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Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger? (Read 22084 times)

Offline rodoherty2

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Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
« on: March 26, 2004, 12:24:03 PM »
Hi Guys,

Me again.  

When practicing scales with my left hand, should I always start with the 5th finger?

That's my question; here's the reason I'm asking.

I started taking lessons about 2 months ago.  I get the impression my teacher is old-school classical wheras my interests are definately leaning more towards jazz.  I am following the http://www.rockschool.co.uk course (Grade 2) and for the summer exam I need to rattle off a few scales (Dorian, Mix, minor, and pentatonics).

My teacher has taught me that when doing an Ionian scale (left hand, sharp keys only), my 4th finger should only hit F#.  This means I start a C scale with my 5th finger, a G with my 3rd, a D with my 1st etc ...

This also means that when doing Dorian, Phryg, etc, I need to start the scale with a specific finger.  This is setting off alarm bells in my head.  The RockSchool course suggests starting every scale with my 5th finger, regardless of the key or form of the scale (pentatonic, or 8 tone scale).  This sounds like a more flexible manner of learning scales.

I would greatly appreciate comments on my teachers method.

Thanks in advance,

Rob.

Offline Hmoll

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #1 on: March 26, 2004, 07:36:53 PM »
  The short answer is "no, you don't always begin with 5 in your left hand."

It's been years since I practiced scales in modes other than aeolian (minor) and ionian (major). From what I remember, in many keys you use the same fingering for modal scales as you do it's relative major, you should be ok. There are some exeptions to this though. This works especially well with modes in two, three, four, five, six, seven flats, but on the other hand A minor scale does not begin on 3 in the left hand - where the C major relative major finger lands.

To make it concise, if you can finger the scales without 5 and 1 on a black key, it should be ok.

"I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me!" -- Max Reger

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #2 on: March 30, 2004, 03:46:54 AM »
Hmoll (as usual) is right.

And your teacher is right. But you must understand why.

All scales will always follow the fingering 123 1234 123 1234 (RH) and 4321 321 4321 321(LH), no matter which finger you start on.

Consider C major. You start (RH) on C with the thumb and keep going:
123 1234 123 1234 etc.

You start the LH with the 5th finger (but you could start with the thumb and immediately pass the 4th finger):

5(1) 4321 321 4321 321 4321 321 etc.

Now try do to the same with F major. It is not impossible to play the RH

123 1234 123 1234 3tc.

But if you try you will find that you need to play the Bb with your thumb which is extremely awkward. Even if you try to do it smoothly (and this is possible) it will take a lot of time and the results will never be as satisfactory as using the following fingering:

1234 123 1234 123 1234 123 etc.

In this new fingering, the fourth finger now plays the Bb and due to its position, transferring the thumb to the C is much more comfortable and easy. Notice that although you now apparently have a different fingering, in fact you do not. The alternation of fingers 3 and 4 – which is really the main consideration – is kept, even though you may start the cycle going through the 4th finger before you go through the 3rd finger.

Now let us look at the LH. You could (and most people / books / teachers will tell you this way) just use the fingering:

54321 321 4321 321.

Using this fingering, you will play the Bb with the second finger, and it will feel fine and comfortable. However, this is not the best possible fingering. . To understand why not, let us digress for a moent and look at the scale of B major.

B major has five sharps (five black keys) and only two white keys: B and E. If you start (RH)with the thumb and proceed  with 123 1234 123 12345, you will see that this is a very comfortable scale to play. Indeed it is the most comfortable of all scales because the long fingers (234) play the black keys and the short fingers (15) play the white keys. Moreover, because the 3rd and 4th fingers are raised on the black keys, the passing of the thumb is very natural and easy. In fact the C major scale is the hardest to play for the very same reasons: the fingers cannot take advantage of their different lengths (since they must all play white keys) and the passing of the thumb is made more difficult since now all fingers are level. It is a matter of record that both Chopin and Beethoven always taught their students the B major scale first of all.

Now if you do the LH, you can see that you must start with the thumb on the B and use fingers 23 on the two black notes and fingers 234 on the 3 black notes. Try any other fingering and it will be terribly awkward.

The conclusion is simple: Since all scales (with the exception of C major) will have black keys, and since the 3rd and 4th finger are involved in the passing of the thumb, and since the 4th finger is the weaker due to anatomical limitations (it shares a tendon with the 3rd finger) you must finger your scales in such a way that the 4th finger always plays a black note. And after that, the 3rd finger must always play a black note.

So you should play the LH of F major not

54321 321 4321 321 (2ndo finger on Bb – black key – 4th finger on G – white key)

But instead

321 4321 321 4321 3 (4th finger on Bb – black key)

Here is another example:

G major over two octaves

Orthodox fingering:
RH 123 1234 123 12345 (4th finger goes on the black key)
LH – 54321 321 4321 321 (2nd  finger goes on the black key, 4th finger on a white key)

More efficient fingering:

RH: 123 1234 123 12345 (as before)
LH: 321 321 4321 321 43 (now the 4th finger goes on the black key)

Practise this fingering well with separate hands until it is thoroughly ingrained. Then join hands and you will be amazed at how much comfortable it is.

