One of the beginning concepts that can trip young piano students up is right/left coordination. If they don’t know which hand is playing (or which hand is right/left in the first place!) they can feel a bit lost.
Many method books (such as my favourite: Piano Safari) start out with piece (or at least have a few in the beginning) where the melody passes from one hand to the other.
These pieces aren’t exactly “hands together” but students may need some practice to get used to reading the music correctly.
- In on-staff pieces, we need to reinforce that the right hand plays when it’s in the top stave and the left hand when it’s in the bottom stave.
- For pre-reading pieces in most methods, we need to refer to stems up and stems down.
As we know: telling is not teaching.
Just pointing out these rules to students is rarely going to be enough to guarantee success – especially for our youngest piano students.
That’s why I usually do these types of fun activities on right/left coordination when we first encounter these pieces before they play a single note.
These 3 exercises are fun, you can make a mental note of any confusion, and your students will be off-to-the-races when they play their piece for the first time.
1. Drum it or shake it
For this right/left coordination activity, you’ll need two percussion instruments of any kind – preferably ones that make different sounds. (Here’s a link to a great starter set if you don’t have any rhythm instruments yet.)
- Put each of the rhythm instruments in or beside each of your students’ hands. For example, put a drum in front of their right hand and a egg shaker in their left hand.
- Count in (I always say “1, 2, rea-dy, play”) and then point to each note in turn while your student taps or shakes with the correct hand.
When trying this with a student for this first time it’s best to use two instruments that require similar movement, but make different sounds. A tambourine and a drum would great, or perhaps a maraca and a jingle stick.
Once they get used to it, you can try it with all sorts of crazy combinations of instruments!
2. Finger Puppet Pointing
When students are struggling to tell their right from their left, finger puppets or hand puppets can be a wonderful aid.
- Put a finger puppet on your student’s right hand finger 2, and a different one on their left hand finger 2. I like to use something that represents high for right hand and low for left hand.
- Count in and have your student point to each note on the page with the correct puppet while saying “right” or “left”.
This activity is fun and gives the hands characters that can make new connections for a student.
If they already know where high/low notes live on the piano, this may also help them to remember which is right and which is left.
Their other teachers can thank you later if so. 😉
3. Jazz Hands
Who doesn’t love a good jazz hand?!
- Get your student to hold up both hands in the air.
- Tell them to wiggle their fingers, jazz hand style, of the hand which will play each note.
- Count in and point to each note while they wiggle and waggle (and possibly giggle).
All three of these right/left coordination ideas help students translate what they’re seeing on the page into movement. But the jazz hands exercise has the added benefit of getting them to wiggle their fingers and develop their fine motor control.
Bonus Ideas for More Right/Left Coordination Practice
These super fun ways to practice right/left coordination don’t have to end there.
For many students, two or three sessions will be enough reinforcement. But some will need much more practice.
You can add variety to each of the three activities above by:
- Singing along
- Using backing tracks
- Playing while they point/drum/jazz hand
This keeps it interesting for your student (and you!) and allows them to grow in independence and confidence over the course of several weeks.
If you liked these fun piano teaching activities, you can find out more how I gamify all my lessons here.
Do you have students who struggle with right/left coordination?
Tell us what worked for you, and what you tried that didn’t work, in the comments below or in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers group on Facebook.