How to play a complicated melody (finger independence piano technique)

In piano, you’ll notice that the melody is often given to the right hand, or upper voices. This is common in contemporary piano music, and pop music. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the melody when a lot of notes are playing at the same time.

That’s where finger and hand independence come in. How do you make sure that your hands are able to do their own thing without copying the other hand? It’s tough.

How do you bring out a melody in one finger when all the other fingers are playing something completely different (i.e. the accompaniment)?

I want to show you a technique that I’ve been using for years. Check this out–it’s called ghost playing.

What is ghost playing?

This involves playing your piece of music the exact way you would play it, except, don’t press down on any key that’s not part of your melody. So, when you hear it, you’ll only hear the melody.

Ghost playing helps you do two things:

a) train your fingers to give your melody a different touch and dynamic so it literally sounds different from all the other notes, especially if it’s in your weaker fingers. The second movement of Pathetique is a great example of this, which I show in the video below.

You’ll often find mistakes when you first bring out the melody–either you’ll have missing or accented notes, or weird rhythms, so don’t be afraid to practice the melody for a while.

b) get your ears and brain used to hearing the melody by itself. That way, when there’s actually something wrong with the melody, you’ll pick it out right away. Sometimes, when we’re so deep into a piece of music, we forget to really listen to the melody itself.

Here’s a demo of ghost playing in the video. (I’m aware that the camera is out of focus sometimes; I’m trying to figure out how to fix this, fanks :)

Please feel free to share with a friend or let me know if you have other questions!

Check out this music practice technique called Chunking, to improve your playing faster.

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4 years ago

you are amazing!!!

Heidi Neal
1 year ago

I was going to make a video/post for my students to watch in piano lab to introduce ghost playing with Christmas songs they’ll be learning and then found this! I love the sample you played. Thanks for sharing. Hand/Finger independence can be so tricky for some kids and I’ve used this technique with success.