How to Play Piano with Both Hands

Learning to play with both hands is one of the toughest hurdles you'll face as a piano player—but with time, practice, and these five tips, you'll be able to lift your two-handed playing to a whole new level.  

Last updated on 13 Jun. 2023

If two-handed piano playing has you struggling, you're far from alone. For many of us, it can feel like an impossible magic trick. You might be able to play a piece perfectly with one hand at a time—but when you bring your hands together, it all falls apart. It's like your brain freezes and, no matter how hard you try, you just can't play with both hands at the same time. 

The truth is, most people find it to be one of the hardest parts of learning piano—and with good reason. Trying to get each of our hands to do different things can be new and confusing for our brains. It takes time and repetition to build up the coordination skills and confidence to get both hands working together.

On top of that, if you're used to playing mostly with your right hand (and therefore in the treble clef), adding your left hand means learning a whole new clef (the bass clef) and the note positions on it. This only adds to the challenge.

Practice makes perfect

In short, learning to play songs with both hands demands much more from you. The good news is that with some persistence and the right approach to practicing, you'll be able to break through this barrier and reach a new level as a piano player. 

If you're learning on your own, it can take more self-discipline to learn to play with both hands than it would with a teacher to guide you, but it's still totally possible. A piano-learning app like flowkey is also a fantastic tool to support your learning and help you reach your goals.

However you choose to learn, these five tips will help you find your way to playing piano with both hands.

Reframing Hand "Independence"

A lot of articles on playing piano with both hands will refer to "hand independence" and the idea of your hands having to do totally different things at the same time. We've found that to think of the hands as totally separate can make learning more difficult. We prefer to think of our hands interacting, or working together, along the same timeline. Your hands are not really doing two things then, but cooperating to do one thing—like two partners working on the same project with the same timeline and rules. While they don’t always play identical parts, the different notes and rhythms complement and support each other.

1. Learn each hand separately before bringing them together

The most important thing you need to know about playing piano with both hands is that it's a new, complex task for the brain. When you're learning something new, your brain needs to dedicate its full attention to the task. This means it won't have the capacity to do anything else at the same time.

That's why your first step when learning a new piece should be to learn the right and left hands separately. If you just rush into playing with both hands right away, your brain has to learn the right- and left-hand parts of the song simultaneously. It's a lot for anyone's brain to handle—but especially if you're still relatively new to playing with both hands (which is why it can feel like your brain shuts down when you try it). 

Knowing When You're Ready

Aim to memorize the notes in the right and left hand by heart before starting to play with both hands. A good test for this is to close your eyes while playing: if you can play correctly with each hand separately, you're ready to LM start practicing with them together.

Once you start practicing with both hands, think of it as a completely new movement that your brain has to learn. It's normal to feel like you're starting from scratch, and you might have to play much slower than you would while playing with each hand separately. Don't get discouraged by this! You'll be surprised by how quickly you improve with repetition and consistent practice. If you can make time for twenty or thirty minutes a day, that's ideal, but it's more important to stay consistent, so set yourself up for success by creating a practice schedule that works for you.

To support this mode of learning, flowkey lets you choose which hand to practice with. You can play every piece in our library with either your right or left hand, or both together. This feature helps you quickly build up to two-handed playing. If you're interested in seeing how it works, you can try it out now with a free seven-day trial.

2. Split up songs into small parts

It's easier for your brain to digest new and complex things when you break them down into bite-size pieces—this also goes for learning to play piano with both hands. 

Try splitting up a song into small parts—around four to eight seconds per section is ideal—and focus on one part at a time. Once you've perfected each section, you can put them all together, and the only thing left to learn will be the transitions between them. Master these and you'll be playing the whole piece with both hands in no time. 

So, to combine the first two tips, choose a short section of a song, learn the right and left hand separately, then practice both hands together.

In the flowkey app, you can easily split up songs into smaller parts and have them repeat automatically using the Loop feature. This helps you stay focused on playing (instead of toggling controls) and makes learning to play with both hands much easier. 

3. Take it slow and steady

When learning to play piano with both hands, you may be tempted to rush through parts of a song or be inconsistent with the rhythm. Resist the urge to do this! While it might feel like you're getting through a song faster, it will actually make it harder to reach your goal of playing the full song correctly.

Instead, start by playing at a very slow speed that you can hold steadily throughout the entire song. Don't worry if it feels like you're going way too slow; the aim here is to get to know the hand movements and notes inside out. 

Once you can play fluidly and confidently at a slow speed, it's time to start picking up the pace. Increase your playing speed bit by bit—while keeping a consistent rhythm—until you're able to play at the intended tempo of the piece.

Further Learning: Tempo

Want to know more about tempo and rhythm in piano playing? Check out Chapter 8 of flowkey's Beginner's Guide to Learning Piano, which is all about piano notes, timing, and dynamics.   

4. Start with easy songs and exercises

When you first start to play piano with both hands, it's important to choose songs that aren't too difficult. Finding songs suitable for your level will help keep you motivated and inspired as you work your way through them. As a rule, you want to look for pieces where the right- and left-hand parts are not too difficult to combine, and your hands don't have to move around the keyboard too much. Our list of "10 Easy Piano Songs for Beginners" is a good place to start. 

Choosing the Right Song 

Not sure how to determine if a song is the right difficulty for you? Ask a teacher or someone who is more experienced than you for help picking a piece. An app like flowkey can help with this too since the songs and pieces are organized according to different difficulty levels, from beginner to pro.

Combining level-appropriate songs with hand-coordination exercises will give you a variety of ways to practice two-handed playing, which can keep things feeling fresh and motivating. You can find these for free by searching "piano hand-coordination exercises" online, but it can be difficult and time-consuming to sift through the many results to find ones that are high quality and work well for you. The benefit of using a piano-learning app like flowkey is having access to proven step-by-step courses with exercises specifically designed to guide you toward your goals.

flowkey's library contains thousands of songs for all difficulty levels. And courses like Introduction to the Piano and Playing with Both Hands are expertly designed to help beginners learn the fundamentals of playing piano. Create an account to try the first lesson of Introduction to the Piano and a few songs for free. There's also a seven-day free trial that gives you full access to all of flowkey's songs and courses.

5. Let sleep do the rest

Sleep is your best friend when it comes to learning complex movements like playing the piano with both hands. That's because your brain processes what you've learned while you sleep, and commits it to muscle memory. Lack of sleep also makes it harder to focus and perform fine motor skills, which makes them harder to learn and retain.

If you've been practicing hard and feel like you're not making much progress, take a break for a day and return to the piano after a good night's sleep. It's very likely that you will suddenly be able to play much better than the day before—like magic. 

If you keep these tips in mind and keep practicing, playing with both hands will only get easier. Be patient with yourself and don't give up! 

And remember, flowkey is also here to help. With the app, you can decide which songs to learn at your own level, repeat small parts of a song, practice each hand separately, learn at different speeds, and develop your two-handed playing skills via our courses. All of these tools will help speed up your practice, train your brain, and make playing with both hands feel natural in no time.

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