I am often asked about what to practise to make the left hand feel strong, and equal in technical ability to the right hand. Are special exercises necessary?
In 2011, researchers in Germany published an article which showed a surprising fact:
Whether the pianist identified as right- or left-handed, the performance of the right hand always displayed a higher degree of evenness between notes, and therefore a higher degree of motor control, than did the left hand. And the more practice time that a left-hander had accumulated, the better the performance of his or her right hand.
Another statistic that came up is perhaps more understandable and obvious – we often listen more to the right hand, because in most music from 1750 onwards it assumes greater importance. The melodic interest tends to be more on the top, the left hand in a supporting role. Not that I’ve counted them up myself, but in Beethoven’s sonatas there are apparently 122,650 notes in the left hand and 133,064 in the right! If we really want to develop our left hand, perhaps we should always be working on contrapuntal music – especially fugues, where both hands are completely equal in terms of input.
German Romantic composer, Hermann Berens published his Training of the Left Hand in 1870, at a time when mechanical exercises were especially lauded. I have noticed that many players seem to enjoy practising technical exercises and studies. As I always stress, it is how you do them that is important and if you follow a middle path and do them mindfully and in small doses, Berens’ left hand exercises can certainly be of some value.
But why not include one or two pieces of music written for the left hand in your practice regime? There are many beautiful and completely worthy pieces in the repertoire. One of the best-loved is Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne, op 9. Like all the best music written for left-hand alone, the listener is fooled into believing both hands are being used, and this piece is absolutely ravishing.
Follow this link to the Petrucci Library for music for left hand alone
If you are looking for something very special, I highly recommend Frank Bridge’s Three Improvisations. Written in 1918 for pianist Douglas Fox, who lost his right arm during the First World War, these three miniatures are exquisitely written and unjustly neglected.
No post on left hand piano music would be complete without mention of Paul Wittgenstein, the Austrian pianist who lost his right arm at the age of 27, while serving as an officer in the First World War. Determined to continue his career, he commissioned some of the best-known music for left hand, including Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand in 1929. Wittgenstein published his own School for the Left Hand, comprising exercises, studies and transcriptions. Here is his version of Schubert’s Imprompu op. 90 no. 4, worth practising in this arrangement even if you are playing the original.