As students start exploring more non-traditional repertoire in your lessons (eg. pop, lead sheets, etc.), they’ll soon realise that a pianist’s left hand is crucial in providing a number of things:
Patterns are one of the most fundamental ingredients of music and so students with a solid pattern vocabulary will be much better as both readers and players.
If you haven’t explored left hand piano styles and patterns before, your students may not understand what you mean and how important they are, so one of the best ways of helping students understand the importance of left hand patterns is with a practical exercise.
Take a simple chord progression like Pachelbel’s Cannon (you could also transpose this into C if it’s easier for your student:C – G – Am – Em – F – C – F – G – C) and explore some of the left hand patterns you’ll find on the ultimate guide below:
Depending on the level of your student, s/he could play the chords while you play the patterns or vice versa.
After each style, ask the student if they know what the style is (eg. tango, boogie, etc.) and/or what feeling the style gives (fast/flowing, old/classical, dance-like, etc.)
It’s amazing how often subtle differences in left hand accompaniment completely changes the feel and style of a piece of music.
That’s exactly why left hand patterns are so important and why I created a download especially to help teachers explore this with students.
To make exploring these patterns in your studio that much easier, I’ve created a download of the most common patterns that students should know.
There are a few things you should note about this guide:
You can download your guide here:
There are a few ways of introducing pattern work in your lessons. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Make sure you help students understand that there will always need to be a balance between the melody (RH) and the accompaniment (LH).
This can be hard to achieve, so I wrote about one of my tactics in this post: Using Ghosting to Balance the Hands. This can be a great activity to use in conjunction with pattern work.
It’s worth noting that while patterns do help give us a feel and style of a piece of music, the same patterns aren’t designed to be continuously repeated bar after bar.
Even composers like Mozart only used the Alberti Bass for short periods of time before changing the pattern. One of the most obvious examples of Mozart’s use of Alberti Bass is at the start of the ubiquitous K545 Sonata:
But look what happens in the left hand after only four bars:
As Susan Deas says in her book:
Never let yourself fall into a repetitive accompaniment pattern – even the nicest pattern will sound horribly annoying after about three or four bars. Keep mixing it up. (Deas, 2007)
When you mix things up, you might like to:
It all depends on the context of the music and what’s happening in the melody. Of course, you wouldn’t likely want to mix a tango pattern with a boogie (unless you were aiming for a particular effect) as that would change the style of the piece completely.
Just help students keep in mind that while left hand patterns are important for building atmosphere and style, the melody should always be the most important feature of the music.
One of the best ways of exploring these patterns is to use them in chord progressions.
Earlier this week, I released a post called What’s the Difference Between a Chord Chart and a Lead Sheet.
In that post, I offered you a free download of my Chord Progressions to Inspire Creativity and show you a video of how I teach them. Here’s a quick example of one of the progressions. Click it to download and watch the video.
I’ll soon be releasing my training course all about teaching chords and non-jazz (pop-style) improvising and composing to students.
It’s one of the features of my teaching that other teachers are most inspired by and I’m really looking forward to sharing this with you in the next couple of months. As long as you’re on my email list (there is a subscribe option at the bottom of every page), you’ll find out when it goes live.
Let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below.
Deas, S. (2007). Improvisation for Classically Trained Musicians. Petersham North, NSW: Susan Deas Music.
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.