Left-Hand Power Practice

Matt Beck teaches practiced exercises to strengthen left-hand playing
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Left-Hand Power Practice If you are like 90 percent of people in this world, you have a slightly weaker and less-coordinated left hand in comparison to your right one. This can pose a challenge when trying to better yourself on the keyboards. Over the years, there have been countless practice routines and method books designed to help develop left-hand strength, dexterity and stamina.

As a southpaw myself, I’ve always been sensitive to those things that a left-hander does differently on the keyboards, be they better or worse. In this lesson, I have distilled a variety of concepts for developing left-hand technique down to five “power practice exercises” that you can do in one sitting.

1. The 1, 5, 10 Stretch

Ex. 1 is called The 1, 5, 10 Stretch because you are using the first, fifth and tenth notes of the major scale. (The tenth is the same as the third but an octave higher). This also happens to be a common accompaniment technique for the left hand, as it spells out the chord and can have motion like a bass line. It is meant to be practiced using legato phrasing so that the finger stretches can really be utilized.

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2. Chromatic Crunch

Ex. 2 focuses on the opposite of what we covered in Ex. 1. Instead of wide stretches, here we have all of our fingers cramming into a small space. The main idea here is to be able to play chromatic passages using all five of your fingers (with each finger responsible for a different note of the phrase), and still achieve a smooth articulation without notes overlapping and sustaining into each other.

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3. Boogie-Woogie Blowout

Ex. 3 is called the “Boogie-Woogie Blowout,” referencing a common figure used in early rock ’n’ roll as piano accompaniment. What I’ve done in this exercise is move the riff around the keyboard so that the left hand can adjust to shifting quickly. An added benefit is the use of oblique motion, where some notes move and others stay the same. This exercise should be practiced both with straight and swung eighth notes.

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4. Diminished Dexterity

When you play a diminished seventh chord in root position on the piano, you will notice that all of the notes are exactly the same distance from one another. The intervals are all minor thirds—three half-steps between each note. Because of this, you get a nice little stretch between each note of the voicing. Ex 4. utilizes different diminished patterns and voicings to build left-hand strength and endurance.

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5. Speed Walking

Ex. 5 is essentially a walking bass pattern over the first eight bars of “Rhythm Changes” (aka the chord progression for the classic jazz composition “I’ve Got Rhythm”). The idea here is to work this pattern up as fast as you can, while still maintaining clarity and evenness. Once you’ve mastered the notes, work with a metronome to see how fast you can play the line and still have it sound clean. Pay close attention to the fingerings here; they will help you get through the phrase in the smoothest way possible.

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Matt Beck is a multi-instrumentalist who plays keyboards and guitar with artists such as Matchbox Twenty, Rob Thomas, and Rod Stewart. Beck’s most recent solo outing is Anything Which Gives You Pleasure. Find out more at mattbeckmusic.com.