Exercises to Make Your Dumb Hand Smarter


Here are 3 exercises I've created to remedy the lack of balance between the hands. They also work on dexterity and reaching to further notes. They push beyond the Bastien Method's 5-finger position, and focus on fingering that you may not have encountered before.

My friend James asked me a couple times, “Joe, how do I make my hands more coordinated? My hands don’t feel like they’re equal.” They're not. And it's your fault. The good news is we can fix that. The bad news is you may always have a “preferred hand.”

This hand will have received more experience and focus over the years of use, including but not limited to: swatting siblings, responding to vampire attacks, and playing the piano.

Are you Right or Wrong?

Think about it: before you started even playing piano, you (or someone else) made a decision about which of your hands you favor (which one is “stronger”). We were taught to consider and cognize the question “Aren’t you right handed?”

You were asked this question early in life by teachers, your family, and your friends. It implies inability and imbalance, which are perpetuated from this mindset that one hand must be smarter than the other.

But the first thing to do, is believe in your other hand. It needs your attention. It needs you to give it much focus and exercise.

I say other hand because, my friend James is actually “left handed.” So I will be addressing his ilk with special etudes below.

Features of Well-Coordinated Hands

  • Strength
  • Accuracy
  • Subconscious Reflex

Strength is acquired by knowing exactly what you will play, and playing it loud and slow.

Accuracy is acquired by getting your fingers to be able to stretch, and feel the keyboard without looking at it.

Subconscious reflex - this is developed by focusing on a pattern --repeating it until you aren't thinking about it anymore and can have a conversation with your cute cat sitting on the piano bench-- and then add your right hand melody on top.

Practice Scientifically

The skilled pianist practices one element at a time. He does not focus on playing all elements of music at once, if he wishes to improve rapidly. It is a paradoxical truth, but if one practices in this slow manner, he will be able to learn more quickly, and correctly.

One cannot play something loudly, and at the same time softly; neither can one play something both staccato and legato simultaneously. Why then, do pianists try to practice too many concepts at once? Because they haven’t separated and dedicated time to focus on one element at a time.

Each concept must be broken down, to build focus and accuracy at a slow speed, and then built up slowly, with increased complexity, strength and speed.

I Recommend These Exercises

If you are right handed, looking to improve your Left hand, and have an intermediate level of musical reading ability, I recommend this etude book by Carl Cerny: “24 Studies for the Left Hand, Op. 718”  (His teacher for 3 years, was Beethoven! So he knows his stuff when it comes to strength and dexterity).

Not only did I enjoy them musically, but they were so good for developing my strength, accuracy, and independence of my left hand:

It improved all these areas in my playing significantly:
·        walking bass lines
·        independence of rhythm from one hand to the next (Bossa Nova and Clave bass)
·        Contrary motion between hands
·        Reaching further with LH

What about those of us that are Left- Handed naturally? (not Right-handed)

Well, if you’re really very advanced, go for the God-level, Godowsky Etudes Re-Compositions of Chopin’s Etudes

Otherwise, mere mortals, here are some exercises I wrote to increase different areas of hand interdependence.

Oh did I say that right? Yeah, actually, this article is about interdependence. It’s the same concept as in marriage—two people aren’t living separate lives which lean on each other and eventually break. Hopefully. Your hands and arms on the piano are a similar idea…

For example, I noticed it is hard to practice Chopin’s “Winter Wind” while focusing on cleaning up just one hand at a time. Why…?

Frédéric Chopin - Étude Op. 25 No. 11 in A minor, "Winter Wind" Piano: Evgeny Kissin. Fro: optional.

Because of the interdependence of your hands and arms, playing with only one versus both hands, will affect how much upper-body weight is on the piano keys-- thus how stable your hand is.  After all, while playing a scale with much velocity, the tilt of your hand comes into play. If it is not slightly tilted in the direction of movement, you cannot push off from each note.

Winter Wind may look like a heavy on the keys piece, but Chopin probably composed it more effortlessly because he had a penchant for playing supremely legato-- he wasn't afraid of a soft touch. So staying relaxed is very important on that piece.

Back to interdependence of hands.

Imagine a beautiful bridge in Venice, with boats floating beneath: if you cut one side off, the other side would fall into the river, crushing the boats and all the pizza would fall into the river.

When you put one hand on the piano, a certain amount of thrust comes back at your whole body.

So this means that the amount of weight which is applied to stabilize your body by using only one hand on the piano, is often going to feel slightly different than when you are applying both hands. This doesn’t make a huge difference when practicing, but when you get to really hard and fast lines, you’ll notice the difference in feeling.

So, sometimes I will practice playing chords in my non-dominant hand, while I play more complex things in my other hand, just to keep stability.

Here are 3 exercises I've created to remedy the lack of balance between the hands. They also work on dexterity and reaching to further notes with the outside fingers (1 & 5).

Left-handed, I wrote this mini set of etudes for you!

And the rest of us mere mortals, I've transposed it for us too.

Reach and Compress for Lefties

Improve your reach and dexterity of outer fingers, in this etude especially designed for Left-hand dominant intermediate pianists.

Get the PDF


If you know of other effective etudes, please post your recommendations below!