That Left Hand and Learning Tunes

Explore getting more out of your left hand while you dig into a new song

We spend so much time learning how to play lines and such in our right hand that sometimes the left hand is left out of the picture. In this lesson we take a look at "Beautiful Love" and ways of using our left hand to make this a bigger and better tune to play. The strategies here are also very useful for learning tunes.

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One of the most common questions I get in email, in the forums and during lessons is about the left hand. How can the left hand become nice and tight like the right hand? Why does it seem to not know what to do? Why can't it play good chords?

Help, my left hand is confused.

First, let me stress that to learn music you have to listen to music. Books do not cut it, books can't teach you how to become a jazz piano player. They give you some tools, some theory, some science and formulas (all necessary), but in order to really learn to play,you must listen and do.

So buy some solo piano recordings.

Pick up Walter Norris and other piano greats from the Live at the Maybeck Recital Hall recordings (Concord Records). Those recordings are the cat's meow of solo jazz piano, and there are a lot of them. A compendium of awesomeness.

You can't go wrong. Listen to them DAY AND NIGHT. Don't listen to rock, pop, classical or anything else for at least a month. You'll automatically get better because jazz is a language, and jazz piano is the most difficult dialect.

You also need to transcribe those left hands. Transcribe, write them down, learn them note for note. It's a lot of work! But so what? You want to be a jazz player, don't you? It's not going to be easy. It's going to be hard, frustrating, and extremely rewarding.

Making a Happy Left Hand

A great piano teacher and player named Jerry Gray once told me that to help the left hand AND learn a tune, play the whole tune with only the left hand. Bass note and melody.

Let's look at Beautiful Love, a standard by Victor Young that we all know. Right? It's in the first Real Book and the first New Real Book.

Note: Play these examples with the left hand only.

Example 1:
The most simple way of doing this is to play the melody and bass notes. Look at the example below:

Example 2:
That is the easiest way of doing it, and at first it's not easy at all. However, once you can play it, you can take the idea a bit further by adding just a few passing notes. Look at the next example and try to play it.

Example 3:
There is nothing that says the melody always has to be on top and the bass on the bottom. Try it the other way around.

Example 4:
Finally, try creating a two part melody where the bottom notes often move independently of the top notes. Make sure you play it in such a way that the melody notes comes out. A great exercise in playing embedded melodies is working through Bach Minuets, Fugues, and Preludes (and just about anything else J. S. Bach composed), and most other Baroque music. You can even make an exercise where you try to have a three part melody. That gets really tough.

If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.

by Scot Ranney on 09/16/2014, 23:25
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