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It’s all in the hands: balance, dynamics, and tone

It’s all in the hands: balance, dynamics, and tone

Learning how to balance your hands on the piano is an important skill to develop. Developing solid and consistent control over your tone, dynamics, and articulation is a skill that is not built overnight. It takes months and years of practice to build a strong sound on the piano. 

Fortunately, having an awareness of this process will help focus your awareness so that you can maximize your practice time and make the most efficient progress possible. There are some basic exercises you can build into your practice routines to help develop the balance in your hands. This week, we will explore some ways you can work on perfecting the balance in your hands.

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What is tone balancing on the piano?

Tone balancing on the piano refers to the relative volumes of the notes played in both hands. Everyone has a dominant hand, right or left. Your dominant hand will naturally be stronger. 

On the piano, this means that your dominant hand will most likely play notes louder, stronger, and with more confidence. At first when learning how to play the piano, you will likely have greater technical facility with your dominant hand as well.

Furthermore, there will be particular fingers on your dominant hand that are stronger than others. Your thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger are generally stronger than your fourth finger and pinky.

Developing dynamics in each piano hand

Take some time to notice how your dominant hand and fingers move around the piano. Which notes do you naturally play louder? How do the same passages compare when played with your other hand? Which notes do you naturally play softer or with less confidence? 

The first step to developing dynamics in your piano hands is to be aware of what your hands are doing and what their natural tendencies are. Once you realize what your hands naturally do, you can exercise the weak points to build even, balanced, and well-coordinated hands.

Is this an impossible task to accomplish?

Developing balanced piano hands is not an impossible skill to accomplish. In fact, you probably already are highly proficient in many skills that require degrees of hand coordination such as typing or practicing with a learn piano app.

Adult beginners have an advantage over younger beginners and children. Adult beginning piano students have much more developed fine motor skills and have a greater degree of control over their hands. Use this to your advantage!

How will this technique benefit your piano playing?

By first building an awareness of your hands and then exercising the weak points, you will create a more balanced and controlled playing technique. This will help your piano playing in myriad ways. 

You will develop a more nuanced and affective style. You will be able to progress through more challenging material that requires a greater degree of technique. You will learn to develop a calm and peaceful feeling in your body that comes through meditative practices like this.

Exercises to play different dynamics in each hand

Now, let’s dive into some exercises you can use to develop coordination and control over the tone and dynamics of your piano hands. These exercises are not terribly different from other piano exercises you might already be doing. The main difference is the emphasis placed on varying and exaggerating the dynamics.

Learn the full range of your sound

Do you know the full range of your sound on the piano? Do you know what it feels like to play as loud as you possibly can? Or as soft as you possibly can? Which is more difficult? Which hand accomplishes these tasks better or more naturally?

Finger exercises

You can use a basic five-finger exercise to develop the dynamics in your hands. For example, play the basic finger position C – D – E – F – G, G – F – E – D – C with both hands at the same time. What dynamic level did you just play it at? 

Play it again starting from piano, include a crescendo up to G, then diminuendo back down to C. Now your exercise has some motion. 

Now, alternate the dynamics in your hands. In your right hand, start piano and crescendo to G then diminuendo to C. In your left hand, start forte and diminuendo to G and then crescendo back down to C. This will probably be much more difficult for you.

Once you are confident with this, then you can switch the dynamics between the hands and continue the exercise up and down the piano or switch to piano chords.

Practicing extremely slowly

A great way to develop a balanced tone on the piano is to practice extremely slowly. By practicing extremely slowly, we take the time to notice the subtle intricacies of how the fingers push down the piano notes. Great tone on the piano, or any instrument for that matter, is developed by diving into this level of detail.

You can practice this in any number of ways. A basic way would be to put a metronome on 20 or 25 beats per minute and practice the C major scale up and down, playing one note for every click of the metronome. If you have never done something like this, you will probably find it quite challenging! 

Develop your weaker fingers

A certain way to help develop a strong and balanced piano tone is to strengthen your weaker fingers. For most people, the fourth and fifth fingers are weaker on the piano. How can you adapt your exercises to build strength and control with these fingers?

Here is one example of an exercise you can use to strengthen your fourth and fifth fingers:

Exaggerate the dynamics in your pieces

The last idea we will explore is based on the pieces that you are practicing. A great way to build and balance your tone and dynamics is to exaggerate the dynamics of the pieces you are practicing. 

For example, if you are practicing “Musette” by J.S. Bach with Skoove, you can exaggerate the dynamics in either hand as you play. Think about this practice like a see-saw. By moving between pianissimo and fortissimo dynamics in a varied and exaggerated sense, you will begin to develop a steady center of what balanced dynamics feel like.

Balanced hands are within your grasp

Developing balanced hands on the piano is a worthy challenge to pursue. By building these exercises into your practice routine, you can help develop your playing into a more nuanced and interesting style. These exercises are:

  • Building awareness of your naturally dominant hand and fingers
  • Exploring the full dynamic range of your sound so you know what is possible
  • Alternating dynamics five-finger exercise
  • Extremely slow practice
  • Exercises to develop your weaker fingers
  • Exaggerated dynamics in your practice pieces

By practicing these exercises and building them into your routine with Skoove, you will start to develop a wonderful sound on the piano!

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Author of this blog post:

Edward Bond

Eddie Bond is a multi-instrumentalist performer, composer, and music instructor currently based in Seattle, Washington USA. He has performed extensively in the US, Canada, Argentina, and China, released over 40 albums, and has over a decade experience working with music students of all ages and ability levels.

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