Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Getting Your Hands To Play Together

This article was written by Shawn Cheek, creator of and founder of  The Shawn Cheek School Of Music in Waco, TX.

I get asked all the time from my online students on, “Can you please post a video on how to get my hands to play in sync?.”  Unfortunately, I cannot post one video with a miraculous cure for the ambidextrous impaired.  Here’s why:  It’s not a matter a matter of being ABLE to do it, it’s a matter of HOW YOU PRACTICE.  Period.

If you can’t get your hands to play together in time, it’s either because you’re trying to play something to difficult and aren’t ready for it yet, OR you aren’t practicing correctly.  A famous pianist used to say, “Practice does not make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.”  I don’t now how Shaquille O’neal (sp?) is doing these days at free throws, but I know at one time he was absolutely terrible, despite hours and hours of practice with highly paid free throw experts!  Why didn’t he improve?  His coach said in an interview that he was practicing over and over a ‘flawed technique.’

Let’s put this principle into good use now.  My guess is that you’re into immediate gratification, trying to play the whole song through and have it sound like the real thing after only a couple of times through.  Or maybe you’ve been playing the same song religiously for several weeks or months, and it’s just not getting any better!  The notes are right, you’re playing your hands together at the right places, but you just can’t get the stupid thing going so it sounds like the real song!

SOLUTION: Stop trying to tackle the WHOLE song at once.  Take ONE measure, and I do mean ONE.  Play your right hand alone.  Play your left hand alone.  Did you do it correctly?  If not, DO NOT put hands together yet.  I’m not trying to be a kill-joy, but how do you expect to put your hands together if you can’t even play them separately yet?  Come back to this article in 10 minutes after you’re able to play ONE measure, hands separately, correctly.  If you can’t after 10 minutes, then the song is too hard for you right now, stop playing it and come back to it at a later date.

Next, play the same ONE measure with hands together.  Don’t worry if you can’t play it in rhythm yet, just line up the right and left hand in the correct places.  Did you do it right?  If not, DO NOT move one yet.  Get ‘em lined up first, make sure you can do it consistently.  NOW, here is the MOST IMPORTANT POINT.  The next goal is to play the  ONE measure in correct rhythm, AT A PAINFULLY SLOW TEMPO.  I say painfully slow, because it is going to be painful for some of you to make yourself slow down, but you must make yourself slow down.  SLOW DOWN.  slow down.  You must be able to play the ONE measure in correct rhythm, at a much slower speed than the original song.  Do it over and over, slowly.

Here’s why it works:  You WILL be able to speed up the tempo after the ONE measure becomes motor memory, and Voila!  You had to give your brain the experience of feeling the rhythm correctly, even if the tempo was slow.  Here’s why what you were previously doing will never work:  You were practicing a flawed technique.  You were inputing the WRONG rhythm into your brain every time you did a repetition.  How is your motor memory supposed to get the idea when you keep inputing an incorrect rhythm because you WON’T SLOW DOWN to play it correctly.  That’s all I have.