You will easily figure out the fingering for all scales if you always follow this principle (there is only one possible fingering if you prioritise the 4th finger on a black key and then the 3rd.) If you can’t figure it out ask again.

Modes and other scales that are not diatonic will follow exactly the same principle. The reason books may give a scale always starting with the fifth finger (in my opinion) is simple laziness (it is far less work to print the same fingering)

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.



The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline djbrak

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #3 on: March 30, 2004, 08:06:06 AM »
That goes to show you that fingering is definitely a preferenced subject, don't you think?

Starting G Major with 3 on LH??  I think that's a bit orthodox.  I use 54321 321 4321 321 etc. logically since it is similar fingering to the RH.
F Major I use:
LH:  54321 321 4321 321 etc
RH:  1234 123 1234 123 etc

-Renato
"If music be the food of love...sing on sing on!"

Offline rodoherty2

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #4 on: March 30, 2004, 10:28:51 AM »
Hi Guys,

Thanks for the replies; and a big Thanks to Bernard.

Despite your very detailed explanations of the difference between starting an LH scale with the 5th finger (method 1) , and starting an LH scale on a finger more appropriate to the scale (method 2), I'm trying to resolve one conflict in my head.

As I mentioned in my first mail, I am more interested in the jazz side of music than classical.  Does method 2 lend itself well to improvisation?

With method 1, your left hand starts with the 5th finger and must then negotiate the scales characteristics (a mixolydian has a b7, a dorian has a b3 and a b7 ... etc ).  I would have thought that practicing this way would help your brain get used to the differences between the different modes.  

With method 1, the focus appears to be "start out on the correct finger and let muscle-memory guide you though the rest".

Thanks Guys,

Rob.

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #5 on: March 31, 2004, 03:18:40 AM »
Quote
That goes to show you that fingering is definitely a preferenced subject, don't you think?

Starting G Major with 3 on LH??  I think that's a bit orthodox.  I use 54321 321 4321 321 etc. logically since it is similar fingering to the RH.
F Major I use:
LH:  54321 321 4321 321 etc
RH:  1234 123 1234 123 etc

-Renato



Er… not necessarily. Some fingerings are inferior no matter your preference. For instance try using C major fingering for every scale (there is actually a book that suggests this as the best fingering - believe it or not).

The fingering you use for F major is the orthodox one that everyone uses.

It will make your left hand slower because it is not as efficient as the fingering on the right hand. This will slow down your hands together speed (if you are interested in speed).

It will also have your LH fourth finger on a different white key for each scale you play. This will confuse your brain further. The fingering I suggested has the advantage of always having the fourth finger on a black note so the automatization of fingering will be far quicker and with much less confusion for the brain and motor centres.

Here is my suggestion to you: Choose two scales of similar difficulty (e.g. Da major and A major) and learn one with the orthodox fingering and the other with the variant I suggested. Then compare results. (And tell us about it).

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #6 on: March 31, 2004, 03:20:55 AM »
Quote
Hi Guys,
I'm trying to resolve one conflict in my head.

As I mentioned in my first mail, I am more interested in the jazz side of music than classical.  Does method 2 lend itself well to improvisation?

With method 1, your left hand starts with the 5th finger and must then negotiate the scales characteristics (a mixolydian has a b7, a dorian has a b3 and a b7 ... etc ).  I would have thought that practicing this way would help your brain get used to the differences between the different modes.  

With method 1, the focus appears to be "start out on the correct finger and let muscle-memory guide you though the rest".

Thanks Guys,

Rob.


I may be out of my depth here, since jazz is not really my field.

However it seems to me that in order to do fluent improvisation you cannot tie your fingers in knots. That is, a efficient fingering must be so ingrained that your fingers find their way to the proper notes without you having to think about it.

What I am suggesting is that whatever the passage you are playing the third and fourth finger should be given preference to the black keys (mind you this is not universal in many instances the thumb will be a very good option on a black key). A good way to automatically have the 3rd and 4th finger on a black key is to practise all scales and modes using a fingering that will do that for both hands. It will be much less confusing than always starting with fifth finger because if you do that any finger can land on a black note, and the fourth finger will always land on a different white key.

But perhaps the greatest advantage is the co-ordination of thumb passing when you join hands. This co-ordination is a nightmare with any other fingering. I suggest you give it a try, instead of trying to argue intellectually about it. ;)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline rodoherty2

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #7 on: March 31, 2004, 10:07:50 AM »

Hi Bernard,

Thanks for taking the time to reply again.  There's alot of food-for-thought here.

Take Care,

Rob.

Offline drooxy

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #8 on: May 30, 2004, 10:28:25 AM »
Hi everyone,

I tried to apply the "fingers 4 then 3 on black keys" rule that Berhard suggests, starting with Major Scales/Left hand, and here is what I came to:

C  : 1(5)432132-1...
G  : 3213214-3...
D  : 2143213-2...
A  : 2132143-2...
E  : 1(5)432132-1...
B  : 1(4)321432-1
F#: 4321321-4
C#: 3214321-3
G#: 3214321-3
D#: 3214321-3
A#: 3214321-3
F  : 3214321-3  

(after checking, the RH fingering seems to follow the "fingers 4 then 3 on black keys rule" on the edition of the Hanon I got !)

