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Piano Fingering Tips

Updated on February 15, 2011

It can be frustrating for students of the piano to learn a new piece of music. They are already working hard to learn the right notes and the proper rhythms, only to feel completely overwhelmed by the fingering suggestions that are included by the editor of the score. These suggestions, which clarify which finger should be used for which note, sometimes leaves students wondering why they can't use a different finger if the resulting sound is the same.

Practice correctly from the beginning

You will save yourself a great deal of time and frustration if you are able to practice the music using the ideal fingerings from the very first time you play it.

Students learning a new piece of music are already trying to learn the right notes and rhythm. Taking the time to use the exact fingerings as recommended by the score's editor can be frustrating and can make the students feel like there is simply too much information to take in at one time.

In my own experience as a teacher, I have found that many students find this information overwhelming and burdensome, rather than helpful.

Feeling overwhelmed by all the information is completely understandable. But I can assure you that the information is not provided to overwhelm or irritate you. It is there to help you. As you are learning the new music and focusing on exactly which finger you should use for a certain note, it is common for a certain question to occur to students:

Is it really so wrong to use a different fingering, if the ending sound is identical?

It is absolutely fine to choose a different fingering if there is one that works better for you. However, these substitutions should be made with care.

It is very tempting to make a replacement, but all the technical issues should be taken into account. I once had a teacher who recommended that I always speak with her about substitutions before actually making any. This would give her the opportunity to steer me away from potential problems before I began practicing.

The suggested fingerings are always there to help you. They are designed to help your hands glide across the piano keys efficiently, smoothly and comfortably. The composers and editors of musical scores are highly experienced. Taking the advice they are providing regarding suggested fingerings can not only make that piece of music flow better for you; it can also improve your overall playing ability. Therefore, before making any replacements to the suggested fingerings, I do suggest that you take a moment to confer with someone whose opinion you trust and value.

There are some basic truths regarding piano fingerings. Here is the information you should keep in mind when trying to understand printed fingerings, or when you are attempting to create your own.

One finger for each note

When people start playing the piano, they are typically taught to use one finger for each note. This method is taught early on for a reason: it works. As you begin playing more advanced music, take a moment to look at the notes that will be coming up in the next few measures. Be prepared to more your hands left or right depending on whether the notes are moving up or down. For example, if your right hand is playing an upward moving melody, then you might want to be sure your hand is positioned with your thumb at the lowest note so you can easily move it over to the higher notes.

Consider the sizes and shapes of the fingers

Your fingers are all different sizes and lengths; and those different sizes and lengths should be taken advantage of. The thumb makes an excellent pivot, allowing you to easily rotate your hand to a new position. Practicing scales is an excellent way of practicing this skill. The longer fingers are ideal for reaching the shorter black keys, while the little finger is well suited to reaching the white keys.

How many fingers do you have?

Make sure you use all ten of them! Ever finger is an important tool, and none should be forgotten. It's tempting to stop using the fourth finger, because it is the weakest link in your hand. However, even a weak link can be powerful. Work the fourth finger, use it often, strengthen it; and then watch your piano playing abilities take off.

The next time you look at new music and glance at the fingerings don't give in to frustration. The fingerings are printed there to take the guesswork out of playing a new piece. While following the fingerings is important, understanding the principles that makes them work is also important. When you understand the principles, and can put them into practice, you will be able to play more easily and naturally.

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    • PianoTips profile image

      Louise Woodcock 

      2 years ago from Kent, UK

      Don't forget everyone's hand shape and size is different so there is no one-size-fits-all rule to fingering. Learn basic five finger studies and simple scales and see what works best for you. Avoid strain and unnecessary tucks.

    • jamila sahar profile image

      jamila sahar 

      6 years ago

      This is an excellent hub, this is something I discuss with all my students regularly, as fingering is a very important part of playing the piano. I find many students usually try to just use whatever fingering is immediately available, I often use the analogy of driving a car, look ahead for what's coming up to make the best fingering decision. I also encourage the student to look at the development of the line they are working on instead of each individual note. As John mentioned, fingering is a very individual thing, what works for me may not work for another pianists with very large hands, so this must be taken into consideration as well.

      Working on the finale of Chopin's Opus 35 presented me with so many challenges in fingering, that I feel prepared to tackle any awkward fingering presented. In the end it is the phrasing and the music that is most important not the comfortability of the pianist. Often I will use an uncomfortable fingering to get the desired sound I am looking for. Liszt spoke of this in his Transcendental Etude Mazeppa. Liszt, indicates a rather odd fingering: the fast successive thirds in the beginning two sections should be played only with the index and fourth finger, alternating hands every two intervals. This fingering hinders speed, is more difficult than moving from the thumb and third finger for the first interval to the index and fourth for the second interval, and is therefore not used by every performer. However, this fingering is given for specific purposes; it makes the consecutive thirds sound more like a horse by preventing legato and expressive playing and builds strength in the second and fourth fingers. Note that the earlier versions were marked "Staccatissimo"; some later editions are marked "Sempre fortissimo e con strepito."

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Thank you. Even a Henle isn't perfect. I've found that sometimes you have to make your own decision as to what finger to use....

      Take care Piano Street

      John

    • profile image

      Ed_Denbrow 

      7 years ago

      This is a good article for beginners.

    • Piano Street profile imageAUTHOR

      Piano Street 

      7 years ago from Stockholm, Sweden

      Thanks for your comment, PunRun. We'll follow your advice and try to complement this with some more content soon, to make it even more useful to our readers.

    • profile image

      PunRun 

      7 years ago

      Such a terse tutorial. You can add a video to better demonstrate the process.

    working

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