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#1405564 - 03/28/10 02:22 PM How to play instinctively with so many fingering
LovesMusic Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/27/10
Posts: 1
My wife's midway through 'Piano I' and I'm playing along with her book, "The Joy of First-Year Piano". I'm an experienced saxophone player but new to piano. Her teacher provided a fingering chart that looks like this:

Right hand: 1-middle C, 2-D, 3-E, 4-F, 5-G
Left hand: 1-middle C, 2-B, 3-A, 4-G, 4-F

I've practiced 20 songs using this fingering (plus sharps and flats). When I see a D I instinctively press my right index finger--no thought and no looking at the keys. I can also play different octaves.

But new songs require different fingerings. Now I'm really confused. If D is sometimes the right thumb, sometimes the left thumb, and sometimes the right index finger how will I ever learn to play D again without looking and without thinking? With other instruments I've played, playing basic notes instinctively is an important step along the path to instrument mastery.

To further complicate things I read online that scales are played in a 1-2-3-1-2-3-4-etc pattern. Help! I'm stuck. I'm not even sure what to practice since playing the new songs make me worse at playing the old songs. My wife's unable to explain my question to her teacher.

Edited by LovesMusic (03/28/10 02:25 PM)

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#1405585 - 03/28/10 02:47 PM Re: How to play instinctively with so many fingering [Re: LovesMusic]
jazzyprof Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/04
Posts: 2749
Loc: Ann Arbor, MI
In piano you can play any key with any finger. In other words, there is no rule that says a particular key goes with a certain finger. For every passage you play you have to work out the fingerings unless they are provided in the score. Even then you might need to modify some of the suggested fingerings.

There are a few rules that can help you find the optimum fingering for a passage. For example, for a sequence of notes you want to choose a fingering that minimizes changes in hand position. Forget everything you know about fingering from your saxophone playing days. At this stage you should follow the fingerings given in the method book or have the teacher write in fingerings for each piece until you begin to figure out the rules.
"Playing the piano is my greatest joy...period."......JP

#1405587 - 03/28/10 02:50 PM Re: How to play instinctively with so many fingering [Re: LovesMusic]
Elissa Milne Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/11/10
Posts: 1337
Loc: Sydney, NSW, Australia
You're only confused because the teacher provided you with a fingering chart that is irrelevant.

No finger belongs to any one note - you can and must use any finger on any note depending on the context of the music.

On the saxophone there is only one fingering (mostly) that can possibly produce that pitch, but on the piano fingering does not make a pitch difference. It's this notion (that fingering and pitch are connected) that has you confused. Once you accustom yourself to the idea that the pitch on the piano does not change according to your fingering you will start to develop the ability to conceptualise D without thinking RH 2!!!

To help with this you should be trying to play pieces which use a range of hand positions!
Teacher, Composer, Writer, Speaker
Working with Hal Leonard, Alfred, Faber, and Australian Music Examination Board
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#1405598 - 03/28/10 03:05 PM Re: How to play instinctively with so many fingering [Re: LovesMusic]
keystring Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 14306
Loc: Canada
Let's see - With saxophone, fingering and notes would be the same thing, right? I don't play saxophone but I do play recorder. Producing G = 3 fingers down which plugs the right number of holes.

With piano you need a different mindset. First of all, what you got is a kind of shortcut which some PW teachers deplore since it can lead to confusion. You don't want to associate fingers with notes, and and that is what happened.

You want to rethink how you see piano and create a new association. The piano keys are locations where the notes live. When you reach for coffee cup and a spoon and then stir the coffee, are you thinking about your hands, or where the cup and spoon are? You reach for the notes the same way. It doesn't matter which finger plays the note.

Take note of the pattern of black keys: 2 + 3. D is the note between the two black keys. E and F are the notes beside each other, with E being next to the two black keys, and F next to the three black keys. That is the kind of association you want to build. You can press that key with any finger you want: it will still sound like D, and it will still be between two black keys. Find some strategy for building this new association.

For fingering, think of convenient choreography. How does a dancer or gymnast get across the floor and do his acrobatics? Your first music is probably in C major and uses the keys C,D,E,F,G. There are 5 notes and you have 5 fingers. The most convenient way to place your hand is 5 fingers over 5 keys so you will get (RH) C1, D2, E3, F4, G5. If you were playing G major you would have G1, A2, B3, C4, D5 etc. See the pattern?

Every instrument has its own challenges. On another instrument it might be intonation or tone production. On piano it is reading, because so many notes are played at once. There are different strategies to reading music, and it is probably good to have several of them in your toolbox.

- You can read music by knowing that this note is D, and it is the notes between the two black keys. Your hand would already be in position so the most convenient finger would play it. If you are playing D,E,F,G then you might think: 1st finger, 3rd finger over (interval of a third), 4th & 5th finger. You might also think of it as "3 keys over. In both cases you are "reading intervallically". You learn to recognize intervals and "move up 3, down 2" etc. With E,G on the treble clef, you have two notes on adjacent lines, which is a third as interval. You learn to associate that picture with "third" automatically after a while, and associate that with what a "third" is on the piano physically.

