If you’re like most musicians, you probably struggle with your left hand.
Unless left-handed, chances are you have a disproportionately stronger, more coordinated right hand. And if you learned to play piano with single bass notes on the left hand and full chords on the right (as many of us do), you kinda get stuck in your ways.
So when it comes to playing two-hand chord voicings, utilizing the left hand just as much or MORE than the right hand — what can you do to improve it?
Here are five things to get you started:
1) Try to play a song you know very well with your right hand “tied” behind your back.
Not literally, of course. But basically try to play on your left hand what you’d normally play on your right hand. It seems like an easy task but if you’re not used to utilizing the left hand like this, it will be a pretty big challenge.
(Don’t worry about the bass note… this is just an exercise, not a performance. You’ll only be playing chords or essentially whatever you’d play on your right hand. For a good half-hour to an hour, the right hand should be completely unused — it probably needs the break).
2) Slow everything down.
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This isn’t the first time I’ve stressed this concept. I talked about this in my article, “5 Breakthrough Ways To Transform Your Playing This Year.”
When you first tie your right hand behind your back, it will be a totally different ball game. You’ll go in thinking you can just play the same chords on your left, at the same tempo. It won’t be that easy.
You’ll need to slow things down to what I call “turtle speed” to make sure you’re being accurate and allowing the muscles to memorizing the movements and placements. As you repeat the same motions over and over, muscle memory will kick in and you’ll be able to eventually speed things back up. But don’t rush it. Not slowing things down has got to be Cardinal Sin #1 for musicians in their practicing.
3) Do Hanon Exercises
Even the pros don’t fully master all 60 Hanon exercises so this is something you can continually work on to build finger and hand speed, dexterity, coordination, agility, strength, and more.
They were devised by a man named Charles-Louis Hanon over a century ago and are still just as useful today.
In the same vein as my prior warnings: You’ll notice your right hand can do the exercises easier than your left. Don’t give up. Stick with them. If you have to break them up, start by doing each hand separately at a very slow, manageable speed. Then, gradually increase speed over time. Then add in both hands — wash, rinse, repeat until you’ve got it.
We have a course on Hanon exercises. Check out a FREE video of exercise #1 at this link.
4) “Play-Lift” Exercises
I don’t know if there is a technical way to describe this or not so I made up my own term: “Play-Lift.”
Bobby Griffin, in his Gospel Guitar 101 course, talks about how he learns a new chord. He plays the chord, then he completely removes his hands from the guitar, raises them up, says “Thank You Jesus,” and then puts them back in place to play the chord again. He repeats this.
And you’ve got to understand — I read up on a lot of stuff and I go through a lot of information, most of it forgotten, but what Bobby said there has stuck with me. I love it.
On your right hand, you may notice you’re able to immediately go to your favorite chords without much thought. It’s like your hands are programmed where to go because you do so much work on your right hand.
Jeremy Jeffers, one of our instructors in Musician Breakthrough, is visually impaired, yet when you pay close attention to his video clips, you’ll notice he doesn’t have to slide his hands into place or “feel around” to see where he is — HE KNOWS EXACTLY where to place his hands without seeing it.
This is a benefit of “Play-Lift” exercises, and particularly for the left hand which tends to fall way behind.
So you take those same chords you’ve moved from your right to your left hand and you play one… then lift your hands… play it again… then lift your hands… play it again… then lift your hands. Now try without looking… play, lift, play, lift.
And if you want to do extra credit, take that chord up a half-step and do the same thing. Keep going until you’ve mastered that chord in all 12 keys. (Note: Simply taking the chord up a half-step for 12 consecutive times will bring you back to your starting chord and you would have played the chord in all 12 keys).
5) Let it rest
Once you’ve given the left hand a good workout, let it rest.
Do you know that growth doesn’t necessarily come when you’re AT the piano but when you’re not?
It’s that period in between your practice sessions when the muscles grow and build.
That’s why you may end a practice session fatigued and not necessarily mastering what you set out to master. But don’t fret because the next time you sit down to the piano, you’ll notice it’s a lot easier to do what you once struggled with. TRUST ME… that’s how it works.
The problem is people give up right at THAT moment… they quit too early. They think just because they’ve spent an hour at the piano that the miracle is supposed to happen RIGHT THEN AND THERE. They get discouraged and they never make it back that next day to start where they left off.
Piano or keyboard gets dusty – all that momentum gone – so when they do get pumped up again months down the road, they pretty much start all over.
So my advice to you…
When you’re working, WORK! “Go hard” as the youngins’ say. Don’t look for the end result then and there.
Let the muscles rest… let the mind incubate… and return with steadfast determination that you’re going to eventually accomplish what you’ve set out to do.
Nothing worthwhile is easy to attain. If it’s too easy, it’s probably not good for you. :-)
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