Left Hand Stride Piano Tenths


By stretching your left hand it really is possible to get another inch or so!

Stretching the left hand really works! But don't expect to see any results for a couple of years (or more!)

One of my teachers was a Stride player in the 30's and he showed me the difference between the spread of his left and right hands! Unbelievable! The left hand had a spread almost two inches more than the right!

Although I don't play much Stride anymore, my left hand still has a spread of almost a full inch more than my right.

Take your time. Don't over do it. You can stretch your hand anytime you please (at work, at home, while watching TV) and you don't need any special equipment. Just stretch your thumb and pinky out as far as they'll go. Hold it for 10 or 20 seconds.

Incidentally, you're not stretching the tendons. The main part of the hand that stretches is the "web" between your thumb and forefinger.

Meanwhile, perfect your mastery of broken tenths. In a few years when you've succeeded in stretching your hand as far as it will go, you'll be rewarded by being able to do all styles of tenths fluently.

Often you will put one of the following harmony notes inside the 10th using your index finger:


This adds to the color (depending on the quality of the chord), and also enables you to get carpal tunnel much sooner than your peers <g>.

Tenths are commonly played 3 different ways:

- Simultaneous 10ths

- Broken 10ths [play the pinky note and THEN quickly play the thumb note - This technique is not just for those with hands too small to hit a simultaneous 10th, broken tenths have a charm and function all their own]

- Rolling 10ths [these generally include one of the interior notes mentioned above. Like broken tenths the notes are not played simultaneously, but one after the next, ie. pinky then index then thumb]

Some typical examples of "Walking 10th lines" are:

(F Maj or F7)
beat 1: 2F 3A
beat 2: 2G 3Bb
beat 3: 2Ab 3B
beat 4: 2A 4C

(Bb 7)
beat 1: 2G 3Bb
beat 2: 2Gb 3A
beat 3: 2F 3Ab
beat 4: Bb7 chord voiced 3F Ab Bb 4D

Tenths are a staple of the Stride piano style typified by James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Art Tatum.

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With this style of Jazz Piano all of your standard chords (m7, m7b5, m6, m9, M7, M69, M9, 7, 7+5, 7b5, dim7, etc) are fair game.

The main consideration for the chords on the off beats is that you use an inversion that keeps the 2nd finger of the left hand very near middle C.


(middle C = 4C    LH fingers: pinky = p / ring = r / middle = m / index = i / thumb = t)

Em7b5 = 3Gp Bbm 4Di Et (1st inv.)

F#7+5 =  3F#p A#m 4Di Et (root pos.)

Abm7 =  3Gbp Abr Bi 4Ebt (3rd inv.)

Bb7 =  3Fp Abm Bbi 4Dt (2nd inv.)

C7b5 =  3Gbp Bbm4 Ci Et (2nd inv.)

D69 =  3F#p Am Bi 4Et (1st inv.)

The reason for voicing these chords in this register is for clarity. Voice them any lower and they get muddy, any higher and they get in the way of the right hand.

In most cases there is only one (or possibly two) voicings for each chord in this register that work best. This sure makes it a lot easier to memorize.

The "oom-pah-oom-pah system" (where "oom" means "bass" and "pah" means "chord") is by no means the only way that the LH works in Stride. Consider the following possibilities:

1. oom pah oom pah (standard)

2. oom pah pah oom (final "oom" as leading tone into next chord)

3. oom oom oom pah (descending tenths capped by a chord)

4. pah oom oom oom (chord followed by a walk up into the next chord)

5. oom oom oom oom (tenth walk up) etc.

Within what would seem to be the confining world of Stride LH, there is actually a LOT of room for innovation.

I've heard that Mark Levine suggests using rootless chords on beats 2 & 4. I've never read Levine's book, but I was already doing that anyway.

Even though it seems totally obvious, every song is different and so you need to tailor your LH accompaniment to suit the needs of the song you're in. It's up to you to choose the appropriate utilization of the left hand (Stride or otherwise) depending on what the song calls for.

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An audio example of the use of left hand tenths in the Stride style.
My solo piano arrangement of Winter Wonderland (midi-audio).

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copyright 2003 Jeff Brent

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