How to Master Proper Piano Fingering

Getting correct piano fingering down can be difficult for beginners if you don’t have guidance. Thankfully, there are plenty of helpful guides online to help you out.

Piano fingering refers to which finger you choose to play each note. In some music pieces, it is very simple or obvious. More advanced pieces demand you to choose your own way to play the music.

Each finger has a number assigned to it: 1-Thumb, 2-Index, 3-Middle Finger, 4-Ring Finger and 5-Pinky. This is how you can “read” piano fingering on music sheets where guidelines are provided. On music sheets without such guides, you can always write your own.

Using these numbers, you can learn and remember the right way to play a piece of music in the most expressive way.

Every Hand is Different

Someone with long fingers can’t play the same way with someone who has short fingers. If you have flexible hands, you’ll play differently than people who aren’t built like that.

The important things is: No single type of hand is “ideal” for the piano. You simply have to play in a way that suits you.

If something feels very awkward to play, then there is a good chance the fingering is wrong for you. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to customize your music sheets. You should experiment until playing the music piece feels natural and pleasant.

Make Piano Fingering Notes

Often, the composer offers notes on how to play a music piece. Sometimes the complete piano fingering is written in the score. Occasionally it is only at crucial or difficult points that the composer (or editor) gives you tips.

In many scores you won’t get any help at all.

This is where you need to find your own, personal way to play the music in a way you like. Just remember to note down the fingering that feels ideal, because you don’t want to waste time rediscovering the same fingering again and again.

Simply use the 1-5 numbers and write down the fingering you like the most. You certainly won’t regret that extra bit of effort at the start.

Learn the Basics Well

Although you can always tweak and change piano fingering in a music piece, you should also learn the “typical” ways piano is supposed to be played.

There are many basic rules on how to move your hands and place your fingers.

This is why it is very important to practice:

  • Scales
  • Arpeggios
  • Chords
  • Inversions

If you practice these simple techniques often enough, you will naturally be able to find the right way to move your hands over the keys in more complicated music pieces.

Be Lazily Creative

It is important to remember that the most relaxed hand position is usually the best.

Finding a way to play a music score without having to move your hands a lot, gives you more space to explore expression, tone and individual quirks. By letting yourself feel comfortable with the fingering you give your mind room for more creativity.

The easier you make this for yourself, the better you’ll be able to become at playing a specific music piece.

Remember Your Natural Hand Position

Shorter fingers should play the longer keys.

This is a very important rule you should always remember.

The thumb and the pinky are natural shorter and can’t always reach elegantly up to the black keys. Playing black keys with the shorter fingers will most times result in wonky or unnatural hand positions that will tire you out.

Leave the black keys for the index, middle and ring fingers as often as possible.

There are some clear exceptions to this rule in scores where most of the music is playing on the black keys. For those music pieces, playing black keys with short fingers will feel alright.

Here’s the basic five finger position on piano:

Never Forget Good Posture

Always remember that your hands have to be relaxed. Your wrists should never be lower than your hands. Avoid resting your fingers too heavily on the keys, as this might hurt your tendons in the long run.

Proper hand posture and correct piano fingering go hand in hand.

You need to practice playing with good posture from the get-go, to avoid injuries and stress to your hands.

Knowing the right way to hold your hands over the keys will ensure you’ll choose the least tiring piano fingering.

Learn to Play Without Looking

When you play the piano, your eyes should be on the score (or at that level) all the time.

If you don’t look down at your hands, it is easier to determine which hand movements feel better. Your hands will gain a blind, instinctive familiarity with the keys, which is very important to correct piano fingering.

Feel Free to be Unique

There is no mandatory rule about having to pay the piano in a specific way. No matter what anyone tells you, you can find your own style and do things any way you like.

The rules are there to guide you and to help you learn what others found useful or important in the past. You’ll have all this important advice from centuries of piano composers and players to use.

If you have the confidence you can build on what you’ve been taught and add a little bit of your own legacy through your personal style.

After all, even a robot can play a score “perfectly”, but only humans can give music “soul”.

Choose a Piano that Suits You

Not every piano is the same. Some have very hard keys, others (like most keyboards) are very soft. A few pianos are longer than others, allowing you to play some scores you simply can’t on shorter ones.

Choosing the right piano for your needs can help you improve your fingering.

Whether you decide to play the way your teachers told you, or you discover a whole new style of your own, remember this: Playing the piano should be rewarding and fun above all!

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