Eldar's Left Hand Harmonic Workout

A masterclass from the August 2012 issue of KEYBOARD
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I’VE ALWAYS BEEN INTRIGUED BY THE LEFT HAND. INVESTIGATING THE WAY IT CAN UNDERPIN melodic ideas is a fascination for me, and I enjoy searching for chords, inversions, and resolutions that give a refreshing aspect to the music. In this lesson, I’ve put together some examples that focus on the left hand, which I hope will give you fresh ideas to incorporate in your playing.

In your practice, make sure to transpose them to all 12 keys and more importantly, come to a realization that each type of inversion carries an emotional impact that begs for a logical resolution. These left-hand voicings are not the textbook formations that so many pianists use and overuse. As a musician builds up a vocabulary of resolutions, his or her intuition becomes more in tune with creating harmony that supports every musical idea.

1. Left-Hand Chords

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Ex. 1 illustrates some intriguing inversions of suspended, dominant, minor, and major chords. A great way to expand on these is to create a melody with your left hand’s thumb. This melody will enrich the harmonic movement and make the flow more logical. These voicings presume the bass player is playing the chord roots. Remember that in many situations, you can substitute “sus” chords for seventh chords, enriching the harmonic experience.

2. Resolutions in Motion

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Exs. 2a–2c demonstrate different harmonic resolution possibilities. Note that the chord symbol notated in the beginning of each bar is the target chord resolution. The first chord leads to that target chord. Each of these resolutions carries an emotional logic to it. When used accurately and in logical places, they give the player control over tension and release.

3. Progression Possibilities

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Ex. 3 is a harmonic progression that I might choose to play in my left hand while soloing in the right hand. Again, I’m presuming the bass player is providing the root. The tension and release can be used to enhance the movement of the music. It enriches the way a player can build to a climax and surprise the listener by being unpredictable—albeit logically so!

4. Harmonic Patterns

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Ex. 4 is a harmonic idea that I’ve learned from Scriabin and Brahms in particular. Both were masters of creating resolutions full of logic, wit, humor, and despair. Here, the inner voices have a way of resolving during the progression. When music resolves successfully, it always gives me a feeling of satisfaction as a listener and keeps me on the edge of my seat.

A Note on the Notes

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“The audio examples for this lesson appear two ways: the first exactly as written, and the second with right hand improvisation over the left-hand harmonic structures,” advises Grammy-nominated pianist Eldar Djangirov. His latest release, Three Stories, features originals, standards, and classical works. Find out more at eldarmusic.com.