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.

Available on Amazon.com

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