Monday Mailbag – Teaching Balance Between Hands

Some of my students have a lot of trouble with balance between the hands.  I have them play one hand very loudly, and “ghost” the other hand, gradually adding the other hand by tapping the keys, then playing softly, getting gradually louder, but would love some other ideas.

This is the same tried-and-true strategy that I use all the time with my students. Here are a couple of other considerations:

  • When teaching specific techniques, it’s helpful to make sure that all other hindrances are removed so that the student can focus all of their attention on the technique itself. For example, instead of having the student attempt to achieve proper balance on a piece where they are still struggling to read the notes or play with rhythmic accuracy, etc. try something simpler like playing a pentascale with one hand louder than the other. I devise lots of simple, on-the-spot exercises for students so that they can develop various technical skills.
  • Utilize exaggeration. One teacher I know uses imagery of a cast iron frying pan in one hand and a feather in the other. Encourage the student to still create sound with each hand, but to completely exaggerate the contrast between the two.
  • Alternate hands. For example, have the student play the melody note first, at the desired dynamic level, followed by the harmony note(s) immediately after. This helps them hear and feel the difference between the two without having to actually play them at the same time at first. Gradually play the harmony note(s) closer to the melody note(s) until they are eventually being played simultaneously.
  • Have the student play one part while you play the other. Skills like hand balance are very much a combination of technical facility and listening. The student has to be able to physiologically achieve the right balance, but they also have to know what they want it to sound like and listen intently to see if they have achieved the desired sound. Playing with the student helps them concentrate on their part while also hearing what it sounds like with the other part appropriately balanced.

Those are a few ideas, anyway. I’d love to hear others! Do you have any tried-and-true methods for helping piano students learn and achieve hand balance in their playing?

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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