Jazz pianists: Does your left hand need a detox?

Are you happy with your left hand while playing jazz piano?

Or do you find that your left hand plays the same rhythms over and over, regardless of what your right hand lines sound like?

You may or may not have noticed this in your playing, but if you listen for it you’ll hear that it’s really common. Even among some very accomplished jazz pianists. Here’s what I recommend if you want to “freshen-up” your left hand comping rhythms:

Don’t use your left hand for a week.

Yep, that’s right. Play your favorite jazz melodies and improvise solos with your right hand alone. Nothing underneath. A complete detox.

It’s not as radical as it might sound at first. After all, horn players don’t accompany themselves with chords. Playing with your right hand alone will give you the opportunity to conceptualize your solo lines like a sax or trumpet player might. Focusing on melodic lines only will sharpen your ear and allow you to explore different phrase lengths, harmonic possibilities and rhythms that weren’t possible with the “same-old same-old” LH accompaniment. I’ve found it to be lots of fun to practice like this on occasion. And best of all, you’ll start to hear music without your usual left hand rhythms. Very liberating indeed!

After you do this for a week, bring the LH back in. But don’t just go on “automatic pilot.” Decide that you’ll only play a LH chord when it really needs to be there. Does the RH line need an accent? Can the LH fill in between RH phrases? Is it adding to the overall intensity or excitement?

Whatever you do, try not to revert to your habitual rhythmic patterns in your LH. This is very difficult to sustain, but even if it frees your rhythmic concept up by 10%, the effort will be well worth it. Your playing will breath in a different way and you’ll probably be happier with your jazz playing. Give it a try and see where this approach leads you. (And if you want to hear a pianist who’s always in control of his left hand comping, listen to any of Keith Jarrett’s recordings with his Standard Trio. This is one of his strong points.)

Take your left hand playing to a new level with my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
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