Suggestions for large leaps in left hand... : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I have several students working on pieces with large leaps in the left hand (e.g. Scott Joplin rags, Chopin waltzes). Usually there is an "oom-pah-oom-pah" or "oom-pah-pah" rhythm, with a single lower note alternating with a chord near the middle of the piano.

I have had my students practice these patterns slowly and in small sections, with a metronome, increasing the tempo slowly, and they can play them quite well that way. However, when they try to add the right hand, it falls apart and they are searching for all the notes and it is very sloppy. This has been going on for several weeks now and they feel frustrated (so do I!) and I have run out of ideas on how to approach the problem. Any suggestions on how to effectively teach (and practice!) these types of left-hand accompaniments?


Jason Hunt

-- Jason Hunt (, August 01, 2002


Well, it seems the problem could have several solutions.

First, it is my experience that extensive hands separate practice is counterproductive. 'Tis better to go slowly hands together right from the start since what is really required is efficient hand coordination. It also requires that the ear understand how things fit together.

Second, be aware of the distance between the hand and the keyboard when moving. The greater the distance in the air, the greater the chance of landing incorrectly. Keep the movement close, almost no arc.

Third, make sure the LH thumb knows where it's going. It's the leader.

Fourth, cut down the in/out distance when the thumb had to play a black key. Keep the thumb playing at the front edge of the black key and the part of the white key just in front of the black key. That will keep the arm from shifting in and out from the fallboard.

And fifth, make sure the elbow doesn't tighten up with all this moving around. It sometimes has the tendency to lock up in these situations.

Let me know if any of this helps!

-- Arlene Steffen (, August 02, 2002.

I found by playing the piece together ie Student on bass I treble then visa versa helps them to hear the concept of the music and develops the ear. It is also fun and takes away the fear of the piece and frustration. Also asking the pupil to play the left hand while singing the right helps and visa versa. Taking the recording of the lesson helps too.

-- Deanne Scott (, May 01, 2003.

This is a great question, and I have another to go along with it. Do you teachers find that your students (say mid-intermediate level) are able to consistently accomplish these leaps by feel, or do they just memorize the music so they can watch their hands? This ability to really move around the keyboard by feel seems to be one of the biggest obstacles my students encounter in getting past the "hump" of mid-level music, and on into the really challenging pieces. Do you think it just really takes years and years of committed practice to be able to totally play by feel? Or is a small amount of "peeking" inevitable? Personally, I probably play 98% by feel, but have been frustrated that I can't seem to *totally* keep my eyes on the music. I would love to hear from other teachers on this.

-- annie (, May 02, 2003.

ie., in a Chopin waltz--try placing the chords on the 2nd and 3rd beats--don't play them, just place them carefully. This focuses the attention on getting the right notes without allowing wrong notes to be played. After a few times of placing--correctly and honestly!-- then place/play the chords. Press the notes down only after being sure they are placed correctly.

Another suggestion is to play the first beat bottom note w/ the LH, and the chords w/ the RH. This will put the correct sound of it in the ear, then the LH can try it on its own.

Also--be sure you know exactly where you are going. Memorize the bottom notes/memorize the chord changes. Also try with eyes shut or lights out!

-- (, May 20, 2003.

This might seem like a radical approach, but it has really worked for my students (and for myself). I remember reading somewhere in an old pedagogy book that I bought at a used bookstore in NYC about the measuring muscle that we all have underneath the upper arm. I'm sure it has a name, but that's not important.

The idea is that you practice the leaps with an exaggerated "rainbow arc", allowing this muscle to come into play. This provides a kinesthetic memory that helps with all the Chopin, Joplin, etc. This works for leaps in either hand, though we do seem to have more for the left hand. I have the student try this at the lesson (several times!). We both agree it's crazy , but it does work! After practicing this way at home, the leaps become so much more reliable. I often compare this to athletes preparing for a basketball shot (especially the 3 point ones that are SET). Of

course the super exaggerated arc is modified after the music is learned . I would be interested to have some of you teachers try this, and let me know if it works for you. Ruth ,

-- Ruth C. Farkas (, June 14, 2003.

Ruth - I finally found your posting again - I have been trying for months to re-discover it so that I could thank you for this "radical approach" to coming to terms with left-hand jumps. At the time you wrote this, I had just been assigned a piece with those jumps (an easy piece, but I am still a novice trying "again" after many many years) which I thought I could never get, so I tried your idea, and by jingo, it worked like a miracle! I'm more or less playing the piece by now (I've had the summer off, so I've had extra time to practice it), and am still amazed that I can just pop back and forth while mostly landing on the right notes. I can hardly thank you enough! But thanks, anyway!

-- Shirley Gibson (, August 25, 2003.

After reading your post last year I tried the exaggerated arc movement too while learning to play stride and ragtime, and it does work! Maybe it's just psychological or whatever, but it really helped me with my long jumps, now I don't need the technique anymore, I can just about land on any note without a problem. Thanks!

-- no name (, August 26, 2003.

Actually, this isn't a complete answer, just an addition to the wonderful suggestions that have already been made.

I do teach the "rainbow" method. With my students I use the analogy of the difference between a helicopter landing and an airplane landing. Helicopter can be much more accurate!

I also ask them to increase the distance by an octave as a part of the practice. When the time comes to play as written, the smaller distance seems easy.

-- Mary Davis (, April 07, 2004.

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