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Practice Tracks: Tiger Rag Left Hand

Barron Ryan

Drag me around…   by Daniel Staemmler

Drag me around… by Daniel Staemmler

Today you meet my greatest musical challenge yet: Art Tatum's 'Tiger Rag.' A former piano professor suggested a couple years ago that I take a look at it, and it's been giving me fits ever since. Practicing it unsafely was actually the reason I injured my left hand in 2013, but that's a story for another time.

In this post, I show you how I work on a devilishly hard passage in which the left hand is supposed to fly over the keyboard, hitting notes well over a foot apart at a rate of six times per second. I don't know how it's physically possible, but Art Tatum did it, so doggone it so will I.

My current favorite practice technique on this passage is Broken Record. I pick a certain number of notes to play at full speed (five, in this case), and repeat the last note before moving on. Let's take a look.

In the track above, I start playing at half-speed so you can hear what the whole passage sounds like. Then I practice using Broken Record repetitions on beat one of every measure. I left out the six other times I played this selection correctly, so you're welcome.

I then move the repetitions backward, to beat four, then three, and then two. Next I'll practice seven notes in a group, then nine, and eventually I'll be able to play the whole passage. Wish me luck.