What are you all thinking of the fingerings above ? I must admit that some of them seem to be more comfortable even though they imply a 'big' change in my habits... but that is always good, isn't it ?  ;)

Also, I have a problem - mainly LH - with my little finger that goes up in certain circumstances. It seems to be more important when I play descending scales and it happens when I use the fingers 3 and then 4. An example of that is a descending F Major scale where my little finger 'wants' to go up when I play 3 on C and 4 on Bb... I tend to think that this uncontrolled shifting should be avoided and I hope someone has suggestions about how to deal with that... !

Thanks in advance !

Drooxy
Drooxy

Offline Saturn

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #9 on: May 30, 2004, 10:41:12 AM »
I have a question about the scale fingerings:  should it be used for minor scales also?

So if you're playing a C melodic minor scale ascending, should the fingering go:
left:  21432132
right: 23412312

Did I do that right?  Or does the fingering scheme only apply to major scales?

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #10 on: May 30, 2004, 04:20:38 PM »
Yes, you should use the alternative fingering in all scales, major and minor, and you should apply the principle of playing a black key with the 3rd/4th finger in all passages where it proves useful (not only scales). Of course, many times passages will require that you use fingers other than 3-4 on black keys. However. All other things being equal, you will find that more often than not these are the best fingers anyway.

People who like to think in a logically superficial way usually argument that the easiest fingering would have to be 123 12345 (RH) and 5432 321(RH) no matter what the scale is, since in this way you would not need to remember a different fingering for each scale. Whatever the scales the fingering would always be the same.

This kind of argument (very frequent as matter of fact) shows immediately two things: The person doing it has never actually tried out what they are suggesting: they are arguing from a purely intellectual point of view.

And secondly they are mentally lazy. They are perfectly prepared to go to incredible extents of physical labour in order to use a most inadequate fingering just so that they do not need to think and memorise a different fingering for each scale. This kind of attitude sort of pisses me off. >:(

In piano playing the opposite attitude: physical laziness and intellectual industriousness usually pays high dividends.

So think a lot (i.e. compare) about what you are going to do in terms of fingering and movements, so that your physical task becomes as easy and comfortable as possible. Then you may find out that the mental task you were so reluctant to tackle may be much easier than you initially thought. You see, when you use this alternative fingering, you do not need to memorise one fingering for each scale; they will be more or less the same. But most importantly, the memory you want to develop is not a mental one (like remembering a phone number) but a physical one, in this case the 4th finger always go on a black note. This means that your pattern of movement is always going to be the same. Do you understand this distinction between physical memory and intellectual memory? By making your intellect work you make the physicality easy. Since piano playing is a physical activity, you will never get away with making the physicality of it more difficult in order to save your brain some work.

To dispel all doubts (really you should all have been able to work this out by yourselves, you mentally lazy people! ;)) here are the fingerings for major and minor scales:

Major scales (over two octaves):

C
Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 54321 321 4321 321
G
Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 321 321 4321 321 43

F
Rh: 1234 123 1234 1234
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

D
Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 21 4321 321 4321 32

Bb
Rh: 4 123 1234 123 1234
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

A
Rh:  123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

Eb
Rh: 3 1234 123 1234 123
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

E
Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 54321 321 4321 321

Ab
Rh: 34 123 1234 123 123
Lh: 321  4321 321 4321 3

B
Rh: 123 1234 123 1234 1
Lh: 1 321 4321 321 4321

Db
Rh: 23 1234 123 1234 12
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

Gb(F#)
Rh: 234 123 1234 123 12
Lh: 4321 321 4321 321 42

Minor scales (harmonic):

Am
Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 321 321 4321 321 43

Em
Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 54321 321 4321 321

Dm
Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 54321 321 4321 321

Bm
Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 1 321 4321 321 4321

Gm
Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

F#m
Rh: 34 123 1234 123 123
Lh: 4321 321 4321 321 4

Cm
Rh: 234 123 1234 123 12
Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

C#m
Rh: 34 123 1234 123 123
Lh: 321 4321 321 4321 3

Fm
Rh: 1234 123 1234 123 1
Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

G#m
Rh: 34 123 1234 123 123
Lh: 321  4321 321 4321 3

Bbm
Rh: 4 123 1234 123 1234
Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

D#m
Rh: 3 1234 123 1234 123
Lh: 21  4321 321 4321 32

Best wishes
Bernhard.






The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline drooxy

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #11 on: May 30, 2004, 06:20:39 PM »
Bernhard, in Dm, why not:

Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

which follows the rule of 4th and 3rd on black key... ?

Thanks in advance.
Drooxy

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #12 on: May 30, 2004, 06:46:41 PM »
Quote
Bernhard, in Dm, why not:

Lh: 21 321 4321 321 432

which follows the rule of 4th and 3rd on black key... ?

