Scale Fingerings

Continuing our discussion of scales, in last week’s Monday Mailbag post Lauren mentioned how difficult it was for her to grasp scale fingerings until a teacher actually wrote it out for her. She queried, “I’m curious to know how those of you who teach scales without a book ensure that the students practice the correct fingering during the week.”

Martina had also previously commented, “I teach the sharp keys without music, but write down/ let the student write down the flat keys because of the fingerings. There was too often ‘I couldn’t practice because I didn’t remember the fingering!’ What are your experiences?”

I think one of the key factors here is being aware of your students’ learning styles. I find that students who are predominantly kinesthetic learners pick up on the fingering very quickly just by being shown and then doing it a couple of times. Visual learners do best if fingerings are written out so that they can refer to the numbers as they play. And for aural learners, it’s hopeless. Okay, just kidding. But I do find that these students have the most difficult time mastering scale fingering. They are also much more prone to disregard the whole step/half step patterns and just go by ear – which drives me crazy! (Can you tell I’m not an aural learner?) Perhaps some who are predominantly aural learners could give the rest of us some tips on how to approach scale fingerings more effectively with this type of student…

Here’s how I usually introduce the scale fingerings. My students learn the pentascales first with the 1-2-3-4-5 fingering for all of them. When we are first transitioning into octave scales, I introduce it something like this:

Teacher: “Instead of just doing 5-note scales like we have been, now you are going to get to learn how to do full octave scales [ooh and ah 🙂 ]. So, for example you’ll be playing from this C to the next higher C. How many notes will that include?”

Student: “8”

Teacher: “Exactly! Now, the only problem is that you only have 5 fingers on each hand, so you’re going to need some extra fingers, aren’t you? Let’s test your math skills for a minute…if you have 5 fingers, but you have 8 notes, how many extra fingers will you need in order to play them all.”

Student: “3”

Teacher: “Ah, I knew you were a math whiz. Haha. Okay, so here’s how this is going to work – in the right hand you’ll play just the first 3 fingers and then ever-so-smoothly you’ll slip your thumb underneath and finish out the rest of the notes of the scale and no one will ever know that you didn’t have 8 fingers playing all along! [demonstrate and have student imitate] Great! Then to get back down, we just play right back down those 5 fingers and then slip the third finger over your thumb to get back to where you started. [demonstrate and have student imitate] Amazing! And of course you want to play it so smoothly that if my eyes are closed and I’m just listening, I can’t even tell where you’re crossing fingers. [have student play ascending and descending once more to cement the concept]

For the left hand, I tell them that it’s the exact same idea except reversed. I demonstrate and have them imitate and they usually get it right away. Ideally, then, they’ve processed the information to an extent that they can continue to practice correctly on their own at home.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a couple new things that I’m using to help students with various aspects of learning scales…As always, feel free to jump in with additional ideas of how to introduce scales or reinforce scale fingerings!

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