Two hands, two different beats on the keyboard… now what?

Forget “left” and “right” Twix bars; the left vs. right hand on the piano keyboard is just a doozy lately. I hit that snag in my learning while with my instructor this morning. So far, what we’d been playing has had at least the bass part starting (chord or single note) along with a note in the treble clef. Left and right hands were working in tandem for the most part.

Today I ran into some songs (we’re going through one of my adult piano books a chunk at a time) that had the left hand note start, then an eighth note later a right hand note added.

I froze when I tried to do it. Totally stuck. I couldn’t get my left hand to figure out what to do. Granted, we’re trying to get through this book… perhaps a bit too fast at times, but trying to get exposed to the chords and recognizing the sounds as we go.

I learned a helluva lot today, but it’s damned hard to get my hands to move independently of each other. I can think it, somewhat, but when I look down at my fingers, especially that left hand, it won’t budge without serious thought.

Well, what can I do about this little situation? What can any beginning piano student do about this?

The first thing is to get the beat right.

The second thing is to practice one hand at the time.

Beyond that…

Well, it’s mostly about muscle memory, at least according to some answers I found on Quora while trying to figure out what to call this situation. I think it’s called a polyrhythm, when the notes aren’t played at the same time with each hand, but seem to alternate more.

This particular blog post from key-notes.com breaks down what to do to learn a piece that demands a lot from your hands, rhythm-wise. I’m willing to give it a shot. I just didn’t anticipate how difficult this would be, though I know it would be. I just figured that my hands wouldn’t’ freeze up when I gave it a shot at doing both left and right together.

Repetition, repetition, repetition. That seems to be the main theme on every site I’ve bumped into. Learn bass or treble staff first until you get it right, learn the other one til you get it right, then put them together about half speed. Build that up.

I guess it’s trying to figure out how to do beat counting like that. One idea was to count the beats with different hands, tapping them on the piano or desk as you go through to get the rhythm right (and then work on the notes, I suppose).

I was looking for a way to do it, and it seems I might’ve found it.

Guitar’s becoming easier to learn for sure. Piano’s kicking my ass, but i’m willing to give it more of my time than ever for now. I don’t care how much cleaning and other work I have to do–I want to learn this.

Well, have any piano players had prolonged trouble with this polyrhythm thing? What methods helped you get past it the best?

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