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consecutive thirds, fourth, and fifth

I have absolutely no idea how to finger things like this. I don't really know what sort of guidelines to follow or what books to practice that combine double thirds, fourths and fifths consecutively in one measure. I can't really find any practice books that give fingerings for things like this, nor do I know any real principles for fingering doubled notes in conjunction with different intervals. If anyone can give a good fingering and the reason behind it, I'd be greatly appreciative.

The first excerpt is in B minor, and the second is in G minor.

consecutive thirds

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  • Hi Vanilla. Welcome to the site. Just a quick FYI: I removed the part of your question requesting practice materials, as we don't field that kind of question here.
    – Aaron
    Sep 3, 2021 at 3:05

3 Answers 3

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Fingerings for the posted examples

As a starting point, here is the fingering I'd recommend for each example, and why.

Example 1: consecutive thirds, fourths, fifths

Suggested fingering for first excerpt

This fingering allows my hands to comfortably and simultaneously lay over all of their notes in the entire measure. That way, I can play the whole measure without any jumping around. Put another way, I just need one finger for each unique right-hand pitch.

1 2  3 4 5
D F# A B C#

Example #2: consecutive thirds

Suggested fingering for second excerpt

My first instinct was to apply the same principle as in the first example: try to keep a single, comfortable hand position. For that, my right-hand fingering was:

2 3 4 5 4 3
1 1 2 4 2 1

Now, there nothing wrong with that as far as it goes, but I don't like the stretch it requires of my fingers 4 and 5 to play the D-F# pair.

To come up with my preferred fingering required an educated guess, based on some observations:

  1. The left hand is staccato.
  2. There are no legato or tenuto markings in the right hand (i.e., it's okay if the notes are detached).
  3. There's no pedal marking. So, it's okay if I choose a fingering that doesn't preserve a true legato.

The easiest option was to make each three-chord grouping separate. That made the first group easy. Since each pair just moves up by step, I can use consecutive fingers:

3 4 5
1 2 3

The second grouping relies on a common piano convention. If you have four consecutive thirds, use 1-2 for one of them. Thus, four descending thirds would be fingered:

RH: 5 4 3 2
    3 2 1 1

LH: 1 1 2 3
    2 3 4 5

In this case, the right hand happens to "skip" what would otherwise be the 4-2 pair, but the overall strategy still is familiar to my hand.

The result of this fingering is that I use 5-3 twice in a row. That requires picking up my hand, and creating a break between those respective thirds. But my "educated guess" says that break is just fine.

General principles

Take these with a healthy grain of salt. These are very general principles, and fingering always depends on the specific musical and technial situation.

Principles without regard to interval

  1. When notes are played detached, or when pedal can assist with legato, you can use whatever fingering is most natural and intuitive for you.
  2. When notes must be legato:
    • The melody and bass (highest and lowest, usually) are most important. Keep those legato as much as possible, but it's okay to sacrifice the others if necessary.
    • Choose fingerings that require as few hand-moves as possible, but without creating stretching, straining, or twisting.
    • Where hand moves are necessary, try to place those movements at places where the music "takes a breath" (i.e., a break feels natural): that is, if you think of notes as syllables in a word, try not to move in the middle of a word (or, by extension, a clause, phrase, or sentence, whenever possible).

Consecutive thirds

  1. The two most common/standard patters are for three and four thirds moving by step, as shown above.
  2. When there are more than four consecutive thirds, then there are some tricks, depending on things like where black keys occur. For example, with some practice, one can learn to cross finger 2 over 3, 3 over 4, and 4 over 5, especially if the crossover moves from a white key to the adjacent black key. Crossing the thumb under can also help. This allows streams of thirds to be managed by using the above two standard patterns, but occasionally tossing in a crossover. As an example, here is a possible right-hand fingering for a D major scale in thirds:
2  3  4  5  4  5  4  5
1  1  2  1  2  1  2  3

F# G  A  B  C# D  E  F#
D  E  F# G  A  B  C# D

Consecutive fourths and larger

Essentially, these follow the same principles as consecutive thirds. The difference is the possibility of repeating the thumb more often. For example, four consecutive fourths might be played:

2 3 4 5
1 1 1 2

And then the sorts of crossover tricks described above can also come into play.

