My piano chum, Leon Whitesell, has a brand new Facebook group called Piano Playing Questions. In a recent post, Leon referred to the five-finger exercise formulae of famous Russian teacher, Vasily Safonov (who was the teacher of Scriabin, Medtner, Josef and Rosina Lhévinne, amongst many others). This reminded me that somewhere on my shelves I had a copy of Safonov’s “New Formula for the Piano Teacher and Piano Student”, and after a bit of digging around I managed to find it. I assume it must be long out of print, but I have found the German edition on Petrucci and can link to the pdf here.

I was particularly interested in what Safonov recommended for five-finger positions. Using a basic position from G up to D and then down to G again, he suggested changing the fingerings from 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 to various other combinations, thus:

Safonov 1

Having outlined the fingerings and referenced them with upper and lower case letters, he goes on to supply a formula for combining the fingers when practising hands together. This is well worth exploring:

Safonov 2


While you’re about it, I like Leon’s suggestion carry this idea further by using additional fingerings, such as:

  • 2-3-4-5-1-5-4-3-2
  • 3-4-5-1-2-1-5-4-3
  • 4-5-1-2-3-2-1-5-4
  • 5-1-2-3-4-3-2-1-5

Practising in a whole variety of different rhythms enhances control. Experiment also with using different touches, and also different five-finger positions than diatonic major (minor, chromatic and whole-tone positions are also very useful). It strikes me that these alternative fingerings can also be applied to some of the Hanon exercises, certainly the first one.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I like to practise Peter Feuchtwanger’s five-finger exercise, played with reverse fingerings. Instead of 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 in a RH ascending/descending pattern, he uses 5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5. This necessitates the finger that has just engaged with the keyboard moving swiftly to the side, making way for the next finger (it is most important that the finger moves sideways without curling up into the hand). The exercise is played non-legato, and with an anti-clockwise elliptical/in-out motion of the arm which controls the whole thing (RH, that is – the LH will be clockwise). This same fingering is used in all keys, and (paradoxically) this becomes a sort of anti-finger exercise – more one for switching off finger action and allowing the arm to control the keyboard and steer the hand. Difficult to explain, easier to demonstrate, very hard to master!

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