Piano Fingering Strategy

CHILDREN’S PIANO FINGERING STRATEGY

Before you even broach the subject of piano fingering, you have to discover the child’s awareness of fingers in any sense at all. There’s no question that you can ask them. You have to physically see the results to judge each child properly. There are no rules, only horse-sense, common sense and child psychology.

Remember the game THIS LITTLE PIGGY, which every child has doubtless played?

This is the level on which you must enter into a dialogue with the child’s mind.

Kids are hardly aware that they have multiple fingers, and multiple types of digits (fingers and thumb are very different at the piano.)

Several illustrations will help will help a child visualize the distinctions between the digits. First, the thumb is the bully of the hand, the shortest yet most powerful. Second, the five fingers function together much like a basketball team. Third, the first three fingers are the strongest (thumb, index, and middle.) Fourth, the pinkie and fourth fingers are very weak by themselves.

Try this game, which I call, THE PENCIL TEST. Kids love it and really see what you mean when you say the first three fingers are strongest.

THE PENCIL TEST

Take out a common pencil and lay it in the palm of your hand. Describe to the child a type of toy seen often at carnivals and shopping malls, in which a mechanical claw selects a toy, picks it up, and then deposits it in a delivery chute. Most kids have seen this device, or can imagine it with your help.

Ask the child to use their hands in the manner of the steam shovel-like claw, and pick up the pencil slowly. They will want to do it slowly, but make them go almost slow motion so they may observe their fingers.

Almost all children will revert to instinct, and pick up the pencil with their first three fingers, because they are the strongest fingers.

At that very moment, draw their attention to which fingers they have used. It’s important to have them understand that these three fingers, which they have cleverly selected, are the strongest, and, for the moment, are to be favored.

Applaud their instincts. They will want to play again, and almost all kids mischievously will then want to use improbable combinations of weak fingers to prove you wrong. I always end up picking up the pencil between my upper lip and my nose, to demonstrate the most unusual way to pick up the pencil. Comedy works, and is very memorable to a child. The five minutes you “waste” now with this nonsense will be well repaid later.

They are now aware of their fingers, and are starting to distinguish them in a way not thought of before.

(Before you begin, please remember not to combine reading music with fingering yet. That is the central failing of conventional piano lessons, the one offense that kills more kid’s interest in the piano than any other. Fingering should be brought up long before reading music. Reading music should be taught separately from fingering for a long time before you gingerly attempt to link the two.)

FIRST FINGERING STEPS

Allow the child to play with the index finger at first, if that is their instinct. There are so many things for them to think about that the last thing you want them to worry about is what finger with which to do it.

Some will play with the thumbs, usually the very youngest. These you can slowly move towards the index finger as a first step.

Encourage the use of more than one finger, but do not yet utter the words “Nope, use this finger.” Right now, it’s a game. Later, it will be exacting work. Most kids will instinctively begin to use more fingers other than the index when they are comfortable. Give them time to discover the other fingers for themselves, with your gentle, undemanding guidance. They’re just fingers, and we all have ten.

After a child is comfortable playing with the at least the index finger, playing by number, perhaps even reading the first five notes above Middle C if they are ALREADY reading music, start with the following purely physical piano games.

THREESIES

This is the first step we take into Fingering Land. In my view, it is pointless to ask a child to think of a group of five fingers. It is just too large a group, with so many varying capabilities of the digits.

I choose the first three fingers of the right hand to train at first. Once you train those three, the rest fall in line easily.

Place their right thumb on Middle C. Then describe the first three fingers as cars, white blue and yellow (any three colors) who have to park in parking places, the three keys numbered 1,2 and 3 or named C, D and E.

Move their fingers for them if you have to, and it frequently is required, but get them to play those three fingers in a row to awaken their brain to the sense of control that is required. You can alternately get them to play the three keys simultaneously, like a cluster, rather than one after the other. In any case, awaken their sense of controlling those three as a group.

Here’s the catch, and it’s largely age dependent. If THREESIES is in any way difficult, you have to abandon the exercise and try a little later The reason for the caution is that many kids are simply not ready in a neural sense for the effort. Their brains may actually not be developed enough, and it is pointless to frustrate them needlessly. There are plenty of things to learn in the meantime. Bait. Switch and return to the concept when they are fresh. Don’t push.

Develop a routine in which it is acceptable to play a passage with any fingering at all, and it is alternately required to play a passage with exact fingering. Use the first (any fingering) to let them see the pattern beneath the fingering, and use the second (exact fingering) as a very short exercise in exact fingering. Use exact fingering sparingly if it seems to exhaust them. Their exhaustion is a sign that you have gone too far, and games are in order.

Last comes all five fingers, but that is easy once you master the first three.

Often, when trying to learn a passage, it is important to let a child play the half dozen notes with their index finger, to let them see the underlying pattern that may go unrecognized in their grueling efforts to keep the fingers in a row.

This lenience also is telling, for often the child can play the pattern easily without the added burden of fingering. In this case, I applaud them and tell them, “Well, see, you did know that part after all, it was just that the fingering was getting in the way.”

This non-fingering success inspires confidence in themselves and makes them want to make a further effort, perhaps not right at that moment, but soon if you ask nicely for it.

You must understand what a huge mental effort fingering is on top of all the other intellectual and physical skills that their very young brains are juggling.

If I had one rule of fingering for the very young, it is that it is acceptable to pretend, temporarily, that it doesn’t exist.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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