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!”
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
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.