Right Hand Play?

The discussion below is drawn from a thread launched by "Stijn" on the PSR Tutorial Forum in July of 2009.  Click here to go to the original thread.


July 06, 2009, 04:22:42 AM

Here is a question for the professionals and those that do Gigs. I'm just a novice. A friend of mine tells me to play more notes, than written on the score, with my right hand. He says it's sounds fuller, more harmonious. What is your opinion? If it's not on the score, do you play multi fingered? Do you usually play like this, or is it old school and do you use the Tyros features like 'harmony' or other techniques?

How can I learn what notes to play along the ones on the sheet? I attached a song - which notes should I play to make it sound better? Or should I play it like it is and what Tyros feature should I then use to make it sound 'thicker' or 'fuller'?

Thanks for your advice.

Smoke_Gets_In_Your_Eyes2.pdf (984.31 KB)

Smoke_Gets_ty.STY (42.18 KB)

July 06, 2009, 09:16:48 AM


I think it's not a question of do one thing or the other. For example, a few months ago I posted a simple song (Bei mir bist du schon.mp3) where I used "harmony" and played polyphonic with my right hand.

You can do more things with polyphonic play than you can do with only the harmony function.

I attached an extract of the notes of the song.


Extract_of_Bei_mir_bist_du_schoen.jpg (24.48 KB, 800x122.)

July 06, 2009, 10:17:20 AM

Hi Stijn,

A full score has a complete arrangement say for piano, with every note to be played by both hands. A typical classical piano score, or old fashioned sheet music, would look like that. What you posted is known as a lead sheet, i.e. it has the melody line and the basic chords.

Lead sheets are very popular with different levels of player because for an accomplished player it provides the bare bones that they can build on, without being tied to a specific arrangement, and for a novice its easy to read and follow. The very popular 'fake books' are collections of lead sheets. Most novice or average players just follow the lead sheet exactly but good musicians use their ear and the harmony structure to decide what additional notes and chords to use to fill it out and get the overall effect they desire. Or even - like Kurt said - what notes to leave out!

A beginner or average player, playing the lead sheet on a traditional instrument - like a piano - by playing a single note RH melody line over a single LH chord, is probably going to sound exactly what they are. But the big advantage of the arranger keyboard is that it can make you sound a lot better because you can use a style and other keyboard technology like built in harmony. This enhances the sound of your performance even when playing the song quite simply.

I can't give you rules for when to use keyboard harmony, or what multi fingered notes to play, it's about taste, creativity and ability. A really good player would seldom use keyboard harmony, because he is tied by mathematical rules and they would rather have full control of the sound. But if you are a novice, I would concentrate on learning to play the song smoothly and simply, and work on accuracy and phrasing while keeping it simple. Phrasing is a lot more important in sounding like a pro than most people realize. Good players don't play collections of notes, they play collections of phrases like good singers. And don't overdo the use of things like keyboard harmony. It has no impact if used all the time.

Good Playing

July 06, 2009, 12:48:59 PM


I will give you my assistance with your question. First, I learned organ in a pseudo-theatre style--playing more than one note with the right hand. However, I will tell you how I approach arranger keyboards.

First, if I am using only one right-hand voice and it is an instrument that can only play a single note (like trumpet, flute, violin, saxophone, etc.), I usually only play a single note for the right hand. In rare instances, I may play two (usually either a third or sixth below) to sound like a duet.

If I am only using one right-hand voice and it can play multiple notes (like organ, accordion, piano) or is an ensemble voice (like strings, saxophone section, woodwinds, etc), I will either play more notes with the right hand (I'll tell you how below) or use the harmony feature of the keyboard. Usually with voices like organ, piano, accordion, and sometimes strings, I play multiple right-hand notes. Usually with ensembles like sax and woodwind section, I use the harmony feature on the keyboard. I select the harmony that fits the tune; for example, I don't use a country harmony on a big band tune.

