Finger independence routine as a composition tool

Hand independence is one of those technical things that I unconsciously put off for as long as I can, trying to justify it by telling myself that it’s not as important and that I’d be better off focusing on theory or learning pieces, plus it’s just plain boring and frustrating, so why start it anyway. And it’s all right until I sit down to record another piece and realise that I need 20 exhausting takes to lay down a fairly simple part because I just can’t reconcile left hand bass pattern with the melody that my right hand plays. Furthermore, because of the lack of focused work on independence, my fingers tend to avoid complex patterns and I often end up with similarly sounding, repeating melodic landscapes. So yeah, dedicated hand independence workout is important because it improves composition.

But instead of reaching for a Czerny book and embarking on a 10-year nightmare of finger exercises, I decided to make use of some jazz voicings and — as always — come up with a routine that would be fun and musical. So I could actually compose stuff in the process.

Here’s what I started with:

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As you can see, the right hand simply plays notes from the shell voicing of a major 7th chord (7-3-5 in this case), while the left hand walks up and down the major 7th arpeggio (in full 1-3-5-7 form). Just breaking a shell chord voicing into individual tones already creates a pleasant-sounding line! What is the obvious next step to sex it up?


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Add broken 10ths in the left hand. Alternating 10-5-1-5-10 pattern and walking ∆7 arpeggios with LH against the same line with RH already sounds super jazzy and very rich. Just in case — I’m going around the cycle of 4ths here (C∆ → F∆ → etc.) and playing corresponding 7-3-5 shells with my right hand.

Next step — try a more sophisticated intervallic pattern. I love 6ths, James Jamerson loves 6ths, why not take them?

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First, isolate them and practice over descending and ascending arpeggio to let the right hand get used to the new pattern, and then — combine all left hand and right hand lines in one workout:

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Here C∆ 7-3-5 figure is played over broken 10ths, and then in the next bar, the 6-5-3-7 pattern in F major is played over F∆ arpeggio. Obviously, you can continue on and go around the cycle of 4ths / circle of 5ths or a modal II—V—I.

Finally, here’s an example of a real world application of the all aforementioned techniques. I took the first couple of bars of Always on My Mind by Brenda Lee (D | A | B- | D) and just improvised on them playing mostly 1-5-10, 1-5-1′ pattern with the left hand and different intervallic patterns with the right (mostly focusing on melodically played 7-3-5 shell). Check it out, I’m using colours now! Does it make notes on the staff look less (more?) annoying? 🤓

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And here’s what it sounds like:


Hope you find it helpful! Till later—

On Hand Independence and Wasted Youth

I struggle with hand independence. It’s a fucking nightmare, I’m telling you. There’s a solution though: take Dohnányi exercises, play them for 10 years (starting when you were 4) — ? — PROFIT! My problem here: I started a bit later, and I hate exercises that sound like they were deliberately written to torture me and make me feel like crap. I love playing things that matter musically. So I thought, okay, why don’t I play some arpeggios with the left hand, like this:

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Then add some scale runs with right hand (F Dorian in this case), like so:

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Then stop playing the 5th in my left hand Fm7 arpeggio:

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Continue playing the same rhythmic figure with the left hand, but sex it up by switching to broken 10ths (F — C — Ab). Keep doing the scale thing with my right:

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Then go back to my Fm7 arp and instead of removing 5th, get rid of the 3rd, which will completely change the rhythmic pattern and fuck up the right hand. Switch to 10ths as soon as the right hand starts to unfuck itself again.

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At every moment I can try and switch from running a scale to actually improvising in key to see if my left hand can handle it:

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Of course, there are also other things like other mode degrees to play with the left hand (for example, v or IV7 instead of i), other scales (like, parallel Lydian or Aeolian, you know?) etc. Thus, by the end of a 12-hour session, you will have achieved total hand independence and absolute fluency in all keys and all modes. All by doing just this one exercise!

Just kidding. Go build a time machine and start your piano lessons when you’re 4. Or at least build a time machine so people like me could practice more AND write about it! Laters—