Piano Fingering for the Left Hand

How to Play Bass Piano Scales and Chords

How to play bass piano scales.
The A minor scale on the bass staff. Image © Brandy Kraemer

To play piano, your left hand has to match your right hand in strength and dexterity. Knowing the correct piano fingering for your left hand improves playing speed and eases the formation of piano chords. 

Generally, your left hand plays the notes lower (to the left) of middle C—the lower staff or bass clef—and supports the melody, as well as sets the rhythm. 

Working With the Left Hand

Piano fingering for the left hand is similar to right hand fingering, as indicated in these basic rules:

  1. Fingers are numbered 1–5; the thumb is always 1, and the little finger is 5.
  2. Fingers 1 and 5 should be kept off accidentals whenever possible.
  3. After playing black keys, aim to land on a white key with your thumb or little finger. This technique goes for both ascending and descending scales played by either hand.

Scales 

The left hand often plays rhythm in piano music, but you will play many left-handed melodies and arpeggios. Practice the following finger techniques to build dexterity in the left hand:

In ascending scales, the third or fourth finger crosses over the thumb. So, if you start a C scale with the little finger of the left hand, your thumb will play G, at which point your ring or middle finger crosses over your thumb to play A.

In descending scales, the thumb crosses under the third or fourth finger. For example, if you start with C, your ring finger plays G, at which point your thumb crosses under to play the F key.

Chords

Fingering for piano bass chords is just like fingering for treble chords, except the numbers are inverted:

Triads (three-note chords) are formed using fingers 5-3-1.

There are exceptions: The formation 5-2-1 is used when a chord demands a wide finger span. This can be seen in an A minor chord in the second inversion.

Another exception involves accidentals. Just like in scales, fingers 2-3-4 are best for black keys. Therefore, if a triad began with an accidental, it would also begin with the fourth finger: A D major triad in the first inversion—whose notes are F#-A-D—is played with the fingering 4-2-1.

Tetrads (four-note chords) are formed using fingers 5-3-2-1.

Tetrad chords follow the same rules (and exceptions) as triads, and like with triads, you should adjust tetrad fingering for the sake of efficiency. For example, if you need your third finger for another note, use the 5-4-2-1 fingering position instead.

Strengthening the Left Hand

To increase dexterity and strength in your left hand, use your left hand to play the right-hand melody. Practice this exercise for at least 15 to 30 minutes each day. Also, 30 minutes of scales practice with your left hand will improve your skills, building coordination, speed, and agility. 

To learn to synchronize the left and right hands, play the melody with both hands at the same time. Do the same thing with scales. Eventually, your left hand will develop the skill level to match that of the right hand.

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