If I layer right-hand voices and have a solo instrument as the main voice with an ensemble voice as the second voice, I usually use the harmony feature of the keyboard but only with the ensemble voice. If you press [DIRECT ACCESS] and the [HARMONY] button, you will see how to change the parts that the harmony affects.

Please realized that what I outlined above is what I usually do. Others, I'm sure, do things differently. Also, I don't adhere to the above guidelines rigidly -- I do what sounds best.

Now, I will answer your real question: How to decide what extra notes to play with your right hand. When I learned to play the organ, my teacher (who was basically self taught) told me to "play chords with my right hand." What she meant was to use the chord symbols above the music to decide what note(s) to play under the melody. In your example, I would play the notes B and D under the melody of that measure. If you cannot play both notes and the melody, just play the B. For the Am chord in the second measure, I would play E and A under it; for the D7, I would play D and F#. Be aware that if the melody skips around a lot, you will need to move the harmony notes. I have attached a few measures of your tune with my own extra notes added. (By the way, instead of that optional B chord in the third measure, I play a G augmented chord, which is G-B-D#.) I also changed a couple of chords to make it sound a little more like the recording. However, you can use the ones on your version although you may have to change some of the other right hand notes. Also, if you can't play all the notes I added, only play one of them.

Please realize that the above procedure will require time to learn. For especially fast tunes, it is difficult. At first, you will probably have to practice very slowly. To play in this way, you will have to develop the "finger substitution" technique. This is where you are holding down a note with one finger, then put a different finger on it (without removing the one that's already there), and then move the initial finger to the next note. After you get the hang of this, it is not as difficult as it sounds.

If you have any additional questions about this, just ask. I will be glad to answer them.

I hope this helps,
Allen Fuller

Example_Smoke_Gets_.pdf (11.78 KB)

July 06, 2009, 01:20:08 PM

Thank you very much Allen, Mike and Kurt. This makes it a lot better to understand. I'll try the different approaches you recommend. Thanks again!

Best regards,

July 06, 2009, 08:48:59 PM

Hi Allen

What a great post! I sure appreciate you taking the time to explain your methods at making the right hand sound more full. I've downloaded your example PDF and intend to try to apply your methods. I have always wanted lessons in how to fill out the right hand and I think your post is a good start that may point the way.

Tom G.

July 06, 2009, 11:56:19 PM


You are welcome. I don't know if the pdf example is what I would actually play. I play most of my secular music from lead sheets and never play them exactly the same way twice. In fact, I would be very hard pressed to transcribe what I play. Also, since I learned to play on organs prior to automatic right-hand harmony, the only way to make the right hand sound fuller was with more notes. I have collected many harmony fills, runs, embellishments, .etc over the years of playing--many of them from piano and/or organ sheet music and books (like the Reader's Digest series). Also, some of them have even come from my playing for the choir at my church. It is amazing how an idea from one genre of music will be applicable to another!

Here is a little trick with the right hand. If the chords are Dm, Dm7, G7, you can "walk down" the notes below the melody D, C#, C, B with the D and C# being on the Dm, the C being on the Dm7 and the B being on the G7. You can use a similar technique anytime there is a seventh chord (major or minor).

In addition, instead of just sustaining the notes below the melody, you can strike them to add a little rhythm. This is usually done when the melody note is held for several beats like in the third measure of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." I sometimes play the other right hand notes here in a dotted quarter eighth note pattern. This builds the anticipation for the next phrase of the song.

If you have further questions or comments, just ask. I'll be glad to answer if I can.

Hope this helps,

P. S. I do play a little by ear, but mostly with music (at least a lead sheet). However, I remember fills, etc that I have learned and apply them. So, many people think I play more by ear than I do. Also, I can play without music, but it is mostly by memory not by ear.

July 07, 2009, 11:11:34 AM


I have been playing the 3k for years and never knew that you could have keyboard harmony on one voice and not on the other. I can relax for the rest of the day now because I have learned my one thing new for today! Smile

Your detailed description of how to use multi fingering was very good guidance for someone starting to explore this.

