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#1672442 05/06/11 08:53 AM
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I am just taking up the piano, a lifelong dream, at age 61. I'm doing okay with the various fingering exercises and notice steady improvement in my dexterity and speed. However, I have a problem with my right hand in that the #4 finger will not move up when I play a standard major triad and use the preferred 1, 3, 5 fingering. When I use the fingers independently for single notes they are fine. No problem at all with my left hand. I was told to just go ahead and use alternative fingering 1, 2, 4. Is this good to do or should I work at gaining some mobility in the 4 finger? Are there specific exercises that address this problem?

Thanks for your input.

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Yes there are exercises, many of them.

But the purpose of exercises is not to just fix that problem, but to gain independence of the fingers and equal strength with each finger.

How you physically interface with and thus play an instrument called "Technique". Beginning level exercises to improve technique include: Hanon, Czerny, scales, arpeggios, and others.

However, to do them correctly a teacher is very highly recommended.

As for the fingering for the chords, you can use alternative fingerings, but that will cause problems down the road because a lot of music is constructed so that the 1-3-5 fingerings for that root chord are part of the fingering scheme for notes/chords that precede or may follow that chord. So gaining the habit of using a non-standard fingering can cause fingering snafus later.

In other words, you want to instinctively finger a root chord 1-3-5 when you see it written unless otherwise noted in the score.

I strongly urge you to find a teacher who is trained in technique. Good pianists are athletes and dancers with their fingers...proper training is essential to gain that skill and thus play well, and to potentially avoid injury.

Best wishes!

Last edited by rocket88; 05/06/11 09:55 AM. Reason: clarity

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Originally Posted by rocket88
As for the fingering for the chords, you can use alternative fingerings, but that will cause problems down the road because a lot of music is constructed so that the 1-3-5 fingerings for that chord are part of the fingering scheme for notes/chords that precede or may follow the usage of that chord. So gaining the habit of the non-standard fingering can cause fingering snafus later.

I agree that some more exercises might help, but I'm confused about the categorical nature of this statement about fingering. There are no "standard" fingerings for chords that are built into all music. In playing real repertoire, I am as likely to use 1-2-4 for a triad as 1-3-5, but it depends on how I arrive at the chord and what I need to do next.

Fingering also sometimes depends on the individual hand. My hand size and relative finger lengths are such that I can frequently reach chords using only fingers 1, 2, 3, and 4 when I want to leave 5 free for what is coming next. One of my teachers, who has very small hands, frequently used 5 in places where I would comfortably use 4. It was not a big deal, and I have always been taught to find comfortable fingerings and to experiment when necessary.

Fingering patterns are not constant with just one answer for everything. There is no single fingering for each chord that you need to memorize, just as the standard scale fingering in exercise books doesn't prescribe exactly how to finger real passages.


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I'm slightly confused at the question. Are you saying that when you play a chord (let's say C major - C, E, G) with your right hand using fingers 1-3-5, your fourth finger always plays (F) too?

The anatomy of the hand means that the fourth finger will always be a little different. You can't raise it (independently) up as high as the others (don't even try - it's not a defect you can correct!!!). But you should be able to raise it above the keys easily enough.

To me, unless you have a specific condition that prevents it otherwise, this sounds like a case of good slow practice to make sure the fourth finger doesn't go down on the key with 1-3-5.


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There is no single fingering for each chord that you need to memorize...


With all due respect, I don't agree. Remember this is a rank beginner who is asking.

With a root chord, I teach my students to play 1 -3 -5. A first inversion, play 1-2-5, a second inversion, 1-3-5.

Yes, these are generalities, but there has to be some standard to begin with. Beginners should have a standard way of doing things until they get their bearings.

Also, beginning repertoire and method books use those fingerings almost exclusively.

Regarding hand size, I have never seen an adult beginner (The OP is an adult) who could not play the above 3 chords using those fingerings. (expect for one student who was missing the #3 finger on one hand).

But you are correct in that once a student progresses to more advanced literature, he or she can certainly use any fingering, and use other fingerings for advanced chords, such as full diminished chords with the 6.

As for "standard" chord fingerings used to facilitate fingering in repertoire, you are also correct that that does change, but as a default, unless otherwise noted, I find it much easier to sight read by having one way of fingering basic chords than not having some standard. For example, if I am sight reading for a choir, and see a root triad coming up that is standing alone, I do not want to think about the fingering...I want it to be automatic, and having one to rely on is helpful. But that is just me.

The bottom line is that the person asking is a brand new adult beginner who needs some kind of standard fingering from which to learn, a fingering that also is noted as such in his repertoire, thus one he should not change because of lack of technique wherein he cannot control one of his fingers to play a clean root triad.


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Originally Posted by Andy Platt
I'm slightly confused at the question. Are you saying that when you play a chord (let's say C major - C, E, G) with your right hand using fingers 1-3-5, your fourth finger always plays (F) too?


