As a pianist, there are many skills to develop through your practice regimen. Reading the grand staff means you need to be proficient in understanding both bass and treble clef, simultaneously! You need to develop independence between your left and right hands while playing and you also need to have an understanding of music theory, voice leading and harmony. One challenge that is both fun and practical to learn is coordination of your hands while playing. Here are some great exercises that can help you to achieve your goal. Experiment with these practice ideas to get your playing “in sync”!
Scales, Scales, Scales!
The major scales are the building blocks of western music! In terms of working toward coordinated hand function, scales can be great piano hand coordination exercises. As you begin to master the scales, a great way to expand your coordination is to begin to play them as “patterns.” A pattern is a series of notes that moves to a different scale degree and repeats after each. For example, a common pattern is practicing scales in 3rds, 4ths or 5ths. In the key of C major you would play the following: C, E, D, F, E, G etc. through the full range of the scale, both ascending and descending. This is the C major scale in thirds.
These patterns should be developed over the full range of the major scales and modes, and can form the basis of developing a jazz vocabulary for improvisation. Not only do you benefit from the piano hand coordination exercises, you can begin to develop your jazz vocabulary while practicing your scales.
Here are some additional tips when practicing any two-hand exercises:
• Whenever possible, work with a metronome. Start extremely slowly. You are concerned with smoothness and fluidity first. Speed can be developed later.
• Work on each hand separately. Play the scale with your left hand, and then play it with your right. Once you are comfortable, play the scale using both hands positioned one octave apart on the keyboard. Work on your crossovers and get them smooth.
• The goal is to play the scales and patterns throughout the full range of the instrument. Start first with one octave, then two and so on until your scales are fluid over the full range of the instrument.
Other Hand Coordination Exercises
In addition to your scale studies, you should begin to practice arpeggios in all keys. While scales and arpeggios are great for developing coordination, there are also other studies available. The Hanon Exercises are a series of musical motifs that are played as two-handed unison exercises. The series of exercises are all written in the key of C. Once they are mastered, they can be transposed into all of the other keys. Transposition is another extremely valuable skill to develop as a pianist. Being able to transpose exercises into all 12 keys allows you to expand on many exercises written in a specific key. Another great resource along with the Hanon exercises is Slominsky’s “Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns.” This book covers all of the modes, and many other “cultural” scales such as Arabic, Italian modes, diminished and augmented scales.
Hand coordination is one of the most valuable skills you can develop in terms of technique. The secret is to take these exercises and approach them with musicality and not just as rote technical exercises. Once you’ve mastered scales and arpeggios, almost anything can become piano hand coordination exercise. Try playing jazz or pop song melodies simultaneously in octaves. You’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to practicing!
Photo by Angus