Hand placement can prove to be fundamental for the implementation of an efficient piano technique. I have seen my students, and sometimes even myself, trying to apply a specific piano movement to a particular passage without having adequately settled the hand into the keyboard.
What does settlement imply?
I personally consider a hand is appropriately “settled” when it is inserted on the piano in a way in which it can easily support the weight of the fingers without having to appeal to the power of the arm. We can only expect the technique to act efficiently when the hand is in balance. There is a sense of comfort which is inherent to the fact of being in balance. When we are well balanced, we feel utterly at ease with the performance. Our elbows fall comfortably, and our shoulders experience the maximum relaxation. We are delivering the full arm weight to the keyboard, and we are ready to action ou fingers freely.
The Left Hand
Note: This is a generalistic text which intends to explain generalities. For that reason, all the explanation is based on the experience of a right-handed pianist.
Our hands behave differently. As human beings, we are always more prone to use one than the other. This is because we manage to be more precise with one than with other. For example, we feel our pulse is less steady when we use our left hand in comparison to when we use our right side. This can translate into more reflective tension on our left arm. The latter just to bring more precision to the hand. Actually, this is the exact feeling we need to battle back.
To allow our left hand and, in particular, the fingers of our left hand to act freely, we should keep our left elbow and shoulder in total relaxation -the same as we do with our right hand-. I usually concentrate on feeling my left triceps wholly relaxed at all times. We need to ensure our left side delivers its full weight to the keyboard.
We also need to make sure we don’t rush our left-hand action with that one of the rights. It is quite common to be driven by the right hand. This is what creates more tension. Let’s face it if you are right-handed your left side will necessarily be a tiny bit slower. But this shouldn’t be an issue, you just need to train hard and always together with the right. Then when you play, you should build up the sound from left to right.
Scales, arpeggios, thirds, sixths and trills hands together are what helps to develop the left-hand dexterity the most.
How to control our left hand?
Both sides of our brain work in different ways. Our brain hemispheres are different, and we control them differently. The right side takes care of our logic, and our left part takes care of our creativity and intuition -this is an extremely simplified approach-. For that reason, I suggest taking two different strategies for managing both sides.
Our left hand is controlled by the more subjective side of our brain. In my experience, I have found much more comfortable to approach the memorisation of material for the left hand in a more intuitive way. While I always suggest to try and learn the right-hand, which usually contains the leading melodic line, focusing on the 5 memories, I tend to allow more freedom to the left hand. Why? Because I relate it more to the basics of music. In that sense, I suggest a more "aural" oriented approach. We should learn how the left-hand sounds, and we should anticipate its sonority to that one of the trebles. This connects to the concept of dislocation, which we have cleared on previous articles.
The sound builds up from bass to treble. Therefore thinking of the harmonic support will automatically lead us to keep our left hand precise. On the other hand, the right side will perform the melodic line -the musical speech will be more often on the right than on the left-. The left provides the framing, while the right-hand speaks. Of course, this is not always the case, but I built up this generalisation in an attempt to simplify the explanation of this very different subject.