I have recently published a series of three articles for Pianist Magazine on fingering, and as always there is a video demonstration for each available on YouTube. In my first article, I outline some of the basic fingering principles as well as giving some suggestions for choosing a fingering. In the second article, I explore fingerings for scales, arpeggios and chords.
The principles for scale fingerings in use today were first proposed by C.P.E. Bach in his treatise, Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments (1753). There are two main principles.
- Neither the thumb nor the 5th finger are used on black keys (the exceptions are the arpeggios of F sharp major and E flat minor)
- Each scale is made up of a short group (123) and a long group (1234) in alternation.
There are some useful pointers:
- Long fingers (2nd, 3rd and 4th) usually play on black keys
- Short fingers (thumb and 5th) go on white keys
- The 4th finger appears only once in each octave* – if you are struggling to remember the fingering for a scale, just notice where the 4th fingers go and use these notes as anchors.
*not counting situations when the 4th finger substitutes for the thumb (B major and minor LH bottom; F major and minor RH top)
C Major Fingering
We get great value from the C major fingering, since it applies to several other scales too. Once we have learned C major we can use the identical fingering for C, D, E, G and A majors and minors. That’s 10 scales in all! The diagram below shows the fingering for an ascending then descending scale over two octaves.
It’s helpful to notice:
- 3rd fingers always come together
- Thumbs come together on the key notes in the middle of the scale (but do not come together elsewhere)
You will spot other fingering patterns too. Instead of learning the C major group of scales from a scale book that uses staff notation, simply follow this diagram as you play, making absolutely sure you stick to this fingering each and every time.
There have been numerous attempts at revamping scale fingerings in order to find more natural positions better suited to the hand. For example, this alternative fingering for F harmonic minor (LH) places the 4th finger on a black key and you may find it ergonomically superior to the standard one.
For detailed practice suggestions and video demonstrations on scales and arpeggios, as well as other resources, follow this link to the Online Academy
And finally, here is the video I made for Pianist Magazine:
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