At some point, every young piano student will flip the page in a method book and come face to face with her very first “hands together” piano piece. After tackling that very first piece, she will likely have one of two reactions:
- She will be thrilled with the harmony, and play the piece over and over and over
- She will be utterly frustrated with the required coordination and shut down
If you’re dealing with a piano student who has the second reaction, then you’re probably looking for ways to help ease her transition from “hands separate” to “hands together”. In today’s post you’ll discover 7 tips to accomplish this goal.
7 Ways To Improve “Hands Together” Coordination
1. Start early and by rote – As a young teacher I would often delay teaching skills like “hands together” playing until they were introduced by the method book. These days I break away from the “method book timeline”, encouraging rote experimentation with hands together (as well as many other concepts) before the method book introduces them. This gives my piano students plenty of time to develop the physical and aural awareness of “hands together” playing before they’re asked to add the visual component.
2. Use rhythm instruments – Adding a drum and a set of maracas to my studio was a great way to strengthen my students’ “hands together” coordination. Having them play along with rhythm only scores eliminated the note-reading aspect of “hands together” playing… allowing my students to focus only on the physical ability to move both hands at once. When a score comes into the picture I use the rhythm instruments in place of “fingers on the keys” to first build the physical awareness needed, before proceeding to the next step of adding pitches.
3. Play “Anything Goes” – The game Anything Goes is an effective “hands together” teaching tool for young students who are easily frustrated. The rules are simple – their left hands can play any key, so long as the rhythm is correct. This works especially well with older students who are learning left hand accompaniment patterns (such as Alberti bass). Once the rhythmic framework is in place, the notes can again take center stage. Important: when using this teaching tool, make sure your students constantly vary the notes played by their left hands so they don’t commit incorrect notes to muscle memory.
4. Play “Right, Left, Together” – Before you begin with this teaching tool, make sure your piano lid is closed. Next, call out “Right, Left, Together” patterns such as… right, together, left, together. Then, instruct your students to drum (tap) their hands on the piano lid according to the pattern called. In this example the student would tap her right hand on the piano, then tap both hands on the piano together, then tap her left hand on the piano, and finally tap both hands on the piano together again… before repeating the pattern several times over. Change the patterns each time to increase the difficulty as your student improves.
5. Play “combos” – Combos is a quick game I like to play in the final few minutes of a piano lesson. Instruct your students to place their hands in C Position (or some other position) and then call out a bass clef note and a treble clef note. Instruct your students to play the two notes simultaneously as soon as possible. This activity builds keyboard awareness as well as the ability to seek out two different keys at once.
Often repertoire at “just the right” level can be all it takes to bridge the gap between frustration and triumph. If your method book is moving too quickly or too slowly, it’s important to supplement with other material. Teach Piano Today’s PianoBookClub makes it easy to always have “just the right piece” at your fingertips.
6. Be visually creative – Some students respond well to having “hands together” notes highlighted on their music while others may prefer to draw a connecting line… or even a tiny circle. Find out what works for your students and then have them search their scores and place marks accordingly. Understanding how visual cues in their music translate to what is played is key in building “hands together” coordination.
7. Share the bench – For kids who are having “hands together trouble”, it really helps to build their aural comfort with a piece. So, try turning the score into a duet where you play the LH and your students play the RH (and be sure to switch). Hearing how the piece sounds while directly contributing to the process can be a pleasant stepping stone for many students.
Tips From The Trenches…
We’d love to hear from you! What teaching tricks do you use to help piano students who struggle with “hands together” coordination? Share in the comments below.