The number one complaint I hear from almost anyone who is developing their piano skills is, “My left hand is a mess!” For most people, this comes from a lack of use and can be improved with a little time, patience in effort. In this short tutorial, I will show you three simple steps to get your left hand in shape!
Developing a more effective left hand is something that takes weeks to develop, so please don’t try and do this all in one day. Your best bet is to work for 5-10 minutes per day until you build up some strength and stamina. You don’t want to injure yourself!
The most important thing you need to address is your posture and hand position. Your left hand will never get in shape if you are slumped over, your wrist is collapsed, and your hand is tense.
Posture: Make sure that the bench is at a height that allow your forearm to be parallel with the floor when your hand is on the piano. Place the piano bench back and bring your body forward so that you are sitting only on your “sit bones” – aka the bottom part of your pelvis. (When you sit forward on your seat, it helps you to keep yourself from slumping over). Gently lift your sternum.
Hand Position: Your wrist must be relaxed and kept in line with your forearm, not lifted or collapsed. To get into the proper hand position, the side of your thumb must be rested on the keys while your other four fingers are gently curved and playing on the tips of the fingers. You should be describing a circle between your thumb and index finger and there should be room under the hand to put a small ball.
Step One: Finger Exercises
Exercise #1: 5 Finger Exercise
We will start by working on a simple finger exercise. Work on it slowly, while being mindful of both your posture and hand position. Practice it over and over, keeping your wrist loose and your hand position steady.
Exercise #2: Trickier 5 Finger Exercise
This is a slightly more challenging pattern, which will require more dexterity. Work on it slowly, prioritizing proper posture and hand position. Practice this several times.
Exercise #3: The Alberti bass
The Alberti bass is common in Classical music and is a great accompaniment strategy, because it clearly outlines the harmony of a piece of music. For this example, I have written out an Alberti bass pattern on the chord progression I-IV-V7-I.
Step Two: Play Melodies
A lot of teachers would advise you to buy books of left-hand exercises, but I am going to recommend that you take any music you have lying around and have your left hand play it. This can be anything you have lying around, including jazz lead sheets, pop songs, songbooks – heck, even a book of holiday carols will do.
Don’t worry too much about finding “perfect” fingerings, instead just work through a few bars at a time, getting your left hand used to playing something more challenging. Start with easier songs to get started and make sure to keep your hand position stable, yet relaxed.
Step Three: Transcribe Bass Lines
I often refer to my left hand as the “bass player”, since when I am accompanying myself singing, my left hand usually fills that role. What better way to develop my left-hand bass chops than to learn some classic bass lines? This is a great way to build some ear training skills while you develop your left-hand. Also, it’s totally fun!
Get even more bang for your buck by playing chords in your right hand and/or singing the melody over top. You’ll be a one-person band in no time!
Here are some great bass lines to check out:
My Girl by The Temptations. (You can learn the bass line AND the iconic guitar part).
So What by Miles Davis