Why Does Playing the Piano With My Left Hand Feel so Hard?
Piano music is usually written for two hands, and yet many pianists feel they prefer one hand over the other.
And, the preferred hand is usually not the left hand.
Playing two hands at the same time can be one of the biggest frustrations for piano beginners. Many students doubt that it could ever become easy to play with two hands doing different things. Even advanced students encounter these issues from time to time.
Trying to play with two hands can make you feel like:
- One hand always seems to want to do whatever the other one is doing.
- The two hands aren't "lining up".
- One hand is more flexible and secure than the other one is.
- You can play one hand at a time with no problem, but when you put them together, everything slows way down.
- Sight-reading with both hands overwhelms you.
You Can (and Should) Work on This!
With the right kind of practice, you can solve these problems.
Most people are born with two hands. We are not supposed to get overwhelmed by using both of them.
Sit down in front of a piano, and it can feel anything but natural...
If you learn to play comfortably with both hands, you can expect the following benefits:
- It just feels better when everything is working in a smooth and integrated way.
- Injuries are less likely when your body moves with itself, rather than against itself.
- Playing is less stressful.
- Fewer distractions, and more energy and attention available for other things.
- Your technique will improve, since your body will be moving more efficiently.
- Audiences can hear when your playing is comfortable, and when you're struggling.
How Can I Make My Left Hand Stronger?
First of all, this stuff doesn't work:
- Strengthening the fingers.
- Stretching the fingers.
- Trying harder.
I get why you might think that these would work. When the hands don't seem equal or independent, it can seem like there's a physical problem.
But, unless you have an injury or unusual anatomy, I doubt it's a physical problem.
Rather, it's a mental problem. You don’t need to strengthen your left hand.
And, you should need to "try really hard." Watch great pianists on YouTube. They are not struggling.
The Root Cause of Hand Independence Issues
The fundamental issue is one of impatience. You want to do everything right, and you want to do it now. I get it.
But, you need to go at the pace your body requires. Otherwise, you get a traffic jam in your brain.
This means you need to slow down and pay attention.
I can't tell you exactly why your right hand feels better than your left. This is something you must figure out on your own. It takes time.
If you persist with patience and awareness, you will learn. I really wish I could just offer some “tips” for fixing your left hand. That’s not how it works, though.
You need mindfulness, not a quick fix.
Hand Independence Is Not Really the Goal
When you start paying attention with mindfulness, you realize something surprising.
Although it seems you need to have totally independent hands to play the piano, this isn't true. You could even say that both hands actually always do the same thing.
As an example, consider the activity of walking. Both feet move "independently", and yet the whole body is moving in one direction. It would be a big mistake to have your left foot moving in one direction and the right moving in another.
So it is in piano playing. The whole body is playing the whole piece of music. Both hands are moving to the same beat.
As in walking, trying to be independent would be a huge mistake.
What you really want is unification.
There Needs to be a Structure
Another example: Suppose you are walking and also texting on your phone at the same time. The movements that you use for texting will be dependent on what your feet are doing. Text while walking with feel different than texting while sitting. It's subtle, but it's there.
You need to let those differences happen. Don't try to fight it.
In piano playing, your hands can never be truly independent. After all, they are joined together, through the rest of your body.
Set a Priority
A final example: Suppose you are walking with a friend and you have an itch on your face. You will not stop walking to scratch the itch. You will keep walking, because you don't want to get behind your friend, or make your friend wait for you. The walking is more important than the scratching. Because you have set your priorities, there is no problem doing both at the same time.
When you play the piano, don't let a difficult spot in one hand throw off the entire rhythm of the music. This is why it feels difficult.
Set a priority for yourself which is as easy as walking, and the little details will take care of themselves.
How to Get Started with Mindfulness for Hand Independence
Start by exploring your instincts around the relationship between your hands.
Notice what it feels like to move your torso around, and how that affects what your hands are doing. Do things feel independent, or do they feel tightly wound up?
Play hands in parallel motion and contrary motion, and notice what happens. What does it feel like? Does one feel easier than the other? Does one hand feel better going in a certain direction?
Play passages where one hand moves and the other doesn't. Notice where you feel stuck or where you feel one hand trying to "pull" on the other.