Thanks in advance.


You could use that.

But it is quite a stretch going from the Bb to the C#. That stretch will be negotiated better by 3-2 instead of 3-4. Just play the scale at your top speed and you will see that there is far more control and less probability of missing one of the black keys if you use 3 - 2

Finally, play hands together, contrary movement. Ths fingering you suggested will be far more difficult to co-ordinate in contrary movement that the one I suggested, since in yours both hands will be passing the thumb at different points, while in mine the hands move in mirror image.

This of course, is for me. Try both and see the one that is most comfortable for you.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline drooxy

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #13 on: May 30, 2004, 07:45:01 PM »
I knew it was not a mistake...  missed it ! Oh well...

;)

By the way, how would you rank these scales in terms of difficulty to master ?

Thank you !
Drooxy
Drooxy

Offline joeltr888

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #14 on: July 12, 2004, 12:53:53 AM »
Resurrecting an old thread, but I have to disagree with Bernhard on one point ( :o)...

The reason the Bb scale is so comfortable is because 3 AND 4 fall on the black keys (obviously). You said yourself that they share a tendon, but if you'll notice, the fingers are far more independent going down than coming up. What I mean is that 4 moves sympathetically with 3, so if you place 3 on a white and 4 on a black you are extending the 4 against it's natural curled state (with 3). This mostly depends on one's hand shape and positioning though. For instance, my fingers are mostly too wide to fit in between the blacks, so I must play with my [rather long] 3 finger curled inward toward the whites, making the extension of 4 (way past 3) in the aforementioned RH F scale quite uncomfortable. Also, if one plays with very high hands, the extension of 4 is not so far. The best path I've found to scales and fingering in general is to have 4 follow 3 as closely as possible (although 3 doesn't necessarily have to follow 4).  

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #15 on: July 12, 2004, 03:12:43 PM »
Quote
Resurrecting an old thread, but I have to disagree with Bernhard on one point ( :o)...

The reason the Bb scale is so comfortable is because 3 AND 4 fall on the black keys (obviously). You said yourself that they share a tendon, but if you'll notice, the fingers are far more independent going down than coming up. What I mean is that 4 moves sympathetically with 3, so if you place 3 on a white and 4 on a black you are extending the 4 against it's natural curled state (with 3). This mostly depends on one's hand shape and positioning though. For instance, my fingers are mostly too wide to fit in between the blacks, so I must play with my [rather long] 3 finger curled inward toward the whites, making the extension of 4 (way past 3) in the aforementioned RH F scale quite uncomfortable. Also, if one plays with very high hands, the extension of 4 is not so far. The best path I've found to scales and fingering in general is to have 4 follow 3 as closely as possible (although 3 doesn't necessarily have to follow 4).  


Yes, I agree completely with you. (Although I assume you mean B major rather than Bb major in your first sentence).

Wide fingers are a problem (possibly the most limiting physical problem one can encounter – even worse than small hands) and one must use whatever resources are available to counter it.

The fingerings I suggested were not intended as rigid and final, but rather as an illustration on how one could change scale fingerings (especially in the left hand) to technical advantage. Once the general principle is understood, by all means modify the fingerings to suit your own personal physicality. Amongst the major scales, I personally find Ab major to be the most difficult.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline joeltr888

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #16 on: July 12, 2004, 05:56:14 PM »
Ahhh yes I meant to say B... and fat fingers are the bane of my piano existence. If only there were some way to shave a few millimeters off the edges...  :(

Offline whynot

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #17 on: March 02, 2005, 10:07:49 PM »
I got looped into this thread by way of another, and even though it's old, I have to respond.  Bernhard, this FREAKS ME OUT.  It is so utterly correct, it's like being a child again at the piano.  I taught myself how to play and had almost no formal training until recent years.  I figured out all the scales quite young and made up my own fingerings.  I thought people did that!  It was easy, and I never had to remember which fingers to use, because the scales played themselves.  Then I got a few lessons as a teenager by an Eastman/Julliard grad and, as you can imagine, my weird scales were immediately addressed.  I did fine once I made the painful adjustment, and I've never had problems with scales sounding good isolated or within repertoire.  But that shift really made the whole keyboard feel a little different to me, less natural, less like it belonged to me.  I can't remember what those old fingerings were, but I remember how it felt to play like that, and this is what your fingerings are like.  You have students who go through the exam process.  Do they get checked for scale fingerings along the way, and is that a problem?  I don't teach for exams, but some of my students will go on to university study.  I'd like to show this to all of them, I guess I'll have to prepare them for future opposition at same time.  And probably make the switch myself.  What's a twenty-year habit, after all?  Another home run, Bernhard...

Offline HomeSchooler

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #18 on: March 02, 2005, 11:11:17 PM »
Bernhard...........

If *only* I could read this 30 years ago!!  I struggled to do it *right*......................
LOL

Turns out my personal thinking was closer to yours.

Thanx again for the great advice...................

