This is related to How to you know which finger/key to press for next note?, but the example in that question made people to suggest I need to practise fixed position first, which was great for complete newbie but I was thinking about changed hand position, where thumb is not on C. I think I would have completely different answers, so I would just start a new question and leave my previous question as it is, so the existing answers can stay there.

So here we go:

When your thumb is pressing D, then see next note is F, do you memorise the pattern that D and F is skipping one finger and in this case the middle finger to press F? Or do you look at the key F and press it?

Either way, how do I practise this? I am struggling to press the correct subsequent keys.


8 Answers 8


That is like asking a tennis player how they calculate the angles of their elbow, shoulder and wrist to hit the ball without looking at their racket.

Maybe a somewhat unorthodox answer, but at this stage you should just do whatever it takes to play the right finger on the right note. It will soon crawl into muscle memory.

  • 2
    This seems more like a comment than an answer.
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 17, 2020 at 21:15
  • 5
    I started analyzing my own mental processes (playing for 40y). And I had several paragraphs written up. But then I consciously decides that this short answer is (in my opinion) the best advise to give. Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 7:36
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    I agree on this answer. The point is that if you have to think about it, you will be too late. This kind of things has to be practiced until it is subconsciuos. I "see" a note or "think" a tone and the fingers simply play it. Sometimes though, in technically difficult passages I practice slow, slow at first to get the correct fingerings. After a while it comes "naturelly".
    – ghellquist
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 14:58
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    Counterpoint - it's easy to learn a bad habit for fingering, and then what becomes "muscle memory" is actually an inefficient method.
    – Lou
    Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 16:46
  • Lou: I agree. that's why I say "the right finger". James is not challenging the choice of the middle finger, but instead asking if he can look at the keyboard or not to help him come to that conclusion. Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 18:39

In order to play without looking at the keyboard, you need to have plenty of practice. However, you always have the option of looking at the keys. When it comes to placing thumb on D and going for F, considering only those two notes alone is not enough.(if we look at the practical scenario of playing by following a notation, there will be more than two notes!). Maintaining a smooth flow in moving fingers from one key to another is essential to become a good player. Lets think of this situation(Thought it would be better to use an example): enter image description here

Assume you need to start with thumb on D. Next note is F, followed by an A and a D. If you play F with your 3rd finger, A might have to be played with 5th finger. Then, how are you supposed to play the next D? Well, you can raise your hand and jump towards it with your thumb or any other finger. But, it is not a good practice because a proper flow will not be maintained if you do so.

So, for the above scenario, the most appropriate fingering for the first bar would be 1,2,3,5 In the next bar, we have a C,B, A and G. In this case, as the notes are adjacent to each other, you may use 4,3,2 and 1 (We start with the 4th finger because we finished with 5th finger in the first bar.)

When it comes to the 3rd bar, we have an F, D,E and C. We already finished the second bar with 1st finger. F is right below G where our first finger is now. In this case, we have the option of taking 3rd finger over to F. Then, we can place our thumb on D, which is the 2nd note of bar 3. Then E can be played with 2nd finger, followed by Middle C with the thumb. Finally the D in the last bar can be played with the 2nd finger.

As you can see, when it comes to fingering, the subsequent notes also need to be considered. This cannot be mastered automatically and needs practice. So, you always have the option of looking at the keys and practicing. Once you are comfortable enough to play without looking at the keys, you can do so!


Fingering questions are always about the context of what comes before and after the point in question. But having said that there certainly are fingering "norms." You can find them in various piano method books, like this one...


For your example of D to F the immediate question is whether the context is step wise scale motion or chord or broken chord motion...

enter image description here


enter image description here

Notice the F is played with either finger 3 or 2 depending on the context. (The colored boxes come up later.)

...When your thumb is pressing D, then see next note is F, do you memorise the pattern

Change that to plural - patterns - and the answer is basically, yes.

