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Piano Players Develop Better Hand Independence Like This

Last Updated: September 21, 2021 / by Brian Collins

Learning to play piano isn't for those with little patience or time to invest. However, the end result is certainly well worth the effort. The key to playing piano is to stick with it. Don't get discouraged if you aren't mastering things as quickly as you'd like. If you have a particularly frustrating practice session, it's important to get right back to it the next day. There are several things you can do if you're feeling bored with the piano

Hand independence can be one of the biggest challenges for players, ranging from beginners to advanced. Developing this skill and mastering it will take an investment in time. Gaining hand independence is necessary for proper form and advancement. Here are some great exercises to help piano players develop this much-needed hand independence. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

You honestly, can never get enough practice. This simply can't be stressed enough. Using whatever techniques work best for you, you can isolate specific elements and achieve your musical goals. Some musicians gain a lot from interleaved practice, so try different methods to keep you from getting bored. Once you have the basics down, you can then start to transpose the keys and discover other fun ways to keep things challenging. With enough practice, the foundational techniques will become effortless, making you a better piano player with proper form. 

The Turtle and the Hare

Everyone has heard the old adage: "Slow and steady wins the race". The same applies to piano players. Begin your practice with slow and steady tempos, working your way up to playing faster. This can give you the ability to focus on the finer details of the actual music. Over time, and with lots of practice, you will be playing your favorite pieces with beautiful nuances at full tempo. Until then, take it slow and steady.  

Play What You Know with a Twist

In order to develop proper hand independence, practice with a piece that you know best and are most comfortable with. But here's the twist. Play the piece with your other hand. Playing what you know best with the weaker hand will let you focus on other elements of hand independence including:

  • finger movement
  • pattern skills
  • position shifts
  • rhythm complexity
  • muscle memory

Playing with a proverbial hand tied behind your back is a great way to strengthen the weaker hand and prevent it from falling too far behind.

You'll want to strictly play with 'the other hand' for half an hour to an hour before taking a break. 

Include Hanon and Czeny Exercises

Charles-Louis Hanon developed a series of exercises that can be used to improve a variety of areas including:

  • finger and hand speed
  • strength
  • agility
  • coordination
  • dexterity and more

In most cases, your right hand will do much better than your left. Don't worry. That's what these exercises are for! It's important not to get discouraged, and stick with it. These exercises have been used for years, and even the pros haven't fully mastered all 60 of them, so don't give up! 

Czeny's finger exercise collection is vast. With these, you can learn a variety of techniques outside of repetition patterns. Instead, you learn through songs. Certainly worth checking out if you are looking for different learning methods or trying to find what works best for you. 

Play and Lift Exercises

This is a great exercise to help develop and improve hand independence. To use this technique, choose a chord you are comfortable playing with your stronger hand. Now play that same chord with the opposite hand. Not so easy, right? Play the chord again, and then lift your hand completely away from the keys. Then, play the chord again, and lift away again. 

Doing this repeatedly will help you to improve your muscle memory and increase independency between hands. Over time, this technique allows you to know exactly where your hands should be placed, without having to feel or look for placement. 

Take a Time Out

If you really think about it, your musical growth happens both while you are practicing AND while you're taking a break. Your downtime is actually when your muscles build and grow from the workout. This could be the reason why things may seem extremely frustrating at the end of your practice session, but easier to do the next time you sit down. 

Also, that there are several off-bench exercises you can do to improve your playing even when you are not sitting in front of the piano. 

The important thing is to make sure your practices are consistent. Make sure to get right back to it the next day. If you get so frustrated and don't try again until weeks or months later, it will essentially put you right back to square one. 

Break it Down

If you find a particular chord, or section of music in a piece especially difficult, break it down.

It's important to slow the tempo way down, and break the piece into sections.

Start with one at a time and continue playing one section over and over until you have it down.

Then you can add another section, and over time, you will have both form and function with rhythm. 

Dynamics are Everywhere

Being able to play piano with skilled hand independence takes time, and lots of practice. So, being patient is key.

Don't get discouraged if it takes you a while to master a difficult technique. Working on dynamics is an integral part of learning hand independence.

Being able to skillfully play piano often requires your hands to play at different volumes. 

To do this, try a two-handed scale. Only use one hand to play loudly while the other hand plays quietly. Once you've gotten comfortable with this, switch hand volume. It kind of runs along the lines of being able to rub your head and pat your belly at the same time, only in a musical sense.

Legato & Staccato Combo

This technique certainly requires a lot of patience, but is well worth the effort. With this technique, you will use one hand to play staccato and the other legato, and vice versa. Simple in theory, but once you begin, it's quite difficult to execute.

You should find that both hands will want to mimic what the other is doing, but give it time. There are tons of pieces that need this skill properly executed to make the music sound right. 

Bring Out the Canon

For this technique, you should use a simple and familiar melody. A musical canon is a situation where one hand will lead, and the other plays the exact same thing, only with a small delay, usually by one bar. Again, this exercise is simply in theory, yet difficult to master. Mastery of this exercise will allow you to improve hand independence and move onto Bach's inventions. 

About the Author: Brian Collins

I am a classically trained singer who believes that every instrument requires maintenance - including the voice! I started my professional music studies at the age of 8 and competed in and won several local and state piano competitions. I graduated with honors and earned my Bachelor of Music Education in 2003, and since then I have studied with famous musicians and teachers around the world. I have also completed hundreds and hundreds of voice lessons, exploring various methods, and attended countless seminars on voice coaching for all ages.

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