Problems using both hands

by Harry

I'm new to playing and I want to play some complex songs, but I have trouble using both my hands to play if they play at different tempos. Is there a good exercise to train myself to use both hands individually?

Maria's answer:
Coordination between right and left hands can seem a bit of a bother at the beginning for everyone. Especially when playing pieces that are a bit more challenging!

But don't despair! There are great exercises for this, and piano pieces to help you as well.

First of all, it might help to realize that you actually already know how to coordinate your hands in all possible ways, you just need to discover this ability...

OK. Now to the practical advice.

When you mention playing in different tempi, I assume that you mean playing different note values in the two hands.

  1. Start with an easy exercise. Play a C major scale (or any scale). Play quarters one octave up and down in the left, and eight notes two octaves up and down in the right. Both together. Then switch hands.

    You can in this way also try playing 16ths (4 octaves), triplets (3 octaves). (Just start many octaves apart when playing the left hand with shorter note values.)

    This means you will practice one note in one hand against two in the other, then three and four, etc.

  2. Another exercise for independence between the hands is to start playing anything; a scale, broken chords like an "Alberti" bass, or anything at all, just repeatedly in one hand.

    With the other hand, do totally different things; like tidy up on the piano, flip the pages of a book, wipe off the dust or clean the keys for example.

    The point is to disconnect your attention of what the one hand is playing (just keep going!) and focus on the other hand.

  3. One more successful exercise is to play a smaller part of your piece with one hand over and over again- learn it by heart- then at the same time read aloud from a book. Totally wacko- I know! But fun and effective.

Great literature for developing independence and coordination between the hands is the classic Microcosmos by Bela Bartok. Start with volume 1, and practice a piece a day.

Another brilliant little book with rhythmic exercises; great for both sight reading and to do different things in both hands, is: Dandelot: Etude du rythme vol 1 : mesures simples - éditions Leduc, although this one advances very fast.

It is also fun to make up your own music. You can practice improvisation by playing a simple repeated pattern, an ostinato, in one hand and improvising with the other, then switching. Also, make sure to try the simple exercises I've written here.

I hope this helps!

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