Another very interesting harmony technique worth mentioning is use of 'open' chords. This is where the middle note of the chord is left outs. It is very good for string sounds. One of my other favorites is the use of 'fourths'. The fourth provides a very subtle disharmony effect which can be effective in jazz piano pieces, as long as not overdone. There is just such great potential in using harmony and passing notes, not just in the RH but also the left. The little chromatic harmony trick you mention very effective played in the LH with either a LH voice or set on 'Fingered on Bass'.


July 07, 2009, 03:32:01 PM

Mike, on the subject of harmony, you said

...Another very interesting harmony technique worth mentioning is use of 'open' chords. This is where the middle note of the chord is left outs. It is very good for string sounds. . . .

Yes, I do this to. Usually I find it most effective when playing the note a sixth below. This usually fits with the harmonic structure of the piece. Also, if you wanted to prerecord the accompaniment, you could play "open harmony" on an organ voice. This was popularized by the theatre organist Jesse Crawford and is often referred to as "Jesse Crawford style." This is usually done with the Organ Flutes using only 16' and 4' (or more rarely 16' and 2'). The right hand plays two-note harmony (an octave higher than written) leaving the middle note of the chord out. Then the left hand plays the missing chord note below the right hand.

Wishing you all the best,

July 08, 2009, 01:00:51 AM


I tried the the arrangement you posted. It's hard work for someone who has only played one notes with the RH.

But it's certainly worth the effort! Amazing how good it sounds! I also paid attention to what instrument was selected - as you described in your explanation.

Thank you very much for the help.


July 08, 2009, 09:23:28 AM


What software did you use to make the score you posted?


Joe W
July 08, 2009, 11:55:53 AM

Allen, thanks for all your detailed explanations; they will help make this an important thread for people to discover.

On the subject of adding notes to the right-hand melody... When I was young, I played an accordion and accordionists often play full chords in their right hand under the melody. To help me learn how to do this, my teacher had me learn all the chords, (one per week) by playing the chord up and down the keyboard in it's various inversions. For example, when learning the C chord (C E G), I would play C E G then E G C then G C E then C E G and so on up and down two octaves of the keyboard. This exercise was done with full chord (playing all three notes at the same time) and also by playing notes one at a time in succession Over time, I could play the sequence faster and faster -- without having to look at the keys at all. Needless to say, it took some time before I was familiar with all the major, minor, sixth, seventh, and diminished chords. But the great advantage was, when playing the melody from a lead sheet, the right hand would play the melody with the 4th and/or 5th fingers playing the melody note and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd (and sometimes 4th) finger playing the chord below the melody. With enough practice, the procedure became second nature.

Oddly enough, on the arranger keyboard, I don't often play chords with my right hand anymore. For one thing, the earlier training had my hand moving up and down vertically on the accordion keyboard. The arranger, or piano, keyboards are horizontal and the hand position feels very different. In addition, many of the right-hand voices I play are single voice instruments where, as Allen has indicated, a chord would not be as appropriate. I have used the harmony technique on a second voice however. Try putting an accordion as your second voice and have it play with a full chord harmony behind a solo first voice. You'll have to move the volume of that accordion down a bit so that it is backup as opposed to dominating the melody.

My left hand has been more of a challenge in moving from the accordion (through organ) and now onto arranger keyboards. It needs to acquire that same familiarity with chords that my right-hand once had, but within a two-octave range. When I have the time, I try those "exercises" on my left hand but I don't often have the time, or discipline, to work at it regularly. But just playing through fake books, you'll find the same chord sequences repeated in many songs so learning the sequence well for one song pays dividends in other songs.

By the way, anyone wanting to learn the chords might want to check out the lessons on Secrets of Chords and Chord Progressions found in the Music section of the site.

July 08, 2009, 01:51:17 PM


What software did you use to make the score you posted?

