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Easy way to play the piano with both hands

By Scott Houston
Perhaps the most challenging part about learning to play the piano isn’t reading music notation—it’s putting your hands together! If you’ve EVER struggled with maintaining hand independence, then don’t despair! You’re not alone—and while I don’t have a magic potion to combat this issue, I do have some technical tips and general mindset advice to help you overcome this hurdle. 

Before I show you some tangible tricks, first, let’s try to shift our mindset from frustration to optimism. It sounds corny, but without the right attitude, it’s going to take you much longer to get to where you want to be in your playing, and it won’t be half as fun!

Using a chord-based method

The best approach to playing modern music comfortably with both hands as a piano beginner is to use a chord-based method. This means that you will focus on mastering one hand at a time before tackling hand coordination.

  • When you are learning a tune, start by playing the chord progression with your left hand. Once you get the hang of it, move on to learning the melody with your right hand only.

  • Only once you feel completely confident with both separate hand patterns can you move on to putting both hands together at the same time. This is really important because you want your brain power to be free to give 100% focus on the coordination issue vs. what each hand is playing on its own.

  • When you put both patterns together, the trick is to play them s-l-o-w-l-y. I mean so slowly that it might feel ridiculous. Do this until you really feel connected to the order in which your fingers will play. If you try to speed up and get it wrong, that’s ok! Go back to being slow.

Practicing hand independence

When you get to the point of practicing a tune with both hands, it’s going to feel very clunky at first. In fact, you might even wonder if you’re getting anywhere. Don’t be discouraged, I promise you are making great progress even if it doesn’t feel like it. You are in the stage of building your muscle memory and brain hemisphere coordination, which is tough work!

The good news is, that once it finally “clicks” in your brain, it is going to feel like a major breakthrough. About 99% of my students experience this kind of “a-ha” moment rather than feeling a gradual improvement.

Tips for reaching notes

Whether you have small hands or not, chances are you might struggle to reach the right notes in a chord early on in your learning. This is completely normal. Remember, you are asking your body and brain to do something they’re not used to! If your hands and fingers are giving you trouble, here are a few tips to help you play more comfortably:

  • When playing chords that have four notes (known as seventh chords) you can simply leave out the fourth note until you develop a little more strength in your fingers. It will sound a little less sonically rich but it will be just fine. (Voicing)
  • Alternatively, when you get to a chord that is really bothering you in some particular tune, just start stacking the notes in a different order until you find a position that is more comfortable for you to get the chord played. (Inversion)

Muscle memory is a big part of playing piano. Correcting your posture might feel strange or unnatural at first, but you must adjust your body so it can provide the most comfort and pain prevention at the bench! Make a checklist for the following physical cues and be sure to check yourself during your playing sessions until it becomes your natural sitting position! 

Inversions and voicing explained

In major, minor, and seventh chords, the root position is the chord’s lowest and first note, with the following notes stacked on top. Musicians sometimes use something called “inversions” to soften the sound by playing the chord with something other than the root note at the bottom.

For example, instead of playing a C7 chord in root position like this—C, E, G, Bb—you might play it by starting with an E note on the bottom, then stacking G, Bb, and C on top. Or you could also play it with the G as the lowest note and stack the rest of the chord tones above that: G, Bb, C, E. The thing to remember about inversions is this: same notes, just stacked in a different order. By using this technique, you can turn a chord “shape” you are having difficulties with into something not so contorted and easier for you to play.

You can also modify a more advanced chord (with four or five notes) by using a voicing—simply abbreviating the chord by leaving out the one or two notes. When deciding which notes to cut, let your ear be your guide and remember that the most important notes in a chord are the 3rd, 7th, and whatever else is in there like a 9th or 13th. Voicings are particularly helpful for people just getting into playing more advanced chords and people with finger or hand limitations.

I plan on writing more articles about this popular topic to help adults make adjustments in their piano playing. If you’re thinking about getting into the piano but haven’t taken the leap yet, feel free to check out my free online piano intro course!