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Different Rhythms in Different Hands

piano practice

Question: Okay, so I haven’t taken piano lessons for 5 years and I stopped as a beginner so I’m not very good and I don’t know all that much. But for whatever reason I have been playing random songs lately and I’ve been trying to play music where my right hand and left hand are playing two different beats and my left hand always refuses to do so…. Is there some trick to doing this or do it just take practice?

Thanks!

Albert’s reply: The “trick” is to learn to coordinate the hands before attempting to play everything at once. As always whenever anything seems too complicated, the rule is to simplify. In this case, simplifying means isolating the rhythm from the actual notes – in other words, isolating the note values from the pitches.

Try closing the piano lid and tapping the rhythm of each hand separately. Are you able to count out loud while doing so? (The louder the better, meaning counting louder will actually reinforce accurate rhythm – assuming your rhythm is accurate, of course!)

For the purpose of this exercise, especially if working independently of a teacher, it is useful to use a metronome for the beginning stages. While mechanical “clock time” is by no means musical time, for the purpose of learning different rhythms in different hands a metronome may prove indispensable.

Once you are able to tap the rhythm of each hand by itself, in perfect alignment with the metronome and counting out loud, the next step is to tap the two hands together. This exercise will be far more difficult than tapping either hand alone, because the difficulty is compounded by the act of coordinating the hands. Again, make sure you count the overarching beats out loud.

Only when you can tap the two rhythms together with perfect accuracy while counting out loud should you even attempt to play the actual notes. There is an intermediate step, namely tapping one hand while playing the other. This is the sort of gradual, methodical practice that should engage your focus in your daily piano practice!

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