Finger substitution

When legato is a necessity, an exceptionally helpful technique is to play a note with one finger, then immediately swap that finger for another, freeing up the previous finger for future use.

As an example of this technique, here is one way to play a right-hand D major scale in sixths (remember that the upper note is the key to legato):

3  4  53 4  5  4  54 5
1  1  1  1  21 1  21 2  

D  E  F# G  A  B  C# D
F# G  A  B  C# D  E  F#
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Don't get too hung up on fingering rules. Your hands are not Rachmaninoff's or Brahms', so there's no reason you should play everything just as they do. You can try a few different combinations yourself, considering: -how easy it feels -how accurate you play (not stumbling or missing notes, especially repeated notes -how the fingering brings out the musical ideas you have for the phrase (for example, by placing the passed thumb on strong notes).

For me, I might play around with something like the following:

(especially if playing fast)

DF: 1-3

FA: 2-4

FB: 1-3

FC: 2-5

FA: 1-3

You could also do the piano equivalent of downstroke djent by using the thumb on every note:

DF: 1-2

FA: 1-3

FB: 1-4

FC: 1-5

FA: 1-3

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'I have absolutely no idea how to finger things like this'. Trouble is, 'things like this' will be different for each and every piece. An answer will really only be appropriate for 'this' excerpt.

Generally, we finger notes in the way we find is best/most effective. That means attempting to keep our available fingers encompassing as many of the notes needed to be played as possible. Changing hand positions when necessary, by using the thumb as a pivot, or wholesale moving of arm/wristhand, thus fingers.

Using the same principles works for double notes, as here, with 3rds, 4ths, 5ths. But, as always, each player's fingers and hand anatomy will vary what actually works best. Those with wider stretches will probably use different fingering from us mere mortals!

So - look at what intervals can be played with minimal movement, repeated notes (like 1st example F - r.h.) won't need a different digit each time. 2nd example, maybe too wide a stretch for everything under the hand, so try 13, 24, 13, 35, 13, 12, where thumb (1) goes 'under' for the 3rd 3rd, and stretches a little to finish the bar's lowest, last note.

As stated earlier, and often, fingering is a very personal thing, and one of the fun bits of practising. One player's perfect fingering can be another's nightmare, and with several options available for each new piece, the best way is to work through all the options (not infinite), until one finds the best for you. All anyone here can do is explore those options (and that's really only for the given examples) and say what they consider to be the best. While not possessing your hands/fingers/flexibility. That's another reason why teachers are considered to be a good option while learning (anything!).

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    I won't downvote since your answer isn't incorrect, but "whatever works best for you" is not a good answer and won't help anyone. People with experience have internalised all kinds of patterns and half-rules which they don't seem to realise anymore. I've been playing piano 8 months now and vividly remember the total cluelessness, while just a few months later I seem to have gained all kinds of insights I can't explain. Yes, it's true, fingering is different for everybody, but there are some guiding and general principles which help beginners. (My advice would be: practice scales!)
    – Creynders
    Sep 3, 2021 at 12:27
  • @Creynders - point taken,and other answers have been specific. I state general principles, and encourage everyone - including beginners - to attempt, at least, to consider just what options may be available to finger certain passages. In answering this case specifically, it doesn't give too many bits of advice about even similar situations, apart from what I suggest. So, I think that answers to this question will be too focussed on this fingering, which will basically help only players who play this piece. Hence my more general answer... cont.
    – Tim
    Sep 4, 2021 at 8:29
  • ...'Whatever works for you' was not a glib statement, but a behest to try out options in attempts to find which works best (in any particular circumstance, not just this one), as even a similar sitiuation in another piece will require different fingering. So, as a beginner, go with the knowledge that on certain instruments - piano in particular, there will be your best way, and it's your task to discover what that may be. Rather than blindly thinking someone else's way must be the best. It probably is - to them. Practising scales will maybe help - but scales in 3rds is pretty advanced !
    – Tim
    Sep 4, 2021 at 8:34

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