Kid’s Piano Fingering 101

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Let’s look at kid’s piano fingering from the simplest version they offer, to the complex patterns and positions they must learn. You must see it from the child’s point of view, or you will get lost.

IN THE BEGINNING

Kids will offer you their instinctive choice of finger, and you should wait and see what they offer. Usually, it’s the dominant index finger, but I’ve seen everything. All thumbs, all pinkies, backwards fingering, anything an untrained six year old can dream up.

At first, accept whatever crude method they offer. It really doesn’t matter that they just played Jingle Bells with their pinkie, it matters that they played a song. It’s not hard to suggest the index finger, in this example.

FIRST STEPS

Get them to use their index fingers, as they will have the most control over those two fingers (left and right.)

Then get them to use both index fingers. Now, the two sides of the brain are talking. The two index fingers can either play bat the same time or in some order devised by the child.

Make up a mock sad game in which you lament that they “were born with only one finger” to try to make them aware of what they are doing.

The truth is that kids are only dimly aware that they have ten fingers, of five types (thumb, index,third, fourth,pinkie) and that each finger has different capabilities, and must be taught to work together as a team.

Point out that they have a finger right next to the index (the third) which might be useful. Try to encourage them to use the two fingers, index and third. They make a good team, at first.

Piano Fingering Diagram

THE THUMB

Introduce the thumb.

To a child, they have no idea what the thumb does at the piano. It is half as long as the other fingers, and to place it on the white keys requires the hand to be at a rather strange angle, at least to an untrained child.

THREESIES

At this point I play a game called “threesies.” which teaches kids to use the first three fingers as a group (thumb, index, third.)

Numbered Keyboard
Numbered Keyboard

Play the following set of numbered keys, using only the first three fingers of the right hand:

123, 234, 345, 456, 567, 678, 789, etc.

This allows the child to get used to the rather odd angle the hand must adopt in order for the shorther thumb to sit on the white keys.

ALL FIVE FINGERS

It can take weeks or months to get to this stage, and older kids get there much more quickly.

Set the five fingers of the right hand on the keys 1 2 3 4 5.

You may have to play relaxation games like Hobbita Jobbita (shake the hands like a cartoon character, ending in a relaxed position.) Kids do not understand laying the hand flat on the keys, especuially younger kids. They will clench their hands, making it impossible to lay the hand flat. A common position is what I call The Karate Chop” in which the hand is held sideways, pinkie on key #5 and thumkb flailing in the air. Patience.

Now just get them to play 1 2 3 4 5  then 5 4 3 2 1.

SONGS WITH FINGERING

You should have already taught them basic songs on the white keys that lend themselves to five finger positions.

Here’s a short list:

  • JINGLE BELLS
  • MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB
  • BEETHOVEN’S NINTH
  • ALOUETTE
  • POP GOES THE WEASEL

Put their fingers over the keys and press their fingers down for them so their muscles get the idea quickly: this almost always works.

Now, offer them the option of using one finger or fingering. Sometimes younger kids shy away from fingering, so let them: there are many other things to be taught, and if they shy away from fingering, they are not quite ready for it.

Kids should be limited to “C position” in right hand until they instinctively choose groups of fingers, rather than single fingers. But give them the option of no fingering, they know their brains better than you do.

Copyright 2017 Walden Pond Press

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