Piano Hand Independence Tips And Tricks

Are you having a hard time achieving piano hand independence?

Would you like to discover great exercises to develop that important skill?

You’ve come to the right place.

In this lesson, we’ll take a look at plenty of piano hand independence exercises.

These tricks will give you the confidence to play independent left and right hand parts.

Let’s get started.

How To Build A Foundation For Piano Hand Independence

Before starting these exercises, here are the most important pointers for developing piano hand independence:

  • First, Learn and practice using a slow, manageable tempo.
  • Next, start practicing only the left hand first. Practice up to the point that you no longer have to think about your left hand. Left hand part should be as metronomically precise as possible.
  • Third, practice right hand melodies, licks, solos, etc. afterwards.
  • Fourth, practice hands together.
  • Lastly, Ramp up speed gradually.

Now let’s go into more specific moves. Let’s start with a blues piano hand independence exercise as demonstrated by Steve:

 

Here are the steps:

  1. First, Learn this quarter-note left-hand comping pattern:

  2. Learn to play the blues scale in C with the right hand:

  3. Play the quarter note left hand comping pattern while going up and down the blues scale in quarter notes.

  4. Keep on playing the quarter note comping pattern with the left. However, play the blues scale this time up and down in swing 8th notes.
  5. Finally, once you are used to playing the blues scale up and down, go through the same set of notes in a more nonlinear, random fashion.

Now that you’ve gone through a simple blues exercise, learn how to develop some walking bass lines next.

How To Build Walking Bass Lines

1. The Root & 5th Half Note Bass Line

Practicing Root & 5th half-note bass lines is a foundational piano hand independence building technique for the left hand.

Here’s an example of a left piano hand independence exercise using a ii-V-I-VI chord progression:

piano hand independence

Consequently, take note of a few patterns here that make it sound “natural” and “singing”:

  • First, the bass line alternates between the root & 5th of each chord.
  • Second, the distance between notes from the root to the 5th of the same chord are far. From the 5th to the root of the next chord, the interval is just a major 2nd. This pattern repeats all over.

Since you are playing roots and 5ths all the time here, it’s always going to sound good.

However, it will eventually sound bland and you’ll want more.

Let’s continue.

2. The Root & 3rd Half Note Bass Line

The next kind of left hand piano hand independence exercise involves 3rds this time.

Check out how half notes consisting of roots and 3rds over the ii-V7-I-VI7 chord progression can create a decent bass line:

piano hand independence

Here’s how to practice this technique:

  • First, play the half note root and 3rd bass line (roots on beats 1 & 3, 3rds on beats 2 & 4) using your left hand along the chord progression of Autumn Leaves.
  • Play the same bass line while playing rootless chords with your right hand.
  • If that becomes easy, play a C blues scales over the bass line.
  • Next, play chord tones over the bass line.
  • Improvise a melody or solo over it.
  • Lastly, harmonize the melody while playing the bass line.

As with anything in music, things can get boring rather quickly. Time to advance to the next technique.

3. How To Use Chromatic Approach Tones As Substitutes For The 3rd & 5th

To spice up your bass line further, you can use chromatic approach tones as well.

Approach tones don’t only work in solos: they also work well in bass lines.

This will help you gain more piano hand independence.

Moreover, you create more tension that resolves to the next chord tone in a very satisfying way.

The only thing you need to do is substitute the 3rds or 5ths in the previous techniques with a tone a half step above or below the next note.

Here’s an example of that in action:

Work on this piano hand independence exercise the same way you would in the previous examples.

Consequently, an even more interesting exercise for piano hand independence is when we start mixing 3rds, 5ths, and approach tones in a bass line.

4. Putting Them All Together

Interestingly, one awesome song you can use to work this out is Autumn Leaves.

Here’s an example of a bass line in half notes for Autumn Leaves where we put it all together:

piano hand independence

If you observe closely, here’s the pattern for the bass lines within a 2-bar cycle:

  • Root on beat 1 of the 1st bar. 
  • A 5th (or b5) on beat 3 of the 1st bar.
  • Root on beat 1 of the 2nd bar.
  • A  3rd on beat 3 of the 2nd bar.

You can also try to write left hand bass lines using other patterns as well.

Up next, you’ll learn how to add more motion to your bass lines.

5. Advancing With Quarter Note Walking Bass Lines

Check out and learn this quarter note walking bass line for Autumn Leaves:

piano hand independence

piano hand independence

In this particular example, we make use of a lot of techniques. These include:

  • Stepwise walkup with a chromatic leading tone to the root of the next chord.
  • Walkdown leading to the root.
  • Root position ascending arpeggio plus a chromatic approach tone towards the root of the next chord.
  • Descending arpeggio starting at the root and ending on its major 3rd. The major 3rd of the chord also functions as a leading tone towards the root of the next chord.

