Making the most of keyboard real estate

This week I got an interesting question from a guitarist friend on Google+. He wanted to know if there are any conventions with respect to orienting oneself to the keyboard. This is the picture he showed me:

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While there's nothing false here, it's not very useful for actually playing. After all, most of us have two hands instead of three. Here is another approach:

As you can see from the image, there is a rough "zone" where the left hand plays and another for the right hand, although there are no hard and fast rules about this.

Generally, the right hand will take the melody, and you'll harmonize with the left hand. You can also harmonize by playing keys with the right hand below the melody, and sometimes even coming up with fills that incorporate higher notes in between melodic phrases.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Below the green dot, try not to use intervals smaller than a fourth. Playing two notes of a smaller interval at the same time (a harmonic interval) will sound muddy, and playing them in succession (a melodic interval) will often sound clunky and amateurish unless you're playing a melody, countermelody, or specific bass line. Expand your voicings to use the full range of the piano and the full range of your fingers.
  • If you are playing a melody, you'll generally want to keep it between the green dot and the blue dot.
  • It is appropriate to split chords between two hands. Generally, you would play the root as your lowest note in the left hand unless something else is specifically called for.
  • Pianists often repeat chord tones within a voicing. A triad (three-note chord) might have as many as seven total keys involved in order to create a full sound on the piano.
  • The piano has a huge range. Don't be afraid to use very high or very low notes to create color or to "get out of the way" of other instruments and carve out your own sonic space.

I hope these tips will help you in exploring the piano and its possibilities!