Piano Finger Techniques

Disabled young woman playing piano at home

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Practicing certain piano finger techniques can improve speed, agility, and your relationship with the keyboard. Once you become comfortable with these techniques, you’ll be able to tailor them to suit whichever piano music you wish to play. For now, concentrate on making proper piano fingering second-nature.

In order to read the fingered scale above, you should get to know piano fingering essentials.

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Ascending Piano Scales

Ascending piano scale fingering

Brandy Kraemer

  1. On ascending piano scales beginning with a white key (or “natural”), start with your thumb (finger 1).
  2. In the middle of a scale, your thumb should cross under your middle finger (finger 3). In the scale above, this happens between the E and the F.
  3. Fingers 1 and 5 are ideal for use on the white keys. When playing in a key signature with few sharps or flats, try to keep them off of the black keys.

Look at the C major scale above. As you probably know, the key of C has no accidentals, so every note is played with a white key. Play the C major scale slowly – while paying attention to the fingering – and repeat it until it feels natural.

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Descending Piano Scales

Descending piano scale fingering

Brandy Kraemer

When playing descending piano scales, you should start with a higher finger (5 or 4) so that you have fingers to spare for the lower notes. However, since this scale is a continuation of the ascending C scale, we can simply reverse the fingering from the previous scale.

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5-Note Piano Scales

Pentatonic piano scales.

Brandy Kraemer

Play this 5-note (or “pentatonic”) scale beginning on each note. After you play the C scale, play it again starting with D, then E, etc. Remain in the key of C (don’t play any black keys) even if the scale sounds strange.

(Numbers attached by a slur in the image indicate where your thumb will cross under finger 3, and where finger will cross back over the thumb.)

Tip: The last C in the scale is a half-note, which takes up two beats of the measure. It will last as long as four eighth notes, so count one-and-two-and. (Learn more about note lengths).

Pay attention to your wrist positions. Don’t bend your hand into the upper notes; keep your wrist fairly still and loose.

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Longer Piano Scales

Ascending and descending piano scales.

Brandy Kraemer

When dealing with longer piano scales, your thumb will jump around and lead your higher fingers to the higher notes.

Begin this scale with a slow tempo to stay in rhythm; then adjust accordingly.

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F major piano scale fingering

Brandy Kraemer

When playing piano scales and warm-ups with accidentals, use the following techniques:

  1. Keep thumb and pinky off black keys when playing scales.
  2. Scales beginning with a black key begin with one of the long fingers (2-3-4).
  3. The thumb may cross under finger 4 instead of finger 3, as suggested earlier in this lesson:
    1. In the scale above, the B flat is played with the 4th finger, then the thumb crosses under to touch C.
    2. In the second set of notes in the first measure, this technique is used in anticipation of touching the high G with finger 5.
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Black Piano Keys

G-flat major piano scale fingering

Brandy Kraemer

The G-flat major scale has a flat on every note except F.

Notice how the above scale begins with the index finger: the long fingers are best suited for the black piano keys, so try to avoid hitting the accidentals with your thumb or pinky.

Tip: When starting a scale with a long finger, place your thumb on the next white key when possible. For example, in the G-flat major scale above, the thumb hits the fourth note (a Cb flat), which is a white key.

* C flat and B are essentially the same note.

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Simple Piano Chords

Piano chord fingering

Brandy Kraemer

Chords won’t always be fingered in sheet music, but there are some standard hand formations to use when playing them. A chord’s fingering will almost always be the same for either hand, only reversed.

  1. Triad chords in root position are most often formed with fingers 1-3-5.
  2. Tetrad (4-note) chords are formed with fingers 1-2-3-5, but the formation of 1-2-4-5 is also acceptable.
  3. Larger chords test the flexibility of your fingers, so hand formation is ultimately up to you. Use discretion; consider the notes or chords that follow, and make sure you’ll be able to strike them efficiently.

Play the above song slowly, using these fingering guidelines. Take your time, and practice until you are comfortable playing it with a steady tempo.

  • Tip: A 3/4 time signature holds three quarter-note beats per measure. To get the rhythm down, count one-two-three, one-two-three.