I am learning Étude 14 by Philip Glass but I found a very weird combination of notes that I cannot play naturally (and unnaturally). Do I need to practice some weird finger stretching or there is something I could mix with left hand? I also tried (never done in my life) using only finger 1 to play both G and A-flat at the same time but it is not “natural”, very uncomfortable and difficult to make it sound good.

Here is someone playing it but I cannot distinguish the fingers properly.

Minute 1:43

Étude 14, Philip Glass


@Tim I had the impression you were really dissapointed for not being able to play the chord. I uploaded a video just for you to see how I solved my “physical limitation” by taking @Brian Chandler ‘s advise on using my thumb with two notes

  • 1
    I play this 1-1-2-5, with the thumb knuckle on the Ab and tip on the G. Your ability to do this will depend on the size of your thumb and the action of your piano. Try coming in from above the black keys with your hand higher than normal. Jan 26, 2021 at 12:54

4 Answers 4


Here are six solutions, offered in order of radicalness.

  1. Play it 1-2-3-5, placing your hand away from your body and toward the back end of the keys. Twisting toward finger 1 or finger 5 will make the chord harder to play.

  2. Since the 1-2-3-5 fingering isn't working for you, the next best option is to leave out the lower G. Since it's doubled at the octave -- and since that top G is more important to the overall sound -- it's a reasonable option to omit it and play the remaining Ab-C-G with 1-2-5. In conjunction with this, you could try adding a G to the left hand. It would sound an octave lower than the written G -- and the timing could prove challenging, but see if you like the sound of the chord re-voiced in this way.

  3. Another option, but IMO less harmonically sound, is to omit the Ab. Here, too, since the Ab consistently appears in the left hand, it could be left out of the right. However, the strength of the right-hand dissonance between Ab and G is sacrificed with this option.

  4. An option with even greater impact on the sound, would be to shift the left hand up one octave, allowing it more easily to pick up notes from the right hand. Obviously this is not how Glass wrote it, so a more radical solution. It can be musically justified by the difference in sound between the measures with right-hand arpeggiation versus right-hand block chords. The effect would be to further distinguish the measures from each other by making the left hand in the block-chord measures relinquish its roll as accompaniment and be more of a participant in the block chords. (The left hand would play the arpeggio measures in the octave written.)

  5. Try taking advantage of the fact that the left and right hands alternate much of the time. In principle, the left hand could leap up to grab one or two of the lower right-hand notes in between playing its own part. Given the tempo of the piece and the overall demands on the left hand, this is unlikely to prove practical, but I include it here to foster flexibility and creativity in approaching fingering issues.

  6. Finally, you could try rolling the right-hand chords. This is given as the last option, because it would change the stylistic meaning of the piece. As with the third option, you as the performer would be making a significant aesthetic decision as well as a practical one. Chord-rolling is standard fare in Romantic-era music, but that Romantic feel is unidiomatic (even antithetical) for Glass. That doesn't mean it would sound bad; it just means that when you make your Carnegie Hall debut, the newspaper critics might complain.

  • Unless you have quite big hands 1-2-3-5 is likely to be an unhealthy stretch. Jan 26, 2021 at 12:49

Finger numbers: G:1, Ab:2, C:3, G:5. It's a bit of a stretch but not impossible. The thumb-pinky distance is only 1 octave.

Something like this: (excuse the Behringer MS-1 synth)

chord stretch

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    Sadly, that is impossible for me. My pinky only reaches F. Played piano for 60yrs, and still can't reach that ! I'm sure I'm not alone.
    – Tim
    Jan 23, 2021 at 16:07
  • @Tim How about if you try to do it with a bit of a diagonal twist and reach forward with your pinky about an inch over the key? Jan 23, 2021 at 16:09
  • No chance! Just about reach the F# key, and by then, index is well up on the left of the C# key. I have a student who could reach the top G with their ring finger, but that's another story.
    – Tim
    Jan 23, 2021 at 16:21
  • @Tim Still not sure if we're trying the same way. :) I added a picture. Jan 23, 2021 at 18:47

You have four choices (in descending order of preference):

  • finger it 1,2,3,5 if your hand is big enough (the stretch might come easier with practice)
  • use your thumb on G and Ab (might also take some practice)
  • leave out the lower G
  • move on to another piece

There is another way to the good suggestions above: play the G and Ab with your thumb. There are even two ways of doing this; first thing I thought of was to play the Ab with the tip of your thumb, and the G with the second joint. This requires practice to avoid smudging, and depends on the thickness of your thumb. It also leaves quite a big stretch to the top G. The second way is to use the tip of your thumb on the G and Ab; you sort of wedge it in the corner, so the left side presses the white key, and the right side presses on the top left corner of the black key. This sort of unorthodox fingering is plausible, I think, because of the nature of the music, with repeated chords. Please give it a try!

  • I don't know how to play the Ab with the thumb tip and the G with a knuckle without completely losing my ability to play the high G (especially since my hands can only span an octave max accurately). I need to play both notes like your second method.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 26, 2021 at 13:26

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