Piano fingering is definitely an art that you learn gradually over time as a pianist. When I was still in method books, my teachers didn’t often give me repertoire outside the books, so I got very little practice in picking my own fingerings. This also made me think that for every piece of music, there is only one correct set of fingerings.
Later, I learned this isn’t true, and the fingerings you choose serve a huge role in your interpretation of the piece you’re playing.
Which notes do you choose to emphasize? You might pick 2 or 3 over 4 or 5 for those notes.
Where do you let your hand jump? This determines how you’re choosing to phrase the piece.
I’m planning on creating a course (or 2) on picking piano fingerings, but I wanted to offer 3 overall guidelines and helpful resources.
1. Keep it consistent.
If you’ve taken formal lessons for a while and are at the late-beginner/early-intermediate stage, you’ve had to learn the correct fingerings for scales, arpeggios, and block chords. The reason we do this is so that when you see these structures in a piece of music, you already have fingerings picked for them.
For self-learners, Hanon is a great resource for major and minor scales, arpeggios, and other virtuosic patterns you’ll come across in most classical repertoire. It’s available for free on IMSLP, or if you want a nicer edition, my favorite is Alfred’s.
Hanon doesn’t have block chords or “exotic” scales like whole tone or blues, so I put together my own collection called Piano Patterns for $9.
Josh Wright has a collection of previews from his ProPractice Course on his Youtube channel where he goes over the fingerings for scales, block chords, and arpeggios. You won’t get the full fingerings from the channel, but you’ll get a good chunk with some helpful technique tips.
Here’s the Key of C preview:
2. Keep it comfy.
It’s not a hard and fast rule, but keeping your thumbs on white keys and longer fingers (2, 3, 4) on the black keys tends to be comfier.
For the same reason (of the thumb being short and on its side), it’s easier to do turnovers (or crossovers or whatever you call them!) on white keys and on white keys that are closer together.
The foundational patterns above will help you learn to do this subconsciously, but being aware of these comfort strategies can make you more confident about the fingerings you do choose.
3. Keep it crafted.
(Tried to stay with the alliteration!) Composers spend a lot of time crafting the piece of music, so your fingerings should also have some meaning to them. Think about these things:
Notice repetition – is it meaningful in anyway? It helps to use the same fingering for each repetition.
Where are the clear section breaks? – Are there breaks in character? Would you use a different fingering strategy (i.e., more jumpy than flowy with turnovers)?
When you have to jump your hand up and down, are they places where you’d breathe if you were singing it? Are they between phrases?
It’ll help you with confidence and memory if you’ve made deliberate choices about your fingerings instead of letting your hands do what they want. You’ll feel more invested in the piece of music and have your own, personal interpretation that’s a combination of your mental hearing of the piece and your physical body: the size of your hands/what’s comfiest.
Here are the resources mentioned above and some other helpful ones: