Latin Jazz star Michel Camilo on Left Hand Independence

October 9, 2013
When I began practicing the music of the great stride piano masters, I noticed how they always seemed able to keep their left-hand beat steady as it shifted between chords, counter-melodies, runs, and bass lines. I tried to apply the same kind of independent approach by exploring the rhythmic syncopations of Latin music. Here are some exercises in that style to help build left hand independence. Also remember that the metronome is always your friend, since it keeps your beat steady and won’t let you slow down or rush. Visit me online at

Click sheet music images to enlarge. Scroll down for audio examples. All examples © 1986 by Michel Camilo. Published 1990 by Redondo Music—Sony/ATV Music Publishing—BMI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1. Upper and Lower Layers 


Exs. 1a through 1c all feature a groove inspired by “La Comparsa” by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona.

Try to feel the fourth and fifth bars of Ex. 1c as an eight note quintuplet, which is known as a “cinquillo” feel and is an important part of Latin and Caribbean piano styles.
The whole point is to feel this as if the left hand is playing two layers: an upper melody and a lower beat leaning on the fourth beat.

2. Pivot Points and Upper Chords


Exs. 2a through 2b deal with controlling your pivot point in the center of the keyboard, which would be the upper chord.

Think of the lower bass line as an answer to the upper chords’ call. After your left hand hits the chords with an upward ricochet from the wrist, quasi-staccato), it must then travel quickly down and find a new placement in order to respond with the alternating bass lines that are either legato or staccato.

3. Leggiero Touch


Ex. 3a and 3b focus on how to keep a “leggiero” or light touch while becoming aware of the power present in the palm of your hand. Try to play this passage with an even touch between your left and right hands.

At the same time, respect the dynamics by developing a slow, gliding centered position.

4. Pivot Points and Pedal Notes


Ex. 4 is similar to Ex. 2, but this time we’re dealing with a way of building tension by using the E pedal notes and going to an even lower register. Here, your two left hand layers are even more apparent, really requiring you to feel your two pivot points as part of your physical connection to the keyboard. You should practice this exercise as a loop while improvising bebop lines or montunos on top of it.


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