Keep in mind the basic patterns would be scales and chord in various inversions. You should memorize those patterns. But realize you might use other fingerings depending on the needs of the passage. Also, you can break down fingerings of passages into components from basic scale & chord fingerings. Here are some figures that outline a D minor chord...

enter image description here

Notice how the finger of F changes to fingers 2, 3, or 4 depending on the context and the passages can be broken up into the basic scale and chord patterns from above. Green is the basic scale, orange is the chord in root position, and blue is the chord in second inversion.

The second figure is a broken chord, but because it doesn't ascend higher than a fifth you could finger it with the scale fingering but with "gaps" for where fingers 2 and 4 would go.

The fourth and fifth figures show a combination of the scale fingering and second inversion chord fingering. See how the finger on F changes. The fifth example shows the change of finger on F as a kind of substitution where you repeat the note but change the finger. Substituting fingers in this way not only let's you apply basic fingerings for long passages it's also one of the ways to change hand position on the keyboard.

Using the position of the thumb as the anchor for position, see how the fifth figure started with the thumb on D then after switching to the chord fingering the thumb ended up on the lower A. The anchoring of the position dropped down a fourth. From this point forward you could, for example, repeat the figure transposed down a fourth, outlining an A minor chord.

...how do I practise this?

  • Practice all the major and minor scales
  • Practice all major and minor triads in root position, first inversion, and second inversion.
  • improvise short half-bar or one bar passages that combine standard fingerings with one change of position, then sequence the passage.

For the last bullet point, sequence means to repeat a short passage and transpose it up or down, usually by step. (Some basic harmony knowledge like chord progression by descending or ascending fifth would be helpful for improvising passages.)

enter image description here

If improvising passage is too hard now (don't stop trying), I suggest looking the beginner methods from Czerny. These methods have lots of short compositions basic on simple scale and chord figures. Get a copy with fingerings, like...


  • Someone did (finally) say it, practice, practice and practice some more.
    – Willeke
    Commented Nov 18, 2020 at 19:36

Your question, only considering two notes, D and F is a little unfortunate. You're hardly ever just going to be playing two notes, and that's it. More usually follow. Often some will precede!

However, using that scenario, thumb (r.h.) is on D. What one uses for the F will be decided by what comes next, after that F. If the next note is higher, then maybe middle finger will do; if the one after that is even higher, then you may need index on F.

But what if the note following F is lower, lower than even the D? You may well find that pinky on F is best, leaving the rest of your hand to stretch to the left for the new note. Let's say it's A, lower than the original D. Pinky is your best choice then.

So, in summary, there's no hard-and-fast rule. It makes sense to keep your hand and as many fingers as possible ready over the relevant keys. That's one reason that, when sight-reading, we need to look at least a bar or two ahead, so we can not only see which notes to play, but decide quickly which fingers are most appropriate for them.


When your thumb is pressing D, then see next note is F, do you memorise the pattern that D and F is skipping one finger and in this case the middle finger to press F? Or do you look at the key F and press it?

Well, when it comes to which finger to use, you have five options: you can press it with your thumb, your index finger, your middle finger, your ring finger, or your pinky.

When it comes to looking or not looking, you have two options: look, or don't look.

If you're not sure which option to choose, just pick one. If it doesn't work, pick a different one.

And most importantly, if it's difficult, then slow down until it's easy. What I've always read is that when it comes to practicing a difficult piece on the piano, accuracy is very important and speed is not important at all. So, start off by playing so slowly that it's easy, no matter how slow that is. Once you're good at playing it slowly, you can start to speed up.


I just fiddled around on my piano to see how I do this, and I think Progy-Rock's answer is closest to mine - if my fingers is on a D and the next note is F, then what finger I use depends on the rest of the notes - is it D F A F D? Then that's a D minor chord, I know what that's shaped like and what shape my hand goes in, and I'll use 1 3 5. Is it D F B F B? That's a diminished 7th (I didn't know that though I just went and looked it up - my fingers just have learned it's "an inverted-y shape"), and 1 2 5 makes more sense.

I think more in intervals than I do in absolute notes. Songs I know well I can, with a little adjusting, transpose anywhere on the keyboard more or less, because it's about how far away the notes are from each other (and thus what shape my hand is in), rather than where they are on the keyboard specifically.

