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Finding Your Fingering On The Piano

How to identify which fingering to use, and why it matters

Lisa Witt - Sep 27, 2019

Here's a question.

 

How do you know what fingering to use if there are no numbers written on a piece of music?

 

Here's another.

 

Does it matter?

 

As teachers, we often get asked about piano fingering. Is it really important, and if it is, then how do you figure it out?

 

Does It Matter? 

 

First of all, correct fingering is really important, for several reasons. The biggest ones are speed and control. Using correct fingering will allow your hands and fingers to be in the best possible position at all times. This means you'll be set up to play faster.

 

Correct fingering also helps you to memorize a piece of music, because you use the same fingering over and over again, it becomes stored in our muscle memory. Another benefit is that it helps prevent injury. Incorrect fingering can lead to some really awkward technique and hand tension.

 

And finally, composers write music with fingering in mind, so by using the correct fingering, we'll be able to play the piece as it was intended.

 

But what do you do when there isn't any fingering written down?

 

How To Find Your Fingering

 

The key to finding the correct fingering is preparation.

 

This means looking ahead at the music and identifying notes and sections that could be a problem. These could be areas where you'll need to use a thumb-tuck, cross-over, or an extension (a big jump).

 

You don't want these problem areas to be a surprise, so figure out what fingering you'll need for these sections, and then work backward.

 

Let's look at an example. This is a section of Autumn Leaves. It's a walking bass left hand. Let's start at the beginning. You can see the first note of this whole line is a low D. It's the lowest note that we'll play. The lowest note should always be the lowest finger. So we'll start with the 5 finger (the pinky):

 

 

 

The notes after that all fall comfortably under our hand, so there's no issue for the rest of the measure. In fact, the first three notes are a broken triad, so we use 5-3-1 as the fingering.

 

But when we look ahead to the next measure, you'll see there is a big jump from the first note in the measure (G) to the second (F):

 

 

 

Figuring out how you can make this jump before you start playing will help you set up your fingering correctly.

 

This jump will be easies if your 5 finger (the pinky) is on the G. Then you can jump up to that F with your 1 finger (the thumb).

 

So the fingering will look like this:

 

 

Ok. So now we know we want our pinky to be on that G. That means we need to make sure we're set up for that to happen.

 

Remember our 1 finger is on the A, so the easiest way to play that Ab note is with the 3 finger. That allows us to bring up the 5 finger to get it in position.

 

So now the fingering looks like this:

 

 

So we have set ourselves up, and that jump is no longer a problem. Now let's look even further ahead. We can see that there are a lot of notes stepping down. There are more notes than there are fingers on our hand, so we are going to have to use another technique -- the cross-under (or thumb-tuck).

 

This is is where the importance of scales and arpeggios becomes clear. These technical exercises may seem boring, but they are important to help build the foundation to be able to play songs without thinking too hard.

 

Here is the cross-under. We are going to do it here to give us the best possible position moving forward:

 

 

So in just three measures of music, you can see how we are looking ahead, thinking about problem areas and planning for them, and then using techniques we have practiced in scales and arpeggios to make things easier for us.

 

Some Tips

 

Thinking and planning ahead is so important, as it will help you get set up for success. If you don't, then you might find to get to certain sections and get 'stuck'. If you've been using the wrong fingering you might find it has crept in as a bad habit.

 

It's ok to write on the music! But don't write in the fingering over EVERY note. Only write the fingering on the notes that will help you get set up.

This will help you play with more flow and ease and will allow you to focus on the notes and not the fingering.

 

And as always, take it slow when you're learning. The great thing is that you only need to do this once for each piece of music. Once the fingering is set it shouldn't change.

 

Have fun and happy practicing!!

#Learn Piano

#Piano Lessons

#Sight Reading

#Cassi Falk

#Finger Control

#Piano Fingering

#Pianote

#Piano

Hi, I'm Lisa Witt

Lisa has taught in a variety of settings from beginners just getting started to recording artists preparing their songs for the road. While her background is classical, she loves helping students play the music they love by ear and is excited to be a part of YOUR journey.