Elijah Fox: Tips for Left & Right Hand Independence on the Piano (Video)

+ This exclusive lesson is presented courtesy of Soundfly’s newest course, Elijah Fox: Impressionist Piano & Production. Sign up today to take your modern jazz piano and hip-hop beat making skills to new heights.

When Elijah Fox was in school, he broke his arm attempting a skateboard trick. While this put his right hand on hiatus, it also created an opportunity for him to focus on playing piano with his left hand.

He credits that time in his life for helping him make major leaps in his performance capabilities. If you’ve listened to a chunk of his musical catalog, you’ve likely noticed he’s particularly adept at playing things like bass lines and stride patterns.

Of course, you don’t have to break bones to strengthen overall hand independence. You just have to be a little strategic about practice.

Practice Each Hand Separately

It’s a classic mantra of many piano teachers and with good reason. As Elijah points out, if someone’s struggling to play something, it’s often because they’re not actually confident with what either hand is meant to do.

You don’t have to put an arm in a cast to have a reason to focus on the other one. Make sure to regularly devote focus and attention to each hand in your practice time.

Identify the Focal Point

One hand is almost always doing something harder than the other. For instance, your left may have to make a series of large leaps that require your attention, or your right might need to tackle a melodic passage that calls for serious agility.

In cases like those, it’s useful to be able to put one hand in “autopilot” so you can focus on the other. That means you should try to learn the easier hand’s part so thoroughly that you could do it in your sleep, allowing your brain to focus on the more complex hand consciously.

Strive for Comfortable Confidence

Elijah talks in detail about how he comes up with bass parts in his course, but a good starting place is simply to make a point of working on that aspect of your playing. Practice basic patterns of roots and fifths and build from there. Eventually, you should be able to play a walking bass line so naturally that it feels like, well… walking!

The same goes for arpeggios, trills, and turnarounds. Don’t just practice with the goal of knowing how to do something, aim to get so comfortable that you really don’t have to think about it most of the time.

Slow It Down

Here’s another favorite of piano teachers around the globe. Rushing through practice can lead to bad technique.

Plus, it’s important to recognize strengths and weaknesses in your playing. Even if you feel comfortable playing a piece or exercise, it can be useful to occasionally lower the tempo. You may spot habits you didn’t know you had or find opportunities to improve your posture and otherwise avoid unnecessary strain in the long run.

+ Learn more on Flypaper: “Elijah Fox: How to Create Simple Piano Patterns That Sound Complex (Video).”

Cast Your Hands in Different Roles

We’re so used to playing bass lines and accompaniment with the left hand and melodies with the right, but there’s no rule that says that always needs to be the case. Try adjusting the “roles” of your hands now and then.

That could mean practicing playing melodies in your left hand. It could mean sustaining roots in your right hand while playing the rest of each chord in your left.

You can also try something like the “Locked Hands” style Elijah mentions in the video, which was made popular by George Shearing (who credited it to Milt Buckner). Essentially, you play a melody with the fourth and fifth fingers of your right hand, double that with your left, and harmonize it by filling in other notes from the chord in the middle.

Here’s an example of that sound:

Set aside some time to focus on hand independence. We have a few different options for you — pick the activity you feel you’d benefit from most.

The suggestions below have intentionally been left somewhat vague in hopes that you’ll also use this time to reflect and experiment based on your own needs and instincts.

  • Turn on a metronome or drum track and practice playing bass lines.
  • While doing some free improvisation, give each hand a chance to play the role of “soloist.”
  • Practice playing a chord progression or melody with both hands moving in unison.

If you come up with any ideas you really like, be sure to share them with us and the Soundfly community on Discord!

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