Monday Mailbag – How to Teach Hand Coordination to Beginners

How do you help your students with hand coordination, especially for beginners?

This is often one of the most exciting moments in teaching – watching a student learn to play with both hands together! In fact, it was kind of cool to see that when I asked my students our question for the year: “What do you want to be able to do by next May that you can’t do right now?” several of them said they wanted to be able to play pieces with both hands together. For young students, this seems to be the pinnacle of what it takes to be a good pianist! So, here are some ideas for how to help students achieve this ability to play hands together:

  • Improvise! Usually at our very first interview I play simple black key improvisations with the student to assess their musical aptitude. I play an accompaniment pattern and then tell them they can play whatever they want to on the black keys. Especially encourage them to try using both hands to create sounds. It’s actually pretty easy to play hands together when you don’t have to give any consideration to hitting the “right” notes!
  • As soon as the student can play simple one-handed tunes from a lesson book, challenge them to see if they can play the same pattern in both hands simultaneously. I use the Faber Piano Adventures Primer Level Lesson book for most of my beginning students and one song that they love to do this with is the theme from Ode to Joy.
  • Teach the student to play pentascales, then show them how they can play the pentascale in one hand while playing just the tonic and dominant in the left hand when they play those keys in the right hand. So, when they play the “C” of the right hand pentascale, they play the ” bass C” in the left hand, and when they get to the “G” in the right hand pentascale, they play the “bass G” in the left hand, then back to the C’s together. I had a student working on this last week. When I assigned it to her at her lesson, it took her 14.3 seconds to play it. I told her we would time again the following week to see if she could improve her fluency. When she came for her next lesson she nailed it in 3.4 seconds! And not only that, but she was thrilled to show me how she had transposed the exercise to the D, E, F, and G pentascales as well!
  • Have the student pick out a simple melody by ear and play it in the right hand. Assign them to try playing different keys in the left hand whenever they think it would sound good to add some harmony to the song. It’s kind of cool to see what students come up with when given an assignment like this!
  • Teach a cool-sounding piece by rote! Sometimes what the student really needs in order to learn better coordination is just the inspiration of being able to play a piece of music that sounds really cool. Check out this compilation of 24 Piano Pieces Perfect for Rote Teaching for specific suggestions.

These are a few things I’ve tried with my students to help them build the coordination to play hands together. I’d love to hear other suggestions, though! What have you done with your students to help them develop coordination between the hands?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

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