How to Play Softer With One Hand: 5 Exercises

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Dynamic Independence

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. 

At 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. 

CLICK HERE to print 5 exercises for Dynamic Independence

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As a 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 the staff). 

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:

I 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 practice tips. 

And 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! ;(

With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to SPARK the Mind, Heart and Soul.

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The Art of BALANCE at the piano

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Dear Piano Peeps:

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 a Youtube video to 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.)

Please click here to watch the video

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.

Genius is eternal patience -Michelangelo

With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to SPARK the Mind, Heart and Soul

UpperHandsPiano.com

Great New Finger Exercise

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Today I want to show you a new exercise I have adapted from an exercise by Theodore Leschetizky [lesh-uhtit-skee]. Leschetizky (22 June 1830 – 14 November 1915) was a polish pianist and composer, and a well-known piano teacher. He had studied with Carl Czerny, who had in turn studied with Ludwig van Beethoven. Leschetizky was famous for saying:

No art without life, no life without art.

Leschetizky taught that in order to create a beautiful sound on the piano, you must study your music thoroughly and gain control of your fingers through exercise.  His finger exercise isn’t easy but it’s fun to play and yields great results. Click here to view my demonstration video:

Leschetizky Exercise at UpperHandsPiano channel on Youtube

Thanks for watching!

With love and music, Gaili

Check out our awesome books, free sheet music and videos! UpperHandsPiano.com