Jonny May
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Accompanying
  • Basslines
  • Chords
  • Exercises
  • Groove
  • Improvisation
Music Style
  • Contemporary
  • New Age
  • Pop
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One question I hear all the time from my piano students is “How do I play up-tempo pop music on piano?” If you enjoy artists such as Adele, Bruno Mars, Coldplay, Elton John and Billy Joel, then you’ll love the piano hand coordination exercises in this Quick Tip.  We’ll cover:

  • 1 Essential Pop Chord Progression
  • 2 Conceptual Approaches for Pop Piano Accompaniment
  • 4 Exercises for Hand Coordination
  • Counting & Syncopation
  • Pop Piano Chord Voicings Made Easy

This Quick Tip features piano hand coordination exercises for beginner, intermediate and advanced students. The best part is it only uses a few chords changes so anybody can sound like a pro.

Let’s jump in!

Rethinking Piano Hand Coordination Exercises

Many classical piano students have been brought up on C.L. Hanon’s The Virtuoso Pianist for developing technique. But for purposes of coordination, this is only half of the equation. Hanon’s classic volume on piano technique is highly acclaimed for promoting finger independence, but accomplishing “groove coordination” is a different skill altogether. The following four exercises will help you master your groove. These exercises are divided into two categories—Blocked and Broken.

Block Chord Exercises

Block chord exercises approach the concept of groove similar to the way a rhythm guitarist would. Not only does this technique sound great, but it’s also is an easy way for beginners to gain entry into the pop style.  That’s because it does not require a lot of horizontal movement across the keyboard.  Let’s look at an example:

Exercise #1

Piano Hand Coordination Exercises #1-Blocked Beginner Intermediate
Exercise #1-Beginner/Intermediate Blocked Approach

The example above uses a common chord progression found in pop music.  This progression is a 6-4-1-5 in the key of C Major.  Did you notice that the notes in the right hand don’t change? I call this the “one chord wonder position” because it works over all of your chords in C Major. Not only does this position simplify the right hand accompaniment, it also results in a more characteristic sound for contemporary pop music. I’ve shown the chords below in case you are still working on your reading.

Piano Chords for 6-4-1-5 Progression in C
Piano Chords for 6-4-1-5 Progression in C

If you like the sound of these voicings, then you will love our course on The One Chord Wonder.

Rhythmic Counting

While the exercise above sounds great without requiring advanced skills, it can be tricky to count. Let’s take a minute to talk through the counting because we will be using this pattern throughout today’s lesson.

The rhythm pattern we’re using is two measures in long. You will want to count this pattern in eighth notes. The underlined beats below indicates where the right hand chords should be placed.

1   +   2   +   3   +   4   +   |   1   +   2   +   3   +   4   +

If you are struggling to master this counting, don’t panic! This is normal for many students and improves with additional exposure. Consider cueing up the Quick Tip video to 2:35 where I break down this rhythm count-by-count. If you are watching on a desktop or laptop, you can skip forward using shift→ or backward using shift←.

This is how the rhythmic counting looks when applied to the piano score:

Rhtymic Counting Example Piano Hand Coordination
Adding rhythmic counting to piano score

Great job! Let’s look at another exercise.

Exercise #2

In our second example, we will compliment our right hand pattern with an additional pattern in the left hand. This exercise for intermediate and advanced players will help you master syncopation.  What is syncopation? Syncopation is a compositional device that places accents on weak beats in a manner that contrasts with the established meter. You can think of syncopation as “rhythmic dissonance.” Just like harmonic dissonance, the rhythmic dissonance created by syncopation draws the listener in by creating a tension which is resolved when the anticipated metrical pulse is restored.

Piano Hand Coordination Exercises #2-Blocked Intermediate Advanced
Exercise #2-Intermediate/Advanced Blocked Approach

To master this pattern, it is important to note when the hands are playing separately versus together. I have highlighted the portions of the groove below in which the hands play together.

Advanced Coordination Exercise #2 with Hand Analysis
Exercise #2-highlighter indicating where hands play simultaneously

Awesome! I bet you’re ready to try it with the backing track that accompanies this lesson—you can download the track on this page after logging into your membership.

If you are enjoying this lesson, they you will love our full-length courses on this topic. Two Hand Coordination Exercises 1 (Levels 1 & 2) features 36 hand coordination exercises and Two Hand Coordination Exercises 2 (Levels 2 & 3) features an additional 48 exercises!

Now, let’s examine another conceptual approach to pop piano accompaniment.

Broken Chord Exercises

A second approach common to pop piano employs the use of arpeggios. What is an arpeggio? An arpeggio occurs when the pitches of a chord are sounded in succession rather than simultaneously. Interestingly, the term arpeggio shares the same Italian root as our English word “harp.” An arpeggio is also commonly called a “broken chord.” In the next exercise I’ll show how we can apply this concept to the same chord progression we’ve already been using.

Exercise #3

Our first arpeggiated exercise is for beginner and intermediate students. Try playing the example below.

Arpeggiated Exercise #1 Beginner Intermediate Piano Hand Coordination
Exercise #3-Beginner/Intermediate Arpeggiated Approach

You can hear how this approach results is a pop sound reminiscent of Coldplay’s mega-hit “Clocks.”  You can get a lot of mileage out of this exercise by moving it around the piano in different octaves. It works great for a song intro or ending in the upper register of the piano.

In our final example, we’ll add additional syncopation to this groove in the left hand.

Exercise #4

In our final example we’ve taken the right hand rhythm from Exercise #1 and transferred it to the left hand. We’ve kept the broken chord approach from Exercise #3 in the right hand. The result is a driving groove loaded with energy! This exercise is perfect for intermediate and advanced players who want to push their hand coordination to the max!

Arpeggiated Exercise #2 Intermediate Advanced Piano Coordination
Exercise #4-Intermediate/Advanced Arpeggiated Approach

If you enjoy pop piano or you’d like additional piano hand coordination exercises, then you’ll absolutely love the following courses:

Did you know broken chord patterns also make an excellent compositional device? Check out my performance video of “Believe,” an original solo piano composition I have written using the techniques outlined in this Quick Tip. In my “Believe” course, I teach you not only how to play the song but how I approached each major decision of the arranging process from theme and accompaniment to harmonic textures, build-up, bridge and climax!

Thank you for learning with me, and I’ll see you in the next Quick Tip.

Your teacher,

Jonny May

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