Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemisphere! Though it feels like our cold, wet winter will never end here in California, my garden is abloom with the vibrant colors of spring. I love the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes with their equal measures of darkness and light, because it reminds me to think about balance: to balance work with play ⚖️ intensity with calm ⚖️ solitude with social activities ⚖️
For piano players, it is also a great time to learn or review Dynamic Balance exercises – drills that can help you to play louder with one hand than the other. This is an important skill for bringing out melodies and for playing ostinato (repeating) lines more gently. (Note: Dynamic Balance exercises are for more experienced piano students – intermediate and beyond.) I have made videos of my six exercises to help you increase dynamic balance and overall finger control. Read my post HERE; play the exercises in all 12 keys at least 3-4 days per week during the spring season, and by summer you will notice that your hands can move more independently! Stronger, more agile hands will enable you to play more expressively, and that is what we’re going for. These exercises are not all that fun or creative; but as one of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert said,
“The difference between those who do and those who wish to do is often those who can bear the tedium.” 😅
So balance out these exercises by playing some or your favorite songs and pieces, while enjoying the increased agility and power they will bring to your fingers!
With love and music, Gaili
P.S. If you are ready for some new books, here are some of my favorites:
It’s a gray day here in LA, the best weather for getting cozy with a book (it’s stay home and read a book day!) or some new sheet music for the second page of Rhapsody In Blue. (Click here for pt. 1 if you haven’t yet printed it.)
How are you doing with the first part of the Rhapsody? Tell us where you are in your process so that we can support your progress. As with pt. 1, some passages of pt. 2 have been simplified a bit, but many are in their original state, so it is definitely not an “easy” arrangement. I hope you enjoy playing this gorgeous piece! Stay tuned for pt 3!
In case you’d forgotten, 🍀St. Patrick’s Day🍀 is just around the corner! I am practicing my accordion to get ready for upcoming Irish music gigs, and taking out all of my Irish sheet music for students who want to play their green on March 17th! Leave a comment below if you would like me to email some Irish tunes to you between March 1-17th 2020; I have Danny Boy, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, The Irish Washerwoman and others, ready to send to my blog subscribers! Let me know if you prefer simplified or intermediate (sometimes I have 2 versions of an arrangement.)
Also this month is the spring equinox, the day when there are an equal number of daylight and nighttime hours. CLICK HERE to read about spring piano goals and maintaining balance at the piano. This might also be a good time to reread my post called Practice Small about setting small goals for your practice sessions.
I hope you enjoy the warming renewal of spring in the coming weeks. In my walks around the neighborhood I am seeing blooming blue bulbs and purple magnolias, and it fills me with gratitude for all we have to enjoy and experience. With love and music, Gaili
As you progress in your piano studies an issue will eventually come up that we piano teachers call hand independence, particularly where dynamics (volume) are concerned (also called tone balance). What this means is that more experienced pianists are able to play more softly with one hand than the other. This is an important skill because you want to be able to bring out the melody of a song or piece while keeping the accompaniment softer.
first it feels impossible, like rubbing your stomach while patting your
head! But after some concentrated practice over time (it takes time for
the brain to grasp this skill!) you will be able to play with your
hands at different volumes, naturally.
Toward this end I’ve developed a set of five progressive exercises, each of which you play in all 12 keys (using the first 5 notes of each scale, called the pentascale). It’s important that you do practice each exercise in all 12 keys in order to fully learn the technique. If you haven’t pretty much mastered an exercise by the 12th key (not uncommon at all), play it again in all 12 keys until you’ve got it. I suggest you play the exercises in chromatic order as it is good for the brain to mix it up, with difficult keys following easier keys:
C, D-flat, D, E-flat, E, F, G-flat, G, A-flat, A, B-flat, B.
side benefit, these exercises teach (or review) major triad inversions!
Inversions are when we change the order of the notes of a chord, and are
important to learn. If you’re playing classical music styles you will come upon
inversions all the time, and if you are familiar with them, you will learn the
music more quickly and accurately. If you are playing popular music styles you
will also be playing lots of inverted chords, and it would be great to become
familiar with the chord symbols if you’re playing from “fake books”
or “lead sheets” (treble melodies written with chord symbols above
You might also like trying some ideas by another teacher which involve “ghost playing” with one hand (tapping the keys without depressing them) while the other hand depresses the keys. They are more difficult to learn than my exercises, but you might like using both. Start at 2:25 here.
If you are new to my blog, welcome! Thanks so much for subscribing. Please check out my fun, supportive piano instruction books for adults over 50 on my website, (where you will also find lots of free sheet music, which I give away each month). The Upper Hands Piano books teach both classical and popular styles with larger notes and fonts, and emphasize learning chords. They use the latest scientific data on how the brain learns and retains musical information, to help you learn as quickly and enjoyably as possible.
Speaking of free sheet music, in honor of Groundhog’s Day (Feb 2nd) I will soon be posting an easy-ish arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Variation 18 – Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini that was played by Bill Murray in the beloved movie Groundhog Day (I must admit that I watch it every year!) I can’t include his jazz solo, but there will be a full arrangement of the theme:
hope you are enjoying a beautiful winter wonderland, wherever you are. Here in
Los Angeles it has been raining (which is wonderful for us), but I do feel
envious of the snowscapes I see on Instagram and Facebook. If you are on those
social media platforms, please follow @UpperHandsPiano to get updates on free sheet music and piano
PLEASE feel free to ask questions or share your observations about these 5
exercises (or anything else piano related!) We love to hear from you, and
everyone learns when someone asks questions or shares their experience. Stay
cozy, and enjoy your piano practice!
P.S. Many people have reported that they are no longer receiving my blog posts. I am working on this issue- it’s a technical problem which is not my forte! But I am working with a support team, so hopefully the issue will be resolved soon. So sorry if you have missed some of my posts lately, or if you got this post twice! ;(
One of the keyboard skills we need to develop is dynamic balance; and that is the ability to play one hand softer or louder than the other. This is a more advanced skill that requires some time and patience. I’ve made aYoutube videoto demonstrate a series of 6 exercises you can do in all 12 keys to help you move towards increased finger control and dynamic balance.
You might want to bookmark this blog post so that you can come back to it each time you are ready to move on to the next exercise. Play each exercise in all 12 keys to give yourself sufficient practice and to develop more comfort with each 5-finger position. (I used 5-note pentascales here, but you can also extend these exercises to full scales.)
Here is a list of the six exercises you will see in the video:
1. Alternate right (loud) left (soft)… up and down the pentascale. Then switch to left (loud) right (soft). Practice this exercise in all 12 keys until you’ve got it.
2. Alternate right (loud) left (soft) right (loud) left (soft), then play the two notes together (right loud, left soft). Play this pattern (or add more repetitions if you need to) up and down the pentascale. Then switch hands so that you start your repetitions with left (loud) right (soft) etc. Practice this in all 12 keys until it begins to feel easy for you.
3. Play the 12 pentascales with hands simultaneously up and down twice with right hand playing loud sustained notes, and left hand playing soft staccato notes. Then switch to left hand playing loud sustained notes while the right hand plays soft staccato notes.
4. Play the 12 pentascales with hands together, both notes sustained. If this is too difficult, go back to exercise # 2 or #3 until you are ready for #4.
5. Play the pentascale loudly with right hand while the left hand plays a block or broken chord softly. Switch hands.
6. Begin to practice dynamic balance within each hand by playing the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the pentascale louder than the 2nd and 4th notes. Then switch to make the 2nd and 4th notes louder than the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes.
For more about bringing balance into our lives and our playing, please read my Autumn blog post.