Typically keeping rhythm is a low-end job: bassists in a guitar band, and the left hand in playing the piano. Admittedly I know nearly nothing about playing the piano. But I thought I would ask:

Are there pianists who keep time with their right hand, and play the melody with the left, bass hand? Are there famous piano pieces which follow this pattern?

  • 6
    Professional pianists are expected to be able to keep time with either hand, whatever they're playing.
    – Divide1918
    May 7, 2021 at 15:46
  • 3
    By "keep time," do you mean "keep the tempo," or "play something other than the melody"?
    – Richard
    May 7, 2021 at 15:49
  • 1
    Surely the question is if there are any pieces that do this, not if there are any performers do this? The musical role of the left hand and the right hand is mostly determined by the piece, not the performer. It seems a bit like asking "are there any bus drivers who drive out to Five Mile Road?" instead of "are there any bus routes that go out to Five Mile Road?"—the former question doesn't make a lot of sense, because the driver doesn't decide whether to go to Five Mile Road or not; that's determined by the route. May 8, 2021 at 2:13
  • It's common for pianists to use their left hand rhythmically and the right hand melodically, but this has nothing to do with handedness — it's musical convention. Left-handed pianists also use their left and right hands as above, and any pianist with enough experience can reverse the relationship.
    – Aaron
    May 8, 2021 at 3:30
  • You may be interested in this left-handed piano ad or this performance by a left-handed musician on a left-handed custom-built piano. The video contains a few minutes of explanations by the pianist. May 8, 2021 at 10:39

2 Answers 2


By "keep time in the right hand," I'm assuming you mean "play something other than the melody in the right hand." And quite a lot of composers have done this over the years! There are countless examples, so ultimately I'll just point to one: Chopin's Op. 28 B-minor Prelude.

And as an interesting aside: another type of composition, one that only uses one arm/hand, is also an important tradition. It became much more commonplace, I'm sorry to say, following World War I. Many pianists returned from the war with injured or missing arms, which led to an uptick in pieces written for just one arm. My own favorite from this time period is Ravel's "Piano Concerto for the Left Hand," but other similar works are listed on that Wikipedia page. You can watch a performance here.

  • 1
    Thank you, great answer. To answer your question, I meant play something along the lines of quarter notes, something basic and rhythmic, while the left hand plays something intricate, which I assume in this case would be considered the melody. May 7, 2021 at 16:56
  • 3
    ermm… but no half decent musician thinks that way. The 'time' is in their head. They don't need to plonk along 4-to-the-bar to know that. Also, there is a far higher than average percentage of left-handed musicians compared to 'other jobs', so you'd think someone would have noticed by now if that's what they're doing.
    – Tetsujin
    May 7, 2021 at 18:33
  • 1
    @Tetsujin Agreed. I don't know of many, if any, compositions where the performer is playing strict quarter notes and nothing else on one hand. What I meant is to be providing a voice similar to what a drummer might provide, or what a bassist might provide, while the other hand does the accompaniment, like a guitarist playing something heavily involved. May 7, 2021 at 19:11
  • 4
    @JasonPSallinger: My prototypical model of music is something like a Bach fugue, where there are 3 or 4 melodies going on at once and nothing is accompanying something else (but Bach took great care to make sure it still all fits together harmonically). I realize your model might differ but it's important to realize there are other ways of thinking about how music is put together. May 7, 2021 at 20:45
  • @AlexanderWoo - Bizarrely enough, even though Bach fugues are quintessential polyphony, I've always still listened to them as if they had only one melody line and multiple accompaniment lines (one of the first Bach fugue recordings I listened to was by a student who relentlessly emphasized the topmost line at all times; I still have a soft spot for Bach fugue recordings that emphasize the subject whenever it reappears).
    – Dekkadeci
    May 8, 2021 at 12:44

In any kind of music with regular beats, the most important factor for a performance to be perceived to be 'keeping time', is the performer's ability to play in time to their own internal sense of time, and the ability of all of the musicians within any ensemble to be able to synchronize their internal metronomes with each other.

Some styles of music, for example, boogie-woogie piano are clearly driven by the left hand patterns, but the performance is still guided by the performer's own internal sense of time. A listener, or even the performer, will perceive the left hand to be 'keeping time'.

It is possible to play a melody on the piano, unaccompanied, with either hand and still be perceived as 'keeping time'.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.