11 Tips for Improving Hand Coordination & Muscle Memory

Tips for Improving Hand Coordination

If you took piano lessons as a child, you may remember your teacher reminding you to learn the “three Cs”—concentration, coordination, and confidence. Of these, coordination is perhaps the trickiest skill to learn.

Many instruments—especially keyboards, guitar, and drums—require both hands (and sometimes feet) to work sometimes in tandem, sometimes against each other. This can be a problem for beginners who may be very “one-handed.” When a beginner watches an experienced musician do the equivalent of patting the head and rubbing the belly at the same time, it can be off-putting. You may have heard a friend who thinks he or she is unmusical say, “I’ll never get my hands to do that!”

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But all musicians know that the beginning stages of playing piano, organ, guitar, drums, and other instruments have a lot to do with developing hand coordination and muscle memory. That’s because coordination is a learned skill, and not something musicians are born with. In other words, practice improves coordination, which is exactly why you should listen to these tips for improving hand coordination.

1. One at a Time

When learning a new piece, it’s a good idea to learn the left hand (or weaker hand) part first. If you’re new to playing a musical instrument, you’ll find that the weaker hand needs more time to get oriented than your stronger hand.

2. Point, Counterpoint

Whether you play piano, organ, guitar, or drums, you should learn to coordinate your hands to play different rhythms. One simple way to get started is to have the left hand tap out quarter notes and the right hand tap out eighth notes, then vice versa. Keyboard methods sometimes emphasize counterpoint or contrapuntal exercises (where the hands play different melodies) as the best way to develop coordination. However, these exercises are
more advanced.

3. Quite Quiet

You can practice coordination exercises silently. Keyboard fingering exercises can be practiced on a table, drummers can tap out rudiments on a pillow, and guitarists can strengthen their fretting hand by going over chord changes without strumming or picking. Exercises such as these help develop muscle memory. Do them while multitasking, when talking on the phone, or while watching a film.

4. Be Strong

Physically strengthening your weaker hand is one facet of improving coordination. Guitarists often build up their fretting hands by habitually squeezing a tennis ball for a few minutes each day. More high tech hand and finger strengtheners include products such as GripMaster, Power Putty, and FingerWeights.

5. Up & Down

Here’s an easy exercise to learn hand coordination on a keyboard. Put your hands in “ready position” and then rest both thumbs on middle C and your fingers on the four white keys either side of C. Play up the scale with the right hand, then down the scale with the left hand. Next, start a scale with your left pinky, which is resting on F, going all the way up to your right pinky (G) and back again.

6. Choices, Choices

Should left hand guitarists fret with the right hand? It’s a personal choice, although both hands, especially if you are a finger picker, need to learn intricate movements, and some lefties like to fret with their stronger hand. Plus, if a left-handed guitarist learns to fret with the left hand, he or she will have a greater choice of instruments, will be able to share instruments with right-handers, and will be able to read guitar tabs without having to switch finger positions.

7. Keep Warm

Scales and rudiments are essential to improving coordination and should be played at the beginning of every practice session as warm-up exercises. In order to avoid boredom, learn different scales and rudiments and switch between them. Along with scales, practicing arpeggios can help familiarize the sounds of different chords in different keys.

8. Take it Slower

Whether you practice coordination with scales, rudiments, arpeggios, or similar exercises, the trick is to take it slowly and deliberately at first so that your hands are learning correct technique, playing cleanly, and not picking up bad habits. At this stage, it’s fine to look at your weaker hand. When you are confident that you have the correct technique, then you can try the exercises without looking at your hands and at a faster tempo.

9. Click it

A metronome is a handy tool for coordination exercises. Drummers often use a metronome (or click track) when playing rudiments to keep their strokes steady, but it’s a good idea for all musicians to use a metronome for control when playing scales and other exercises.

 10. Take it real Slow

One technique to improve keyboard hand coordination is to increase fine motor awareness in your fingers. Do this by pressing keys very slowly without looking at your fingers. Place your hand in the “ready position” and very slowly play the scales and make yourself aware of how each key feels to the touch as it is pressed and raised.

11. Break Out

Here’s a tip for keyboard hand coordination that can be adapted for other instruments. When learning a new piece on keyboard, try playing the right hand melody with the left hand. By breaking out of the usual left hand pattern (such as chord vamping), you will increase your left hand awareness, mobility, and creativity. Drummers can adapt this technique by playing ride cymbal rhythms with their left hand. For guitarists, the technique called “tapping” is a good way for the right hand to know what the left hand does.

