Why kids dislike playing with the left hand is not a mystery, as long as we’re talking about right-handed children. It has to do with brain hemispheres.
Right brain controls left hand, left brain controls right hand. Kids brains are growing and they don’t yet have control of the transfer between sides of the brain.
So many kids hate playing piano with their left hand (and thus with both hands) that I often have to issue a mock-note from their doctor, saying that they are allergic to left hand.
All this comes about because one day I asked a child why she didn’t want to play with her left hand. She said, “I’m allergic.” So after that I ask if they are allergic, and then we write out a funny note from the doctor.
I began to study kids and their reaction to the weaker, less dominant hand. Even if their left hand is their “dominant” pencil hand, they have to start playing the piano with the right hand, so the left hand becomes the “wrong” hand in terms of the piano.
I discovered that if I did not insist on left hand, the child developed many skills very well with the right hand alone, and felt very secure. Giving the child this bastion of skill and security in the right hand for a long while turned out to be a very wise move.
The difficulty with embracing the left hand (and the act of using both hands) is partly due to the two hemispheres of the brain being still separate for many functions in many children, especially those who are younger.
Playing the piano may be, for many children, the first time their two brain hemispheres are really called upon to interact.
Since playing with two hands requires both hemispheres, kids who have more separate hemisphere functions (younger kids or kids with other issues) are physically and mentally uncomfortable trying to put the two together.
But, like riding a bike, it’s very easy once you have tried it for a moment.
The solution is to first find arrangements and songs that have both hands playing, but not at the same time. This way the child has to call upon the hemispheres sequentially, not simultaneously. This practice accustoms the child to the sensation of two-brained thinking and acting, as it were.
I often simplify left hand parts drastically, on the theory that any skill with both hands is better than none. And it works well. Just keep casually insisting on that first left hand note. After a while the child does not feel so awkward with the left hand and begins to grudgingly adopt it equally. But let them set the pace in the adoption process.
All of the above refers to purely physical actions, not to the act of reading music, but a similar regimen works wonders with the reading of music, too.
Teach the child the first five right hand notes from Middle C to G, in Piano by Number that is 1,2,3,4,5. Then allow the child to explore left hand in a very leisurely fashion, at first only identifying the first C below Middle C, which I call low C in our child’s nomenclature.
The child will resist reading left hand like a trip to the dentist, so make it short. Later, when you have done the introductory left hand games many times, the child will see that it is really quite easy. They won’t be as comfortable with left hand music reading, but if you are gently persistent, you can at least break the “curse” of left hand difficulty.
Attempt to make the child realize that left hand music reading is annoying at first, but not impossible, for everyone and not just them.
Copyright 2010 Walden Pond Press
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See also BRAINS, CHILDREN AND PIANO