I used a shareware program called NoteWorthy Composer. I have version 1.75, but the current version is 2.0. I purchased (40 USD) version 1 point something back in 1992 or so and received free upgrades as long as the version was 1.*. The web site for the software is here.

You can download a free 30 day trial. I don't know how much it costs to purchase the current version.

Hope this helps.

July 08, 2009, 04:56:32 PM

All these posts here are excellent. The sharing of techniques used and the explanations given are so good to read. These ideas enrich our understanding and result in improved keyboard playing skills as well as better utilization of the keyboard features available. The caring, sharing contributions here are the reason our PSR Forum is the best one on the net.

eg.1) I can play chords with both hands but it's never occurred to me to practice chord inversions on my right hand. I'm sure that once this is mastered it'll add an extra dimension to the music produced.

eg.2) The keyboard harmony on one voice and not on the other - a feature I never knew existed all these years. Gonna have to check this out on my PSR3000 this weekend.

This is a great thread. Thanks for all your contributions... smile


July 08, 2009, 07:46:06 PM


I play by ear 100% (self taught by watching the Piano Guy). I figure out my chords by listening to the record, tape or an MP3 nowadays.

Tip #1 - Listen to the song and look for the HOOKS that are within the song. A HOOK is a string of notes distinctive and is associated with that particular tune. Just about every tune has them. Find them and use them while playing the tune.

Tip #2 - I'm a real hack on the keyboard (I'm a converted guitar player). But the arranger let's you get away with it, so use it! (LOL)

When performing a tune, use the four "Main" A-B-C-D buttons. So many times I hear songs recorded where the keyboard player never changes the rhythm section. These keyboard styles are set up to be used as a real band would perform the song.

For example, kick off your tune and play the 1st version with MAIN "B", then just before you begin the Chorus of the song, go to the MAIN "C" or "D" button. The drummer will do a drum roll on the changeover (just as in real life). Then, when you get ready to play the second verse, again switch back to the MAIN "A" section. This will add variety and fullness to your performance.

Tip #3 - For some ideas to using the right hand, I found www.ehow.com and there I searched "Piano Blues Licks." There are a lot of free licks and lessons to be found.


July 08, 2009, 08:18:41 PM


You said:

. . . when playing the melody from a lead sheet, the right hand would play the melody with the 4th and/or 5th fingers playing the melody note and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd (and sometimes 4th) finger playing the chord below the melody. With enough practice, the procedure became second nature. . . .

I basically learned to do on the organ what you learned on the accordion. It really does become second nature.

I had to unlearn right-hand chords when I playing solo voices on arrangers and the digital home organs.


July 08, 2009, 09:19:43 PM

Hi All,

Very interesting reading all the ideas on this subject, if only I had more time. What's that? shocked roll eyes

I learned my little bit as a late teen from a "Samson Piano Course" of 20 lessons, which I still have. But basically, my left was an octave down the bottom and 3-finger chord in the middle for 3/4, while 4/4 was for C; lowest C octave, C-E-G chord in middle; not so low G octave then 3-finger chord again, for each bar.

The right was made up starting with the melody note with the thumb, form an octave with the little finger and the chord completed with a combination of the middle three fingers, so, mainly 4 fingers at a time.

Consequently, I produced quite some volume and rhythm from the piano for dances. The tendons in back of my hand packed up in later years, but I still find myself dropping some extra right hand fingers on the keys while playing the PSR.

But, like a lot of people, I didn't complete the course after half way, and played major chords all my life, and sort-of got away with it because I mostly played on my own, and an occasional sax or accordion followed me as best as they could.

How I now wish I had done the course properly.

Cheers everybody,

July 09, 2009, 10:03:48 AM

There is so much to this, because its not just about which notes you play, but how you play them. If you listen to good piano players using RH harmony notes they are not always played together. A small fraction delay provides a different sound. Its all part of technique and style, and there is so much variation possible.