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7 comments

“Should left hand guitarists fret with the right hand? It’s a personal choice, although both hands, especially if you are a finger picker, need to learn intricate movements, and some lefties like to fret with their stronger hand. Plus, if a left-handed guitarist learns to fret with the left hand, he or she will have a greater choice of instruments, will be able to share instruments with right-handers, and will be able to read guitar tabs without having to switch finger positions.”

That’s probably one of the most ignorant “tips” I’ve ever seen in my life, to encourage people to play “right-handed” just because it’s in advantage for others, but some right handers also play left-handed “wrong way around” so that argument to encourage people into playing just right-handed doesn’t make sense. We all should play the way we prefer, not the way it’s “intended” or has to be.
I myself have seen much discouragement for left-handed players and it makes me sick it still exists to see people wanting others to play the way they think should be good for others when they don’t know anything about dominant traits and preferences. We don’t live in the 70’s anymore, left-handed instruments have started to grow exponentially ever since people like Jimi Hendrix, Paul Mccartney decided to play that way and they keep inspiring.

Even right-handers like Kurt Cobain inspired people play left-handed and be themselves. So let people choose and don’t encourage someone going the other way around when you don’t have any proper argument set up to back up why it’s “good” for the person. Same with right-handers, they don’t necessarily need to play right-handed if they can’t do it or don’t feel comfortable with it. So my “advice” is, think about it. Sincerely from someone who doesn’t like advertisement against lefties.

Brain development, Hand eye coordinator, close look at eye etc are very useful tips. This is the first time I am reading your blog but impress with the information and writing flow. This blog has very rich resources. Thanks for being great. Thanks

Regarding being a lefty and what choice to make in terms of orientation, I agree that the choice should be left to the player (oh look, a pun), but can wholeheartedly advise that if the preference for a lefty is to play righty, then that should be done.

I am a lefty, but when I studied violin as a child, and was instructed to hold the fiddle in my left hand and bow with my right, it never occurred to me to do otherwise…I had no natural inclination to switch around to a lefty position. When I taught myself guitar, same thing…no natural inclination to play lefty. I ultimately became a professional drummer, and when I bought my first kit, and sat at it for the first time, I came at it righty. After playing this way for some months, I started lessons, and twas here my teacher insisted I ”not go against nature” and play lefty, and so I reorientated myself to a flipped around kit.

This was absolutely the worst bit of ‘guidance’ I ever received, and it was in my very first lesson, and I PAID for it! Firstly, it defied MY natural inclination to play righty. Secondly, it made it impossible to sit down at any regular kit and play because my coordination and muscle memory was for a lefty kit, and flipping a kit around is a good ten minute affair. Thirdly, and most importantly, I went from the privileged position of being a naturally ‘open-handed’ player (where the hands do not cross over each other, a design flaw in the ergonomics of the instrument) to being a cross-handed player, which sucks in terms of player comfort and general good health in the long term in myriad ways.

As young players, we are sponges to the advice of our mentors, and so being a teacher carries a large , unspoken about, responsibility. Once we’re on a path technically, as we all know, it is next to impossible to change it. People only go to therapy to try undo the damage instilled in childhood (I just made that up, but it is true, no?) on their psyche…muscle memory is as strongly instilled as psychological damage.

So it works both ways…being I was a lefty student, playing righty by nature, but told to play lefty cos it was ‘natural’, and living to regret it. I don’t play anymore, and I think that playing with a lefty orientation for 30+ years eventually wore me out. Go with your natural thing, but if you’re a lefty questioning orientation and could go both ways, go righty so that you can play on any instrument you find before you.

In closing, what about piano? I have NEVER seen a ‘left-handed’ piano…this kind of thinking doesn’t even exist in the world of piano, as far as I am aware..? I can tell you, having learned four-limbed coordination as a drummer, which is just insane really, the coordination required to play two independent lines in the fingers of the hands at the piano is in no way less of a coordination challenge. Many fantastic pianists have expressed to me that they could never coordinate all four limbs…believe me, you could!

We get better at our instruments by playing them out of sheer enjoyment and wonder. Just play and play, and you will get better. Don’t force yourself to play, and don’t go to lessons because you ‘want to get better’…just play. The information you need is now readily available for free online…it is just info and thus innocent (by and large)…and let your instinct and intuition be your guide, not some otherwise unemployable oaf you are paying top dollar to, to merrily hand out potentially crippling advice…haha!

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