- Scales are one way of practising, and again the fingering is designed for convenience. In an actual piece, the way the notes flow might make you want to do some different fingering in sections. Again, a note will sound the same regardless of which finger plays it (unlike wind instruments). Part of the reasoning behind fingering also involves the shape of your hand (2 short fingers on the outside, 3 long fingers on the inside) and the shape of the keyboard (shorter higher black keys). These are patterns that you will learn over time.

As you advance, fingering will not always be automatic. People "work out fingering". They go through a passage and discover that something is awkward, or they have run into a dead end. Then they find a more convenient way of having the fingers work. You'll get to that over time. Perhaps on sax you had to work out other aspects - breathing so that you won't run out of air at the wrong time?

It's interesting trying to see the perspective across different instruments.

Edited by keystring (03/28/10 03:07 PM)

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#1405638 - 03/28/10 03:50 PM Re: How to play instinctively with so many fingering [Re: LovesMusic]
Chris G Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/15/09
Posts: 737
Loc: Portland, Oregon
The main rule of fingering is do whatever works best for the passage you happen to be playing. Determining the optimal fingering has literally been studied for centuries so you should take advantage of that existing knowledge.

There are a number of frequently occurring patterns which you should know the fingering to, these include scales and arpeggios and you should learn those in all keys.

The Czerny exercises are very good for learning fingering. With a lot of his exercises the notes fall under the fingers very easily if you use the right fingering and are extremely difficult to play if you do not.

#1406043 - 03/29/10 07:07 AM Re: How to play instinctively with so many fingering [Re: LovesMusic]
RonO Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/01/10
Posts: 115
Loc: New Zealand
A piano has 88 keys and we only have 10 fingers so of course our fingers are going to be moving around a lot. Even to play a scale over 1 octave means playing 8 notes with 5 fingers.

One of the most important skills we need to learn to be able to play the piano is fingering. We need to be able to organise our fingers so that we will always have a finger available and in position to play the next note. For any given passage there is not necessarily a right or a wrong way to finger it, but there is probably a best way.

‘Running out of fingers’ makes slow passages awkward and ugly. ‘Running out of fingers’ makes fast passages impossible. Often the fingering is written in the music,which means that somebody has put some thought into the best fingering option. If the fingering is not written in we need to figure out a satisfactory fingering for ourselves and it’s a good idea to write it in the music. Different people may prefer different options.

We have the useful ability of being able to move our hands to different positions on the keyboard by tucking our thumb under our fingers, or moving our fingers over our thumb. This technique is used extensively. I believe that humans were made with thumbs that will move like this especially so we can play the piano.

LovesMusic, you are not far from the beginning. I hope the excellent posts above, plus mine, will help you to see the bigger picture, and gain some understanding of where you are heading. You think now that this is harder than you expected, but I can tell you that fingering does eventually become largely instinctive.
Now I Love Music Practice

#1406448 - 03/29/10 04:30 PM Re: How to play instinctively with so many fingering [Re: RonO]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4534
When you're playing with the sheet music, don't look at your
hands. This will improve reading, since you can then keep your
eyes on the score. But even better, this allows your hands to
find the best fingering and technique on their own, with no
special effort on your part. This solves the whole question
of fingering and technique in one fell swoop, and greatly
simplifies playing. You never look at another finger number on
the score again this way.

#1406850 - 03/30/10 03:55 AM Re: How to play instinctively with so many fingering [Re: Gyro]
LaRate Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/11/10
Posts: 250
Loc: Germany
Where can one get information on useful patterns to work out a fingering?

It happened to me, that I was learning to play a new piece (Enya - Miss Claire Remembers) that had no fingering in the score. So I used whatever came naturally to me as a beginner. I showed that piece to my teacher and he immediately suggested an alternative fingering I should give a try. Although odd at first, I quickly realized that his version was better.

In this piece, the left hand played some broken chords (C7no3rd - Bbmaj7 ...) up and down in a 7/8 measure. I played all chords:
5 - 2 - 1 - 2 (over 1) - 1 - 2 - 5.

His fingering suggested 5 - 1 - 2 (over 1) - 1 (under 2) - 2 - 1 (under 2) - 4
The ending 4 enabled my pinky to fluently get to the next chord (starting at Bb) - quite logical. Also he alternated between using the thumb twice (like above) and using the 2nd twice (as my original idea was) - that felt actually better but I have not a clue why (for me it is counter-intuitive, since i had to learn two movement patterns instead of one).

Is it just his tacit knowledge of having played for years and years or are there some thumb rules one could apply as a beginner?

#1406928 - 03/30/10 08:17 AM Re: How to play instinctively with so many fingering [Re: LaRate]
Rickster Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/25/06
Posts: 10894
Loc: Georgia, USA
I’ve always been under the impression that if you have some notes above or below where you are currently playing, to save some fingers for those notes.

I’m sure there is a rhyme and a reason for which fingers to use where, but pure instinct and intuition should play some role. grin

Piano enthusiast and amateur musician: "Treat others the way you would like to be treated". Yamaha C7. YouTube Channel


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