In a passage where one hand is slower than the other, remember that neither is ever actually slower. Feel this energy balanced throughout the body. There must be an constant, internal pulse that governs both hands.
Both hands are always playing at the same tempo.
With this level of mindfulness and awareness, you're well on your way to inventing your own independence exercises.
Both Hands Should Be Doing the Same Thing
Stop looking for “hand independence exercises.” Instead, take the opportunity to make any piano piece into an exercise to coordinate the left and right hand.
Always, start by making sure both hands are "doing the same thing." That is, ensure that both hands are playing at the same time. Use a metronome, if necessary. You should feel the beat throughout your entire body. This is the essential first step in training your hands for piano.
Once you've got the beat established, work on differentiating the hands. This means add the smaller details.
You may find yourself getting stuck again, like your hands are not cooperating. Or, perhaps it's just one hand that's not cooperating. In either case, go back to making sure that the beat is consistent between both hands.
Sight-Reading With Two Hands
Sight-reading always screws up the coordination between the hands for some pianists...
Maybe you can read each hand independently with no problem, but putting them together causes everything to slow down. Or, one hand is fine, but the other isn't.
Remember that both hands must always move at the same time. You cannot let one hand get ahead of the other.
When you are reading, your brain must process each beat before playing it. Do not think of each hand separately. Do not move each hand separately. The entire beat (left hand plus right hand) is one action.
If treble clef is easier for you than bass clef, your right hand might get impatient waiting for your left.
You, however, must wait patiently for both hands to be ready. If you can't do this you should ask yourself why. Where are you in a hurry to go?
Finally, set your priorities. Decide which musical elements are the most important ones. Let your whole body play those elements. Don't get trapped into thinking that you need to play everything on the page. Remember that it must all fit into the structure of your body.
It should all be comfortable, and it should all make sense to you.
Looking Within the Hand: Finger Independence
Finger independence is basically the same issue as hand independence. Here, the whole hand must be unified. Even if the five fingers are playing different things, the hand as a whole is moving in one direction.
You might try practicing Bach fugues and inventions. They will demand the type of independence that you need. Contrary to popular opinion, they do not need flexible or strong fingers. The challenge is all in your mind.
Dynamics, Articulation, and Polyrhythms
Sometimes, it really does seem like you have to do two different things in the two hands.
Dynamics: How to Play One Hand Louder Than the Other
Many students have a hard time playing different dynamics between the two hands. This is an essential skill, and if you struggle with it, you should make this a priority.
As always, the beat needs to be the same in both hands. This is usually the problem (and fixing it is usually the solution...). If you have no unified sense of beat, it's like you're trying to micromanage each hand separately.
This just overloads the brain.
So, first ensure that both hands can play together with no problem. That is, you are playing "LH + RH".
Next, experiment with "LH soft + RH loud". You should think of this as a single action. If you find that doing this messes up your beat, you are not thinking of it as a single action.
Likewise, experiment with "LH loud + RH soft".
Articulation: One Hand Legato and the Other Staccato
It should be easy to play legato in one hand and staccato in the other. If it's not, follow the instructions above for dynamics.
Keep in mind that both hands play together on the beat, but they do not need to follow each other after that. It is only the beat that needs to be synchronized.
Independence in Polyrhythms
If you are playing a piece with polyrhythms, such as 3 against 2, or 11 against 7, or 25 against 8, or whatever, try the same exact strategy. If possible, please do not attempt to calculate mathematically how the notes should line up. The composer usually didn't have that in mind, anyway.
Instead, decide where the beats are, and make sure that both hands are playing the beats at the same time. Let the other notes fall where they need to.
(Ponder this: if one hand has 25 notes, and the other has 3, they are both playing at the same tempo! If you don't see it that way, you will continue to struggle.)
If you struggle with hand independence in your piano playing, this is a problem you can work on. Be patient with yourself, and with your body. When you let things happen as they must happen, the struggle will resolve itself.
Remember, this is not a physical problem. It is a problem you can solve with patience and mindfulness.
Are you interested in learning more about how mindfulness can help you with piano playing? Check out my online course (it's totally free).