Left Hand Issues
Found in: Foundation Songs
Emily D., Ohio
I’ve noticed a consistent problem with a number of students, beginning with Night Storm. Whenever there’s a song that requires either the thumb or pinky to move out and in, with the opposite finger to play a stationary note, students have trouble playing the stationary note consistently. For example, in N.S. and Jackson Blues, it’s the pinky. In Ode to Joy, it’s the thumb. I work on it with them once they have the piece learned sufficiently, but some students have persistent trouble with it. It affects kids and adults.
Anyone else have this trouble? Any suggestions on fixing it?
Georgia H., Australia
Right from the beginning of teaching any of these pieces I have them make sure both fingers come up ready to play the next event. When they practice this slowly it becomes automatic and the hand is trained. Just make sure you check at the next lesson that they are all doing it correctly. The focus is on both notes coming up and not the thumb or finger moving.
Jane K., Australia
Most of the students do this from my experience – adults, children alike.
They do it because they are not aware of it. Some argue that they are lifting the fingers up when they aren’t.
I would say “up” EVERY TIME the fingers need to be lifted, as well as physically lifting their fingers if needed. They remember better when you do it with them physically, rather than just tell them verbally.
That constant reminder would help them to take note of that particular problem they have.
Gordon Harvey, Australia
I have been doing some work lately on the value of particular practice methods, based in large part on Nancy Reese’s work, that could make a significant difference to the effectiveness and speed of completing each project. This would start with students getting used to certain processes and disciplines, and a good way to do this is to use particular pieces as vehicles for unfolding those processes and disciplines. Night Storm could be just such a piece. What you would do, as soon as you begin teaching hands together, would be:
1. air piano – unfold away from the keyboard, in the normal way, controlling the events
2. same thing on the piano lid or other surface, including the practice pad
3. on the keyboard, still controlling the events.
You move on to the next step when you can complete the current one three times in a row, confidently and evenly.
You could explain to the student that they may not actually need to do all this in order to get the song down, but what we’re doing is training ourselves to go about learning something in a particular way that we will need for more advanced pieces. Besides, it’s much more time-efficient to get it right in the first place than to fix up the problem after they’ve been repeating the wrong thing for a week.
This doesn’t have to be the piece you use to introduce this process, but it would certainly be a good choice for your youngest and oldest students.
I’ll be talking more about this at the conference in Perth next month.
It works great for my students when I ask them to be sure that both LH fingers are on a trampoline, not just the moving one. They love that imagery and it works every time, even if it needs reminding occasionally.
Kerry V., Australia
A question was posted recently regarding the Left Hand finger 5 not being played when learning pieces using the finger on the same key, e.g. NS, JB and OTJ. A few comments made seemed to fix on the fact that this had to be corrected as you are learning the piece. I’d like to offer another idea.
To make the context follow smoothly we shall assume we are talking only about NS. In my teaching I have always allowed the finger five to ‘forget’ to play for a few reasons.
1. SM playing based approach is to teach on a ‘single thought process’ in mind.
I feel that by focusing on what the student is NOT doing and expecting them to do something that seems to be out of the brain wave thinking process at this time which may cause stress.
2. (Going purely by my experiences with students) The brain ‘drops’ what seems to be unnecessary to focus on what it deems to be necessary.
A student may easily shift into the primitive part of the brain which is the survival instinct. Thereby, dropping what doesn’t seem to matter. (If you know anything about the 3 brain theory you may understand what I am meaning here. Basically going into the stem brain survival mode, primitive instinctive protection of self.)
3. The student ‘gets it’ in their own time (how long does it take? As long as it takes! ) However in this circumstance a few things may happen.
a. A student becomes aware of the fact they have not been playing finger 5 and either ask about it or naturally bring it in.
b. A student may still be very mindful of the whole process of putting the two hands together therefore may not be ready to even warrant the suggestion of finger 5.
Bringing this to the attention of the parent works for a couple of reasons :
1. shows the parent how to be more supporting and ‘aware’ at the child’s practice
2. It allows the parent to ‘get off’ the child’s back or even misunderstanding the child’s capabilities (get the parent to do this and show how this requires mental effort).
3. Helps the parent know what to do at home aiding in becoming a more supportive coach.
When the student is ready for this ‘awareness’ to be made all I have the parent do, or I, is to touch the finger 5 as a simple reminder. Usually after the class time recognition (as to what needs to be done), there really is no need to do anything more at home but just in case there is a little discussion on what to do at home and why they are possibly doing this.
This enables the student to know that this is normal. That it can be corrected in such a minimal amount of time. That the student sees immediate achievement.
One suggestion in the Simpedia comments was that they ‘watch’ and remind them constantly to use finger five. Well, I don’t know if that is encouraging for the student. It may possibly be seen as a ‘nagging’ or ‘I can’t get it’ which may lead to all sorts of created stories of not being able to ‘do’ something “I’m not good enough”. Physically touching them, at first lifting the finger for them, then just tapping, then just verbally reminding them can be the sequence used and all that is needed in one part of a lesson. This can happen in short moments in lesson time and they usually ‘have’ it by then.
Of course practice along with the audio recording. The audio being the ‘right’ hand and they play the left. Or have parent playing RH etc but really, it does resolve in a very, very short amount of time before they ‘have it’.
As I’m typing this I’m wondering if there has been any ‘long term’ effect with what I do. I can’t say that there is except to say, this does not happen with OTJ as they are aware of this now. Also to remind them that if it does happen, it simply means the mind wants to automatically shut down what it deems ‘not important’, work with the ‘real stuff’ and then follow through with the ‘safe’ stuff as it understands the first steps. Remember, one thought process.
This also shows them that music is possibly going to be like this. I liken it to our reading. Sometimes we tackle the letters or groups in a word before we have the full word discovered. This can be the same thing, work with what you know and build on it. Simple!
I often wonder how Nancy Reese would deal with this situation and really looking forward to learning more of what she does. In the meantime, I work with what seems to work. Don’t make an issue of it, and it has the students learning quite early about controlling the events, breaking down events and building the blocks.
There may be certain ‘techniques’ to use in many situations but sometimes it really is a matter of growing through the learning.
Basically, not once have I had a concern about it, made an issue of it and, after watching my students this week in later levels, doing what I have has not proved to be an issue. If I have been wrong, then I’d certainly look into what is offered otherwise. I am always open to learning and discovering more things, especially to aide in my students (and my) musical growth.