Take note that there are different ways of working out walking bass. However, this particular exercise is really helpful in getting that piano hand independence.

To gain more hand independence, work on these while playing left-hand walking bass:

  • Play the melody with your right hand.
  • Melody in octaves.
  • Right hand rootless chords in various inversions.
  • Harmonize the right hand melody (e.g. melody as top note of chord, Red Garland block chord voicings)
  • Improvise a solo while playing walking bass.

Now that you have built a foundation, let’s go into other piano hand independence technique builders.

Swinging With Broken Octaves

To add more depth into your walking bass, play them as broken octaves with a swing 8ths rhythm.

Here’s an arrangement of “Straight, No Chaser,” with a bass line in F using broken octaves:

piano hand independence

You can also try playing the Autumn Leaves bass line this way so you can get used to it in major and minor 2-5-1 chord progressions.

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Speaking of broken octaves and walking bass lines, check out how you can combine broken octaves and single notes below.

How To Play A Boogie Woogie Bass Line

If you want to create a different kind of feel, learning a boogie woogie blues bass line is in order.

For example, legendary blues pianists like Otis Spann use these kinds of bass lines extensively.

To get a feel for this, learn this classic boogie woogie bass line over a classic I-IV-V 12-bar blues:

piano hand independence

 

piano hand independenceOnce you’ve mastered this boogie woogie bass line, develop piano hand independence this way:

  • First, play the bass line at a consistent tempo with a steady rhythm (swing or straight).
  • Second, play rootless right hand chords on top.
  • Running through the blues scale ascending, descending, and nonlinearly.
  • Playing licks on top.
  • Improvising a solo over the bass line.

Up next, you can get inspiration from one of the greatest composers of all time.

Why Bach Inventions Are Awesome For Developing Piano Hand Independence

piano hand independenceOne of the best ways to advance your jazz piano technique is to study baroque music.

To be more specific, Johann Sebastian Bach’s works are among the best in the baroque repertoire.

One set of works that you can go into are the Bach Inventions.

Bach’s music is widely known for extensive use of counterpoint i.e. independent melodies played in different parts.

By learning Bach inventions, you get these benefits:

  • Play independent melodies with each hand. This is an impressive feat that is simply dazzling to an audience. You can create the illusion of playing like an ensemble.
  • Improve your technique by learning efficient fingering. You simply cannot play Bach inventions well without a well thought out fingering scheme.
  • Learn techniques useful for jazz soloing such as the use of chord tones and approach tones in melodies.
  • The ability to play sophisticated music that takes your musicality to a whole other level.

To get started, work on Invention No. 8 in F. This is because it’s the invention that does not have any ornamentation. Here’s an excerpt:

Another awesome invention to learn is No. 1 in C:
piano hand independence

The best part about learning Bach Inventions is that they are in the public domain. A simple Google search gets you plenty of free downloadable sheet music.

Now let’s move away from the Baroque Era and back into the realm of swing.

Improve Piano Hand Independence With Stride

If you intend to sound almost like a one-man band on the piano, stride piano is one hack you need to master.

Stride piano features three pianistic components:

  • Single/octave bass notes on beats 1 & 3 with the left hand.
  • Left-hand rootless chords on beats 2 & 4.
  • Right hand melodies.

Here’s a great introduction to stride piano with Steve:

By playing that left hand passage, your left hand instantly functions like a jazz bassist and drummer. To do this successfully, you need these:

  • A strict and steady quarter note pulse.
  • Accents on beat 2 and 4.

Do the above steps well to get an “oompah” feel.

Now it’s time to pick up another exercise from the mighty Keith Emerson.

How To Use Progressive Rock Riffs To Build Piano Hand Independence

If there’s one name to look up to in the realm of prog rock piano and keyboard playing, it’s Keith Emerson.

In his prime, Emo had one of the most impressive left hand techniques. His piano hand independence is just astonishing.

To develop left hand technique like Keith Emerson, practice the intro from “Living Sin”:

 

 

piano hand independence

Interestingly, the “Living Sin” intro combines aspects of baroque, blues, and rock into a tightly knit idea.

It’s contrapuntal in that you play an important riff with the left hand while playing one of the main melodies with the right hand.

Now that you have all these exercises, how do you go to the next level?

Why Your Practice Routine Fails (And What To Do About It)

Have you hit a wall in your playing lately?

Do you feel like you’re not making progress?

Perhaps you’ve already looked for solutions on YouTube, only to end up with an even more jumbled mess.

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I hope you all enjoyed this lesson on piano hand independence.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for the next tutorial, leave a note below.

Have fun practicing. 

About The Author

Mark A. Galang

Mark Galang is one of our contributors at FreeJazzLessons.com. He loves teaching all styles of music especially jazz, blues, rock, classical, and Christian music.