That is how I read it, and it is a very common problem teachers face. There is very little independent control of the fourth in that case.


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Originally Posted by rocket88
Yes, these are generalities, but there has to be some standard to begin with. Beginners should have a standard way of doing things until they get their bearings.

Yes, of course. I agree. But I don't think it hurts to sometimes qualify the advice here and to indicate when a useful guideline or pedagogical approach for beginners may not represent a rule as one advances.

Rereading the OP, it does seem that the real question is why 1-3-5 is uncomfortable or unworkable for this beginner. I didn't mean to derail the discussion of this point.


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I agree completely.


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Hi Cmajor, welcome to PW. Glad you decided to join us.

Keep in mind, the fourth finger doesn't have to be lifted high. Just enough so it doesn't go down with the third and fifth. Try this. Take one of the fingers (out of the equation, go over to a desk and simulate hitting only the third and fifth, paying particular attention to what is happening to the forth. I think if you keep practicing it this way, you'll eventually be able to lift the fourth just slightly, enough so that when you walk over to the piano, that key won't get depressed.

Now, go try it on the piano. When you can do it successfully using only the third and fifth, then try adding the thumb. It may take a while, but I think you'll eventually get the hang of it.

Sometimes, you have to take things down to the simplest of terms, to allow yourself to properly focus on solving the problem.

Good luck.

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That is excellent advice.

You can also go to the piano and put fingers 1-5 on any 5 consecutive white keys, and very very slowly play 1-5 doing the same. Slow as in:

1. Play a note, and then completely relax the finger and hand.

2. Only when the hand is completely relaxed, play the next finger/note, concentrating on moving just that finger, and keeping the rest of the fingers and hand construction as relaxed and quiet as possible. (quiet as in relaxed)

3. By slow, I mean count to 5 between notes...the point is to start programming your brain to isolate only that finger movement.


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Thanks for your counsel... I will begin doing this immediately!

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I have already learned that teachers have different opinions. I want to gain at least minimal finger dexterity before I decide on my permanent teacher. I have taken intro lessons with a few and want to make this decision with as much info as possible.

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my question.

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This is pretty much what a teacher told me. Since I have no desire, nor enough years left, to become an entertainer or concert pianist, I just want to play for my own relaxation and enjoyment. Therefore, I was thinking that if I deviate a bit from the preferred technique, but yet get the job done, it would be okay. BTW, I have no such problem with my left hand and 'ol #4 lifts a good half inch of the keys.

Thanks for taking the time to help.

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Exactly... the #4 plays F. No such problem in the left, the same finger will raise off the keys by at least 1/2 inch and I can whiz along with the 1,3,5 fingering.

I will continue to work with the right hand to gain some independence in #4. BTW, when playing individual notes with the right hand, all the fingers work very well and I don't have that problem.

Thanks for the good advice

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Rank beginner is me... for sure. Due to my age I have no great illusions of grandeur. I just want to play, privately, for my own entertainment and relaxation. This is why one teacher suggested that, rather than battle with my right hand, I just use alternative fingering (1,2,5) for basic three note triads like C F & G. Using that fingering, my right hand can move as fast and accurately as my left using 1, 3, 5. My own thinking is that I know bad habits are hard to break so I don't want to make things tougher for myself down the road. Conversely, fingering for the same chord on each hand can be different. I guess I will just have to sort it out as I go along. I will try to work with that right hand situation, though, and see where that takes me.

Thanks for taking the time!

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but yet, when playing individual notes with that hand, all 5 work very independently and accurately. Only when 3 and 5 are down together is there a problem. I have been stretching that finger back for a few days and notice that it will now lift ever so slightly and I can actually get the chord done. I have to flatten the entire hand a bit to get that to happen.

Thanks for you concern.

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I will start doing this this evening. Thanks!

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I will incorporate this as well... thank you so much. I will make it happen!

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Originally Posted by Cmajor
but yet, when playing individual notes with that hand, all 5 work very independently and accurately. Only when 3 and 5 are down together is there a problem. I have been stretching that finger back for a few days and notice that it will now lift ever so slightly and I can actually get the chord done. I have to flatten the entire hand a bit to get that to happen.

Thanks for you concern.


There is a tendon that connects #4 to both #3 and #5. That is the source of the problem.

Think of the hand as having three distinct parts.

First is the thumb, which, in anatomy, is not referred to as a "finger". Its primary movement is side to side, but also goes up and down.

Second is fingers #2 and #3. These are strong and independent, and usually move very well.

The third section is #4 and #5. #4 has the tendon binding it on both sides, so has the least free movement. #5 is the smallest, and often, with #4, the weakest.

Most technique exercises are designed to bring all fingers into some sort of equality regarding movement ability.


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I have heard, and this might just be an urban legend, that some famous piano player actually had this tendon surgically cut so he would be able to move #4 more independently.

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