This is Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com with a question, “What Is the Right Fingering on the Piano?” Fingering is such a deep subject on the piano that I could give courses on it and have guest artists to share their ideas because, truth be known, fingering is not a one size fits all proposition.
Are there any fundamental fingerings that all pianists follow?
There are some essential fingerings that all pianists must learn. For example, unlike the violin and other string instruments which do not have standard fingering for scales and arpeggios, on the piano there is standard fingering. I should mention a little aside here. There is another school of thought for a tiny percentage of pianists called, “mirror fingering” in which the thumbs always play the same notes in both hands in scales and arpeggios. But that is a subject for another video.
Most pianists learn proper fingering for scales from “Hanon 60 Selected Studies for the Virtuoso Pianist.”
You can get the Hanon book on Amazon or most sheet music stores. It is the Bible of fingering for scales and arpeggios on the piano. All pianists must learn the correct fingering for scales and arpeggios, but what about in your music? If you’ve ever had sheet music that has fingering in it, and then you see another edition of the same piece, you might be shocked to discover that the fingerings are different! In fact, fingerings are different in various editions! So how do you know what’s right?
Fingering is as much art as it is science.
My father, Morton Estrin, was a concert pianist with enormous hands. I have relatively small hands. Just think of that alone. Something that might lie right under the fingers of somebody with big hands would be impossible for somebody with smaller hands to reach. We must accommodate our hand size. Even the thickness of the fingers and the stretch between the thumb and the other fingers, all of these things affects us. Here’s the key: You must practice to find the fingering that works for you. Does that mean that anything goes with fingering? Far from it!
It takes many years to learn how to find the right fingering.
There is no substitute for a good teacher, as well as having authoritative, well-edited, fingered editions. I use that in the plural because there’s nothing better than having multiple resources of fingering suggestions. When you’re running through a problem with a passage, one of the first things to look for are new fingering solutions. Sometimes the fingering, even though it seems like it should be perfectly good, might not work for you. You have to discover what fingerings work for you.
There are some hard and fast rules in fingering.
I mentioned scales and arpeggios, but there are other fingerings you must follow. For example, rapid repeated notes with one hand. If you try to do that with one finger, you’re never going to be able to get it up to speed. But, by using three fingers you can go much faster. So, there is one thing that is certainly a rule. You must change fingers when playing rapid repeated notes with one hand. In fact, I like changing fingers on repeated notes even when they’re slow because of the legato quality you can get. When you play a repeated note without changing fingers, it is difficult to get a smooth sound. But by changing fingers, one finger is going down while the next finger comes up, so you achieve smoother, more connected repeated notes.
If you have technical problems in a passage and you’ve worked and worked but you never can get it, try experimenting with new fingering. Get another edition with fingerings and try them out. You will be rewarded! It is one of the things that will come to you after you’ve studied piano for a long time. You’ll start to understand fingering in a way that allows for solutions to technical and musical challenges on the piano.
I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store.
Please feel free to contact me with any piano related questions for future videos.