If I lived near you I would be on your waiting list for lessons!!

Nan

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #19 on: March 02, 2005, 11:35:04 PM »
But that shift really made the whole keyboard feel a little different to me, less natural, less like it belonged to me. 

Yes, this is my whole point. Unless it is easy, one will never be able to do the music justice. It is really that simple. No one can play well labouring under great effort.

Of course the trip from impossible to easy can be a very long one (and sometimes it can be surprisingly short), and nothing takes as much effort as working towards effortlessness. :P

Quote
You have students who go through the exam process.  Do they get checked for scale fingerings along the way, and is that a problem?

All my students do ABRSM exams, and the ABRSM doesn’t care about fingering. They allow you to use whatever fingering you want (even though their scale manuals follow the orthodox fingering) as long as the scales sound good. And of course, a scale played with the fingering I suggested will always sound excellent. However other exam boards are not so accomodating. Trinity College, for instance demands the orthodox fingering and they check the students for it (one of the reason I do not recommend Trinity for my students). I cannot remember what are the rules for Guildhall, but I think they do not care about fingerings either.

Best wishes,
Bernhard
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #20 on: March 02, 2005, 11:36:19 PM »
Bernhard...........

If *only* I could read this 30 years ago!!  I struggled to do it *right*......................
LOL

Turns out my personal thinking was closer to yours.

Thanx again for the great advice...................

If I lived near you I would be on your waiting list for lessons!!

Nan

You are welcome, and I am glad you found it helpful. :)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline xvimbi

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #21 on: June 25, 2005, 02:31:41 PM »
I was just re-reading some threads on scales and came across Bernhard's suggested fingering for the A minor scale (LH).

Minor scales (harmonic):

Am
Rh: 123 1234 123 12345
Lh: 321 321 4321 321 43
...

Agreeing with Bernhard's maxim that fingers 4 (and 3) should play black keys whenever possible, I checked out this fingering. It felt strange at the beginning, but made more sense once I had figured out the movements. Specifically, one needs to get used to idea that when playing the final A in the LH with finger 3, the hand is not straight, but at about a 45 degree angle. This looks unusual, but feels good. There is no rule that says the hand must always be parallel to the keys (well, there might be, but I ignore it). At 45 degrees, finger 3 hits the A in the white portion of the keys; one does not have to queeze it between the black keys, which I find more difficult.

That looks good, BUT I immediately ran into the problem that the fingering will have to change for the melodic version of A minor. Now, I also agree with Bernhard's other maxim in this thread that mental laziness is unforgiveable (I nevertheless try to violate it wherever I can ;D). So, I shouldn't shy away from using a different fingering for the different versions of minor scales, but somehow I do.

There are plenty of instances where these different versions get used within the same piece. If we put high priority on most efficient fingering, even playing  scales will be confusing, because the fingering changes from one mode to another. Then, going to a piece that has a certain scale fragment in it, the fingering will likely have to be adapted again to what's before and after that fragment, which note we want to bring out, etc.

So then, practicing scales is indeed questionable for anything else than ear training and theoretical aspects. If I am content with this, does this mean I can be lazy again? I can simply use an orthodox fingering, even if it is not the most efficient in terms of movement patterns.

Any thoughts?

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #22 on: June 26, 2005, 09:42:10 PM »
I was just re-reading some threads on scales and came across Bernhard's suggested fingering for the A minor scale (LH).

Agreeing with Bernhard's maxim that fingers 4 (and 3) should play black keys whenever possible, I checked out this fingering. It felt strange at the beginning, but made more sense once I had figured out the movements. Specifically, one needs to get used to idea that when playing the final A in the LH with finger 3, the hand is not straight, but at about a 45 degree angle. This looks unusual, but feels good. There is no rule that says the hand must always be parallel to the keys (well, there might be, but I ignore it). At 45 degrees, finger 3 hits the A in the white portion of the keys; one does not have to queeze it between the black keys, which I find more difficult.

That looks good, BUT I immediately ran into the problem that the fingering will have to change for the melodic version of A minor. Now, I also agree with Bernhard's other maxim in this thread that mental laziness is unforgiveable (I nevertheless try to violate it wherever I can ;D). So, I shouldn't shy away from using a different fingering for the different versions of minor scales, but somehow I do.

There are plenty of instances where these different versions get used within the same piece. If we put high priority on most efficient fingering, even playing  scales will be confusing, because the fingering changes from one mode to another. Then, going to a piece that has a certain scale fragment in it, the fingering will likely have to be adapted again to what's before and after that fragment, which note we want to bring out, etc.

So then, practicing scales is indeed questionable for anything else than ear training and theoretical aspects. If I am content with this, does this mean I can be lazy again? I can simply use an orthodox fingering, even if it is not the most efficient in terms of movement patterns.

Any thoughts?

There was a similar question in a different thread, but I might as well post here what I was going to say there.

Yes, you have got the fundamental principle: the hand does not (never actually) stay parallel to the keys. The hand must be aligned with the forearm, but there is no reason why the forearm must be at 90 degrees to the keyboard. So slanting the hand as necessary is one of the basic movements leading to superb technique.

