Does your left hand struggle to keep up? Your right hand seems to have its act together, but your left hand always takes longer to feel comfortable with the notes, no matter what piece you’re learning. Are you thinking that I have a hidden camera in your practice room? Not at all; it’s simply that I have had my own left hand issues too.
I used to think that if I were left handed I wouldn’t have these issues. But I hear many of my left-handed students, even the more advanced players, complaining about the same left hand awkwardness. So much for trying to become ambidextrous as a solution.
Even more frustrating is that the solutions I used to recommend to my students - the same ones I was using myself - really aren’t solutions at all. Sure they helped my left hand become more fluent and flexible, which I would call a big win. But I still saw my students struggle with left hand passages that should have been easily within their grasp. Or more precisely, within their left hand’s grasp.
That’s when it finally dawned on me. I had been training my left hand the same way I was training my right hand. While there’s no harm in that - and there’s really no doubt it’s tremendously beneficial - it clearly didn’t fix the problem. There is a simple reason for this.
While our two hands do many of the same things and need to be able to do them equally well - things like scales, arpeggios and chords, for instance- each hand is also a specialist. Our right hand plays more melody; our left hand, more accompaniment. Our right hand thumb is key to a well-phrased melody. Our left hand needs to have a dependable fourth finger for those resonant low bass notes. Our right hand spins out the tune but our left hand provides the harmonic support and rhythmic stability that make that tune intelligible.
In short, our left hand has a specialized vocabulary, certain techniques and patterns that are different from those our right hand usually plays. Most exercise books don’t address this; most teachers don’t emphasize this either. But on today’s show, we’ll review the things your left hand must know in order to be “literate,” to be comfortable with the unique tasks we ask of it every day. And of course, talking about them isn’t enough for us here on this podcast. So I will give you some practice strategies and I will share a free resource that will help you follow through on our discussion and develop your left hand literacy.
Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: