaks…

Now I know a lot of “clasical” solo piano is dance music, minuettes, waltzs, mazurkas etc, but one aspect of contemporary popular music is the degree of  syncopation and polyrhythms that are present.  

I’ve always found playing simple things like this very difficult (as in “impossible”)….

Here’s some simple examples (hands seperately):

A really nice cover of the Doors “Riders on a Storm”. Ray Manzarek was a master of this skill!

Another one from VKGoesWild (Vika), this is simple LH and simple melody (a piano cover of a Portishead track).

Here’s the original

So how to improve this aspect of your playing?
There seems to be two schools of thought, a classical piano approach (Bach inventions and Fugues) and the Jazz approach (play the Left Hand until for so long that your sick of it, but don’t have to think about it). Looking at these in a bit more detail:

The Classical Piano approach

Learn Bach 2-part inventions, then 3-part then the WTC Preludes and Fugues.   But what about some simpler exercises? I went hunting for some on Youtube and came across this vid.

So what we have here is over a 5 note basic note range:
1. 1:1 scales, but one hand stacatto the other legato.
2. 1:2 scales, one hand stacatto the other legato.
3. 1:2 scales, one hand stacatto but just one finger, the other legatto and with hand/arm passing.
4. 1:2 arpeggio stacatto, scale legato.
5. After each exercise swap hands and repeat (this bit seems very important).

These exercises could easily be exteneded to increase the range say 1 octave or additional ratios 1:3

I like these exercises. They are “simple to comprehend”, you don’t need a score, but I’ve found them very beneficial over the last week. An important aspect seems to be swapping the hands within the same drill. I’ve found there is a mental task or inertia to overcome. I’ve been playing these daily for 15 minutes in around 3 different keys (occasionally C) usually aiming to have several black and white notes. Generally I find that all the tasks are easier one way around: LH playing more of an accompanyment (single scale notes or arpeggios) and the RH doing the busier scale passages). However, this is not due to the Left Hand not being able to play the exercise it’s just that the left is more used to accompanyment patterns and the right melodies (I think).

The Jazz Piano Approach

Here’s a good youtube example of this:


Currently I’m trying both approaches.   I play through the hand independence exercises as part of my warm-up for 15 minutes.   After a week of this I tried playing the Portishead cover and managed to get through it after a fasion (which is a huge improvement from 10 days ago).   I’m also using elements of the Jazz approach on my current piece: play the left hand pattern until you don’t think about it, add block chords, add chords with rhythmic elements and then finally add meloday, licks and fills in the Right hand.

If anyone knows of a structured and systematic set of exercises for hand independence please let me know!


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