And again you are absolutely right in your observation that the fingering implies the movement Many fingerings that are apparently awkward, are actually very easy and comfortable once you figure out the associated movements, which usually involve some degree of hand slanting and some degree of forearm rotation.

Again, this is a huge problem with anyone who has thoroughly been drilled in Hanon and Czerny, since they require that your hand is always at 90 degrees to the keyboard. And since they start from that premise – that this is the correct hand position – their exercises are designed to be optimally played at that hand position. What a shock to the poor student when he comes across some Bach or Scarlatti , where many times the hand and forearm must be completely parallel to the keyboard and the fingers “walk” the keys like a big spider!

Can you be lazy about scales? Sure you can.  :D

The only reason to play scales the way I suggest in this thread (and with this particular fingering) is on account of exams where scales are required. If you have to ripple them up and down four octaves in parallel and contrary motion for the benefit of an examiner, then you must practise them for that purpose, and the fingering above will help a lot. Then again, some examination boards demand that you use the “orthodox” fingering (as published by Hanon). If that is the case, then sure you must practise the orthodox fingering.  >:(

Now what if you are not interested in exams? Then all this is more or less irrelevant, and fingering and movement of scale passages will be dictated by the musical context - which is as it shoudl be.

Let me give an example.

Take the beautiful (and easy) piece by Benjamin Godard “Nous n‘iron plus au bois” (“We will not go again to the meadow”), Op. 149 no.5.

On bar 17-18, there is an ascending E major scale on the left hand (with the fingering supplied by the editor).



As it is, this fingering is in accordance with what I have suggested in this thread. But should we stick to it no matter what? For a start, the scale is not complete. Although it covers two octaves, it extends to the F#, that is, it does not finish on the E. And it has a non-diatonic note (that is a note that does not belong to the scale) right before the last F# – a white key in fact – E#.

I suggest that a much better fingering within the context of this passage is (see the circled notes):



The beauty of this fingering is that it results in a much smoother movement and a very even sound, provided you slant the hand and in this way the fingers 1-2-3 “walk” in a very natural way towards the last F#. I suggest at this point that you go to the piano and try both fingerings.

Such fingering would be completely inappropriate in a “proper” scale, since you would not have a way to turn at the end and descend the scale. But the fingering that would be appropriate in a “proper” scale is not necessary in this passage, since the scale does not descend. To insist in such inferior fingering (although superior for the scale by itself) just shows how conditioned to scale fingering the editor was. The correct attitude, of course is to keep investigating until you get the best fingering for the passage.

Now, interestingly enough in bars 21 – 22 the very same scale occurs again, this time one octave higher:



However this time, even if one wanted, one would not be able to use the standard fingering for the E major scale. On bar 20, the last note on the left hand is a D which must be played with the 5th finger. Godard has directed us to link this D with the first E of the scale, so a jump with the 5th finger (although feasible and not very comfortable) is out of the question (Godard also directs us not to use the pedal: senza pedal). So one must start this second scale, one octave higher with the 4th finger. This of course will make it impossible to use the rule of 3rd and 4th finger on black notes, and the best fingering will be to use the 4th finger on a white note, namely the B (see the score above with the fingering).

So this means, that the same scale will have to be practised twice, each time with a different fingering. No amount of previous “pure” scale practice is going to help here. The only way to play this piece properly is to learn each scale with its own fingering as part of the technical work necessary for this particular piece. And there is no guarantee that this technique/fingering/movement will ever be needed again in another piece. What one will be learning here is not a technique/system of fingering, but something far more deep and far more important: One will be learning a principle of learning, an approach. One will not be learning technique, but rather how to acquire technique.

In short (and I am really preaching to the converted here, since I am sure you already know all that :)) there is nothing sacred and untouchable about fingering of scales. One modifies them as one deems fit. In fact, practising too much scales with a specific fingering (be it orthodox, or the one I suggested) may be counterproductive since you may find difficult to overcome the habitual fingering when necessary to use a completely different new fingering.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

 
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline xvimbi

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #23 on: June 26, 2005, 11:07:52 PM »
Thanks Bernhard, that confirms my thoughts. I have always neglected my scales to a degree that I now find a bit disconcerting :-\. So then, what is the best way to develop an ear for keys and their relationships? I guess, one will have to play scales after all, but it sounds weird that one would have to invest so much time in working out a suitable fingering just for "ear training".

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #24 on: June 27, 2005, 08:24:52 AM »
Yes, indeed. This is the basic problem:

Quote
one would have to invest so much time in working out a suitable fingering just for "ear training".

It seems particularly pointless once one realises that the piano has no need for “intonation”, since all the notes are already there. Practising scales for “ear training” is far more crucial in instruments like the violin for instance, where the intonation of the notes (the place where you finger the strings) is determined by ear.

Nevertheless, scales are very useful (as you said) in piano in spite of that, not so much for individual notes, but for harmonic relationships. So to answer your question:

Quote
So then, what is the best way to develop an ear for keys and their relationships? I guess, one will have to play scales after all

1. The alternative fingering I suggested is arguably the most natural and the one that will be learned the fastest, since once you learn it for one scales, all others follow painlessly as I said in reply # 5

It will also have your LH fourth finger on a different white key for each scale you play. This will confuse your brain further. The fingering I suggested has the advantage of always having the fourth finger on a black note so the automatization of fingering will be far quicker and with much less confusion for the brain and motor centres.

And reply #6

A good way to automatically have the 3rd and 4th finger on a black key is to practise all scales and modes using a fingering that will do that for both hands. It will be much less confusing than always starting with fifth finger because if you do that any finger can land on a black note, and the fourth finger will always land on a different white key.

and reply #10:

when you use this alternative fingering, you do not need to memorise one fingering for each scale; they will be more or less the same. But most importantly, the memory you want to develop is not a mental one (like remembering a phone number) but a physical one, in this case the 4th finger always go on a black note.

So, if you are going to invest any time on a fingering for scales, this is the most efficient learning wise (at least so far, maybe someone will come up with a better one).

2. Having established above that one needs to practise scales, and having minimised the work by using the alternative fingering, the next question is how to go about it?

Because I do not believe in practising scales for their own intrinsic value, I discourage my students from having practice routines of the kind: “everyday practise all 24 scales in parallel and contrary movement for 45 minutes”. Not only I do not see the point of it, as I do not see why one should restrict oneself to major and minor (usually harmonic scales). If you are going to practise scales in a vacuum, why not spend the whole day and do 3000 of them (by going through Slominsky’s “Treasure of scales and melodic patterns”)?

Instead, what I encourage my students to do is to work on the scales (=keys) that are present in the pieces they are currently learning, as part of their practice of the piece. Immediately the focus of the scale practice changes completely. Sure you will be working on fingering and dexterity, but now this is a means, not and end. The end is to familiarise oneself with the scale so as to identify it when playing the piece. This also forces the student to figure out the scales (that is, the several keys and modulations) present in the piece. So from the very start scales become the means by which musical meaning can be inferred from the analysis of the piece – which is as it should be.

Even a simple beginner’s piece like, for instance, Burgmuller’s Arabesque (grade1) wanders through three different keys: A major, A minor and C major. So, one should start the practice of this piece by working on these three scales.

If one’s repertory is varied enough, going through the 24 scales (and others) in a day simply by going through one’s pieces is no problem at all.

And there are even better news. Although it takes time to learn the first scale (1 – 2 weeks 15 /20 minutes per day is reasonable), the second scale is learned in a fraction of the time (due to the standardised fingering). Once learned, the actual scale “practise should not take more than a couple of minutes, and after a couple of months doing it one should not need to do it ever again. Exactly like riding on a bicycle, once properly learned, it is never forgotten. :D

3. Finally, my favourite way of practising scales (and their fingering) is not by playing them up and down the keyboard, which can easily become a mechanical, mind numbing exercise – although at the very beginning one may have to do it for a while.

As far as I am concerned the best way to go about scales – in fact as soon as you got the barest idea of fingering and notes – is to do 5 minutes of scales based improvisation on it. I have described it here:

http://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,3499.msg31548.html#msg31548
(using scales as the basis for free improvisation)

Some of the staggering benefits of this practise:

a.   It shows you immediately that the more conversant you are with the scale (both physically and intellectually) the more satisfying will be your improvisation, so right there you have a very powerful motivating factor for working on scales.

b.   It unveils the way (tonal) music is structured, becoming a perfect learning tool in regards to music theory (in particular in regards to the law of melody, the law of motion and rest and the law of the bass).

c.   It is a very pleasing activity to just sit and freely improvise – in fact the problem here is to stop after 5 minutes! Look at Ted and what happened to him! ;D

d.   It gives a very good idea of one of the main processes composers used through the ages to come up with pieces.

e.   If done in an structured way (as suggested in the link above), it will do more for ear training than any other activity.

4. So to summarise:

a. select the piece you are going to learn/practise and figure out the scale(s) it is based on.
b. work on these scales (hands separate only) for a couple of minutes.
c. Do free improvisation on the scale (s) for no more than 5 minutes.
d. Work on the piece with full awareness of the scale relationships.
e. Although this demands some conscious effort in the beginning, if you do it consistently for every piece, after 4 - 5 pieces it becomes second nature.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.


The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline fehrle

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #25 on: June 30, 2005, 08:13:15 PM »
Bernard,
   I'm in the process of incorporating these fingerings in my practice of scales.  I agree these fingerings are definitely more efficient.  Though, I have one question... you stated that for Dm(harmonic) it makes more sense to use:
               LH: 54321 321 4321 321
your reasoning being that the stretch between the Bb and C# is hard to negotiate with the third and fourth fingers.   This makes sense... however, shouldn't the same hold true for Gm(harmonic)?
              LH: 54321 321 4321 321    instead of    21 321 4321 321 432

I hope that makes sense.
Thanks in advance,
Fehrle

Offline abell88

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #26 on: July 01, 2005, 01:13:35 AM »
Quote
Yes, you have got the fundamental principle: the hand does not (never actually) stay parallel to the keys. The hand must be aligned with the forearm, but there is no reason why the forearm must be at 90 degrees to the keyboard. So  slanting the hand as necessary is one of the basic movements leading to superb technique.

And the light bulb clicks on! Once again, thank you, Bernhard.

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #27 on: July 02, 2005, 08:44:25 AM »
Bernard,
   I'm in the process of incorporating these fingerings in my practice of scales.  I agree these fingerings are definitely more efficient.  Though, I have one question... you stated that for Dm(harmonic) it makes more sense to use:
               LH: 54321 321 4321 321
your reasoning being that the stretch between the Bb and C# is hard to negotiate with the third and fourth fingers.   This makes sense... however, shouldn't the same hold true for Gm(harmonic)?
              LH: 54321 321 4321 321    instead of    21 321 4321 321 432

I hope that makes sense.
Thanks in advance,
Fehrle

That is a very good question.

Still the alternative fingering still holds because the principle of having the 4th finger on a black note takes precedence over the stretch of the 3rd – 4th finger.

In the case of Dm harmonic, there were two possible fingerings that would result in the 4th (and 3rd) finger being on black keys. Therefore one chooses the one that does not involve the stretching between 3rd and 4th finger.

In Gm however, there is no such a choice. The only fingering where the 4th finger falls on a black key is 21 321 4321 321 432.

If you use 54321 321 4321 321   the 4th finger will go on a white key (A) followed by the 3rd finger on a black key (Bb). Not only these notes are only a semitone apart (and therefore your fingers will have to “squeeze”) as the 4th finger will be in its worst possible position for allowing the3rd finger to “climb” to the black key. Personally, I find the stretch between 3rd and 4th a lesser evil than the squeeze between 4th and 3rd. This is the main argument in favour of the alternative fingering.

A minor argument is that if you have been doing all scales with the alternative fingering, you will notice that it is indeed always the same for all scales, that is, after you mastered 2 or 3 scales with this new fingering, the others come up with naturally, without you having to think about it. This is of course due to the principle of 4th finger on a black key being always adhered to. The moment you introduce a 4th finger on a white key, this “uniformity” is broken, and you may find yourself confused with which fingering to use. However, this is really a minor argument. If you do find that the finger squeeze is more comfortable to you than the finger stretch, by all means change the fingering to suit your physicality. And if the scale is taken in a musical context, chances are that you will have to modify the fingering anyway (as in the examples I gave in the replies above where scales were within a piece of music).

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #28 on: July 02, 2005, 08:46:05 AM »
And the light bulb clicks on! Once again, thank you, Bernhard.

You are welcome. :)
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline pianote

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #29 on: July 02, 2005, 11:42:40 PM »
...on a Bb major scale it probably wouldn't be a good idea....

Offline BoliverAllmon

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #30 on: April 18, 2006, 02:22:54 AM »
would it be frowned upon to use alternate fingerings say in your abrsm exams?

Offline bernhard

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #31 on: April 18, 2006, 01:11:20 PM »
would it be frowned upon to use alternate fingerings say in your abrsm exams?

It depends on the examination board. The ABRSM, for instance, does not care which fingering you use, as long as the scales sound the way they want it to sound. The examiner will not even look at the physicality of your playing. They sit on the other side of the room and concentrate solely on the sound.

Other boards, for instance, Trinity, are very finicky and demand that you use orthodox fingerings. They will watch like a hawk to spot “mistakes” in that area.

Of course, if you decide to take your grades from such an institution you will have to comply with their demands and train yourself to play scales well with a less than optimum fingering.

Fortunately there are plenty of institutions around with a variety of approaches/demands, so you do not need to submit to a set of demands regulations you do not agree with.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline BoliverAllmon

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finger?
«Reply #32 on: April 18, 2006, 02:29:07 PM »
hey that is good. I am taking my abrsm grade 8 this winter and was curious about it. do you have an alternate fingering for playing a scale in thirds ( C maj. and Bb specifically) or minor chromatic thirds?

Offline charleyg

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #33 on: April 24, 2006, 01:56:13 AM »
Yes, you should use the alternative fingering in all scales, major and minor

I have  clarifying question:  You've given me the fingers for major scales and harmonic minor, and here you say that I should use them on minor scales.  For natural minor, or switching between ascending and descending melodic minor, do I use one of these 2 fingerings?  Or do I need to exercize my intellect to save my fingers and have a 3rd of 4th fingering?
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Offline iumonito

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Re: Should I always start LH-scales with 5th finge
«Reply #34 on: April 24, 2006, 02:41:37 AM »
Ahhh yes I meant to say B... and fat fingers are the bane of my piano existence. If only there were some way to shave a few millimeters off the edges...  :(

Fat fingers usually result in gorgeous piano sound.  Think Anton Rubinstein and forget about seeming false notes.  Count your blessings.
Money does not make happiness, but it can buy you a piano.  :)