How to Embellish the Right Hand


I learned very little theory as a child. I more or less self-taught through my teenage years. I took more lessons as an adult which was a crash course, because my church was in need of a piano player.

I can play chords in the bass and embellish somewhat, but I just can't figure out how to embellish with my right hand. I can barely reach an octave, but that's the only advice that I seem to get... play the right hand in octaves....sigh. Do you have any suggestions?

Maria's Answer:

Hello, and thank you for your question!

This was a question I needed to research, since I am no hymn player, I am a traditional "classical" pianist and teacher and I know very little about this way of playing.

BUT, I still think I might help you somewhat! :)

This video shows some rather easy ways to embellish the right hand (I assume you do not play the melody?), and even though he talks a bit fast, it is a good video, worth watching (and less than 8 min long).

In the video, the pianist mentions a few useful techniques:

1. To "straddle" the chord: Play the chord in your right hand, but take away the middle note. This creates a more interesting "open sound".

Depending on your level of playing, start with chords in root position (you'll play only fifths then), then experiment with the other inversions. I have a lesson here on chord inversions should you need it.

2. You can do a similar technique, with a four note chord as well, a 7th chord. But this time playing the chord in 2 parts; the root and the fifth, then the third and the seventh, played back and forth. Of course, you can also do this with the inversions, but it sounds fine only in the root position if that's easier for you.
3. The next technique mentioned in the video is the "2-1 break up": Play a simple root position chord, then break it up by playing only the top two notes, the third and the fifth, and then back to the root.

So simple, and I believe useful. Try in the other inversions as well.

4. Do the same with seventh chords, just play the top three notes and then back to the bottom note.

5. The last technique is simply to play the chord as a "tremolo", (that is to "shake" the notes in the chord), and also to play as an arpeggio (one note at a time over several octaves).

Playing these chord patterns all over the piano may look hard, but is actually rather easy. And you'll score some points for looking really snazzy too! :)

Remember that the more busy your right hand is, the more calm you should keep the left hand. This is a good balance generally.

  • So, first of all, learn how to play 3 note chords in all inversions, and to play them in all octaves. Then experiment with the methods above.
  • Next, learn to play 7th chords. Also the inversions if you like. And implement the methods above.

These exercises should take you pretty far. And see, no octaves in the right hand! But, sometimes it's nice to play octaves in the left hand. At least I think so.

I hope this was helpful to you. Let me know how it goes!

Happy Practicing!

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