Friday, 8 May 2015

An exercise to get you playing piano with one hand louder than the other

This post is about developing the skill of both hands playing at the same time with a different volume level in each hand.

Most piano music only shows one dynamic marking in the space between the treble and bass clef, suggesting it applies to both left hand and right, however it is rare that both hands should be played with exactly the same volume for an entire piece.  Bringing out the most interesting part of the piece and playing the other part/s softer is called achieving balance between the hands.   This is a necessary skill if you want to create an interesting, musical and enjoyable performance for your audience.

My teacher used to write a different dynamic marking for the treble clef and the bass clef quite often when I was a beginner to remind me to create balance between my hands.  The instruction on a piece may be forte, but to create a musical performance it is often required that only the right hand play loudly, while the left hand softly and delicately supports the melody. This is particularly the case when the left hand is playing an accompaniment pattern that is quite repetitive and dull to listen to on its own.  It's very jarring to listen to someone playing an accompaniment pattern in one hand as loudly as the melody in the other.  It sounds aggressive and coarse.   The accompaniment pattern should be in the background of the performance, letting the melody ring out over the top. 

You might already know all of this, but when you've tried to apply it to one of your pieces, the result was that you frustratedly played both hands really loudly or both hands really softly and were unable to get one loud and one soft at the same time.

If this is you, I'd like to introduce you to a little exercise called Ghost Playing.

Ghost Playing

Play through one of your pieces (or a 5 finger scale) with one hand tapping the tops of the keys and the other playing normally.  The hand you are wanting to play softly with firmly taps the top of the keys (don't cheat and wave your hand above the keys without making any contact with them), but doesn't press the key down at all, while the other hand plays loudly.   This is an exaggeration of what you need to be able to do to create a different volume in each hand.

At first you will accidently play down a note or two.  Keep at it until you can confidently tap the keys without depressing them at the same time as playing loudly with the other hand.  

Once you are comfortable doing that, test out how this has helped improve your skills.  Bring the sound back to the silent hand by adding just a smidge more pressure to those taps to press the key down, and hopefully you find yourself playing piano with one hand louder than the other.

Did ghost playing work for you?  Let me know below.


  1. i'm definitely going to try this. I've been having a lot of difficulty achieving the balance during class and I get very frustrated so thank you so very much for the advice.

  2. Great suggestion - I am going to try this.

    I also wanted to say thank you for your blog and youtube videos :-)