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I am busy teaching myself piano using several sources.

I have come across the concept of "hand positions", e.g. G position or C position.

My question is: How do you know, in a song you have never played before, which hand positions to use and when to switch positions?

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3 Answers 3

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Usually this comes with practice, the more you have played, the more patterns will get etched in you memory and when you play something you never have played before, as long as it is not too far above your current level, you will almost instinctively find the right hand positions. That's why it is important to practice scales, arpeggio's, etc... in various tonalities. Because while you will never play just a scale, there will be pieces of scales, sometimes a full one in a composition. Knowing how to handle them will get you through them like it's nothing.

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The concept of hand positions as you understand it does not exist in more advanced levels of piano performance. Instead, we care about fingering, which has some general principles. For example: the melody is almost always played with the outer fingers (4 and 5, sometimes 3). Fingerings need to be developed where the melody can be played legato without use of the pedal, by using crossings or substitution (look at an organist's use of 4 and 5). 1 is almost never used on black keys. Your hand should generally not be in uncomfortable or painful (damaging) positions. When playing scales, find a pattern (usually in groups of 3 notes then 4 notes. Take, for example, B major: 1 on B and E; 2, 3, and 4 on the black keys. Perhaps the easiest scale to play.) There are more. The principle is that your hand is where it needs to be to achieve good fingering.

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Thanks, I find it difficult now to decide between the two answers as the correct one. Both have been helpful. –  mydoghasworms Oct 20 '11 at 6:09

When learning new, unfingered music you usually have to 'scout' your way through it patiently and figure out/pencil in your own (best) fingerings. It's customary to write in a fingering whenever a change of hand position occurs or where there might be some confusion over what finger to use, but it's also desirable to not 'overpepper' the music with fingerings on every (or almost every) note, as this impairs reading efficiency.

The reason some musicians will disagree with/change pre-printed fingerings in sheet music is because they find better finger combinations/maneuvers than those supplied and/or because their own hand size favors or requires a different fingering that's more comfortable for them and/or serves the musicality of their performance better.

J. S. Bach is reputed to have had just one principle for fingering: ALWAYS CHOOSE A FINGERING THAT LEAVES THE HAND IN GOOD POSITION TO PLAY WHATEVER FOLLOWS NEXT. To that I add the following corollary: Whenever there is a CHOICE of one or more possible fingerings choose the fingering which (1) is most natural (comfortable) for the hand; and (2) produces the most musical result. Usually, whatever fingering is most natural for the hand also tends to produce the most musical result.

A further help: Once you've fingered the music for both hands individually be sure to 'test drive' the COMBINATION of fingerings you've chosen to see how well your brain copes with the various simultaneous finger maneuvers. There are times when I will change fingerings that worked well initially for each hand when played separately but did not work AS well when the hands were played together in combination. Usually this happens due to coordination issues between the hands.

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