The thing is I have spent my whole life playing keyboards with harmony and bass in the RH and LH, whatever is appropriate to the style, but when I think about trying to learn to do that if I was starting today, it would be pretty daunting.

I type pretty fast using two fingers, but decided a few years ago to take a course on proper typing. I thought with my ability as a keyboard player I would pick it up in no time. No chance, I gave up and went back to my two fingers. So I am full of admiration for all of you who are prepared to put in so much effort to master these techniques later in life.


July 09, 2009, 01:40:00 PM

Thank you all for your replies. They are really appreciated.

o DrakeM: I read your reply and I recognize some of what I do in it. As you mentioned, using the Main A-B-C-D is something I already did, but my friend is not so fond of it and he says it's not professional. But here's something you all need to know; he played in a fanfare some 40 years ago, and I think he got stuck there - no disrespect intended!

He also tells me that I don't play the notes correctly, but, and I just learned this (more at the end) that I should do just the opposite. Play late or early, not the exact length, shorter, longer, double or triple the note, with trills, grace notes or chromatic, in short, play with an attitude.

I understand from all your replies that playing multiple notes for the RH depends on the instrument selected. When I look at the styles and the music finder, I don't see that many instances where I could use that 'hard to learn' technique. I do admire (and envy wink) those that can enrich their play with multiple, harmonicly played notes, but I think I'm a bit too old to invest that much time in acquiring those skills. So, I'll just continue using the features in my Tyros2, which are switched on automatically anyway. I watched some lessons on the internet and I think I will follow their suggestions. And notice how enthusiastically the teacher explains it all. She's really good, and look at the average age of her students! Check out:


One of her comments is: "You are never more than one note away from the right note!"

Best regards to all!

July 16, 2009, 08:36:03 AM

One more point if I may. With these electronic wonders we play with touch sensitive keys, you can manipulate what you hear with multiple voices playing at the same time. When I did Final Journey on the Tyros2 for example, for most of the song, I have 3 voices all playing simultaneously, with multiple notes on the right hand. Being softer on the keys or dragging them out a bit changes which voice stands out in the trio. It really opened up new possibilities for me. Give it a listen, notice how the piano can all but disappear and reappear.



July 22, 2009, 02:21:16 PM

As usual enjoyed reading the forum during my lunch break, and learned many, many new things along the way.

Cobra, that was a lovely combination of style/voices. If you have the time, could I please get all your settings. I would love to use that set-up for some of my church specials, it sounded so "heavenly".

And Stijn, as to your original dilemma about the lead sheets, if you can read music you should try some full scores in the easy to moderate arrangements and set the arranger to recognize the full keyboard for the accompaniment. That's the method I use (with moderate to advanced arrangements) and only occasionally do I have to add any notes for the arranger to recognize the correct chord accompaniment to use during the performance. I play the majority of my pieces with the Grand Piano voice on R1 and Live Strings on R2 with a slightly lower volume. I just recently learned from another post I read that on my T3 I can add a third voice to that combination. And now I'll definitely want to experiment with the harmony option.

Thanks to everyone again,

July 22, 2009, 03:02:49 PM

Voice 1 = Grand Piano, Voice 2 = Strings(P2), Voice 3 = (Choir)Sunbeam. Played on the T2, full keyboard, no accompaniment, just the 3 voices across the whole board. smiley

Have Fun

June 19, 2010, 11:27:31 PM

... I learned my scales when I was in college. I was classically trained when I was very young, but because I was forced to do it, I forgot everything. In college, I had a renewed love of synthesizers after hearing and watching a fellow student wow me with a Juno.

I bought a Casio ... and then a Korg Poly 800 - and mostly what I did was play scales up and down the keyboard for 4 hours each day, every day, for 5 years!!! Now, many years later, when I want to play with others in a band, I just ask what key it's in or they give me a breakdown of the notes and I play single notes, chords, etc - whatever feels good as the music is playing, but because I know my scales, I can easily float up and down the keys in whatever key the song is in.

I just thought i'd share.