When I'm first learning a song, of course, I look at the notes so I can figure out what hand shapes/position work best, but after that I get my hand in position on the right note at the beginning and it's all relative from there.

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    D F B is a diminished triad
    – Divide1918
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 14:34

How do you know which finger to use when your nose itches, depending on where your hand is at the moment and what else you may be holding in it?

In assembly instructions, do you see references to what fingers are to be used for what steps?

The answer is that you don't think about that. You'll take whatever is close and available, and you develop patterns for having them actually available when needed. Lots of fingering instructions and exercises train specific patterns that have shown themselves to be useful for avoiding running out of fingers.

But as experience grows, you'll get to think of notes mainly as piano keys rather than fingers, and eventually even the keys will stop being something you think about, and the entities your thoughts revolve around are notes and chords and their progressions.

In the mean time, any crutch will do the trick as long as it doesn't become a permanent dependency for you. One purpose of a teacher is to offer good crutches and also to know when to wean you off them.


It seems that instruction books for beginning students often emphasize holding your hand in a particular position for an extended period of time, with your individual fingers positioned over five notes, usually five adjacent white keys.

I don't know how useful this is for instruction, but I know it is sometimes done that way.

In more advanced playing, you will sometimes use adjacent fingers to play adjacent notes, but you will also move your hands a lot. You might play many notes in a row while moving your hand to a new position for every single note.

You may also play chords where you strike several notes at the same time with several fingers of one hand. The notes often are not all within one range of five consecutive white keys, so you will need to open the gaps between your fingers in order to reach all the notes.

When I'm playing, any of the following might happen:

I might just have struck one white key with my thumb. Seeing that the next note is nearby and there are not far-away notes to play very soon, I use the finger that is already nearest the new note in my relaxed hand position, which happens to be the middle finger. The fact that the two notes are on adjacent spaces between lines of the staff might be a reminder to me that this fingering will likely work. I am not thinking to myself, "This is D, this is F, F is two notes above D, the middle finger is two fingers away from the thumb, use the middle finger." It is more a matter of experience that notes that "look" like that will be easily played with these two fingers.

I might just have struck one white key with my thumb. Seeing that the next note is nearby but that there are much-farther-away notes I have to play very soon, I choose to strike the next key with my index finger (next to the thumb). In order to strike that key with my index finger, I move my hand to the right without really thinking about the fact that I am moving my hand.

I might just have struck one white key with my thumb. Seeing that the next note is nearby but that I will soon have to play notes to the left of the thumb-note, I use my ring finger or pinky on the next note. Sooner or later during this particular sequence of notes I will move my hand to the left, but I think about this so little while actually doing it that I don't even know what to tell you about exactly when I will move my hand.

If this is a piece I have played before, I may recall that I want to strike the next note with a particular finger because it will help me better play the notes that follow after that one. I am not calculating the distance between keys, the distance between my fingers, the position of my hand relative to the keys, or any of those thiings; I simply recall that for this note in this particular piece at this particular time in the piece I want to use this finger.

Sometimes I find that the editor of the sheet music has helpfully written a number next to the note, for example 4 to tell me to use the ring finger to strike that note, so I use the finger recommended by the editor. This is a bit like the previous example, except that I have not memorized the use of this particular finger for this particular note of this particular piece, I am just assuming that the editor worked out that this particular finger works well.

And sometimes when I'm sight-reading or playing a piece I have not played in a while, I choose to strike a particular note with a particular finger and then find out a few notes later that this did not work very well for playing the following notes. This makes playing those notes awkward. I might go back to that part of the piece and try it again with a different finger, and if I practice the piece that way I might learn to use that finger, at which point it becomes like the example a couple of paragraphs earlier.

If you're still at the level of study where you have to think about which finger to use for F after playing D with your thumb, you're not yet at the level of study where trying to use all the techniques in the paragraphs above is going to be very useful to you. But if you have music with the fingerings indicated by numbers, you can still follow those fingerings.

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