A very common thing people learning piano can find difficult is playing with both hands together. There are various points in your development as a pianist at which you face what feels like a particular challenge, and playing with both hands together is one that comes early on and everyone can struggle with a little at first.
The good news is, once you can do it, a whole world opens up in front of you. The reward for mastering it is almost infinite.
The other good news is that there are so many things you can do to break it down, make it easier and more accessible. Here are some top tips that will give you the boost you need to get playing with both hands together. Good luck, and enjoy
You’re probably tired of hearing teachers, online lessons and other musicians telling you to slow your practice down, and that’s understandable. You probably don’t always practice slowly when you should be, and that’s understandable too. But when it’s something new, something challenging, like playing with both hands together, it’s absolutely essential.
Remember that speeding up something you’ve already got right is so much easier than correcting something at speed! This is not a single phrase in a piece that you’re going to be able to bluff your way through, this is the fundamental foundation of all your future piece/song playing technique.
The irony of people practicing too fast is that it slows them down in the long run. If you can play it slow, you can play it fast. The issue is – can you play it at all? So if you do one thing the proper way, let it be this: When you start learning to play with both hands together, start slow!
Break It Down
Not just this, in fact, but any challenge you ever face in music (and arguably many other areas of life too)!
Of course an entire piece with a new fundamental technique looks overwhelming – it is! But how about just the very first beat? Whatever your level, whatever your experience of playing with both hands, as long as you can read music, you can play that first beat. And the second beat, and the third. You see where I’m going with this?
There’s a famous Chinese proverb that says “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – and the journey to play a piece begins with bar 1, and the journey to playing bar 1 begins with beat 1.
OK, so you’re not going to play everything you ever play or learn everything you ever learn in this manner, but remember, this is a big thing. This is THE essential piano technique, and it needs to be given the care and attention it deserves. Plus, again, this slow, laborious sounding process is way quicker in the long run, because it cuts out so many of the mistakes, repetitions, revisions and need to slow down and do things properly later on.
So break it down – one note, then the next, then both together, then add a third, and so on. You won’t have to do that forever, this is just part of training your hands to work independently.
Each part separately
This one is fairly self-explanatory, but no less important. It’s crazy setting out to do two things at once before you can do either of them on its own. So get each part in isolation nailed first.
Work on each part in turn, on its own, until you’re pretty confident knowing what each part is doing and when.
As you do this, some sense of how the two parts fit together may already be becoming clear. Or not, it doesn’t really matter – you still have to do it!
Some people find that having learned each part separately, putting them together happens quite naturally and fluently, and you too may find this, and that’s great. If not, that’s OK, you’ll still be much further along the road to playing both parts together than had you not taken the time to learn the individual parts.
Reading music is melody and rhythm. If you play the right note, in the rhythm shown, you’re reading and playing music.
Again – break it down. When you’re nearly ready to play both hands together, something you can do as a stepping stone and to work on coordination is to temporarily forget about the note pitches and focus only on rhythm.
Your left hand can play the C below middle C, for example, and your right hand can play the C above middle C. (These could be any 2 notes really, I just suggest using the same notes i.e. 1 or 2 octaves apart, so as not to have a clash that distracts you from the rhythm)
Then simply work through the 2 parts simultaneously, rhythm only. Removing an element like this can simplify the process and heighten your focus on the most important element, which in this case is using both hands independently.
An obvious one here – you have to practice!
However, there’s a bit more to it here. Playing with both hands together is a great example of something that’s important, challenging and takes time. So make sure your practice counters this in the right way. Treat it as important, and a challenge, and give it time!
As always, frequency of practice is far more important than duration. 10 minutes a day, 6 days a week, is far more valuable than 2 hours on a Sunday, despite that being double the amount of overall time.
The reason for this is repetition, muscle memory, developing good habits, taking breaks, gaining perspective, all these hugely important things that combine to make a musician.
Keep Patience and Perspective
Sometimes easier said than done, but never more important than with something like this which can at times be a little frustrating, or can take some time to land and sink in.
Remember you will get there, and how well you’re doing so far – recording progress week to week can really help to demonstrate this back to you.
Keep your patience – when you’re over this hump, your progress will skyrocket.
And keep your perspective – little steps, towards a bigger picture. Go for it!
Alex is a writer for Guitartricks.com and 30DayPiano.com. GuitarTricks.com has over 11,000 lessons covering everything a beginner guitar needs to know to get started, as well as more complicated techniques like tapping, sweeping, scales, and more