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In the book "300 Progressive Sight Reading Exercises for Piano", we're taught to put our right thumb on "middle C" and the left pinky finger on "lower C". But exercise #25 is this:

Exercise #25 has a lower B

Now I have two choices:

  1. I can move my right thumb to play the B note, OR
  2. I can start the piece with my index finger on middle C

When playing for the first time, I automatically moved my thumb to hit B. But then I saw a video on Youtube where the guy uses method (2) and places his finger on C instead!

So which is it? Piano threads on this forum asking the same question usually gets replies saying "Everyone's hands are different" or "There's no right way to play". This is not helpful advice! I have to use either one, or the other. Which one would you use, and why?

Edit: If you recommend (2) by placing the index finger on middle C, what will you do when a "G" suddenly appears? You'll have to reach out with your pinky finger to play it. Or will you shift your entire hand position back to "thumb on C"?

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    I guess the "progressive" sight reading book is focusing on you being able to make fingering choices yourself as you sight-read, but a method book would typically guide you through these choices, starting with thumb on C and eventually introducing a different hand position. By the way, note that fingering choices are themselves a skill that will grow "progressively." The choices you make today and the way you make them might be different than they will in a few years. Oct 7 at 17:18
  • @AndyBonner Thanks for the response! But are all fingering choices equal? My instinct is to just cross my index finger over my thumb for the B note. How do I know what will cause me trouble later for the same piece of music? I mean right now, it's so simple I can probably play the whole piece with just one finger. But no-one will say that's ok! So what are the guidelines? Edit: What's a method book? Oct 7 at 17:25
  • By “method book” I mean a book that focuses on teaching you everything about how to play an instrument. From its title, it sounds like the book you’re using just focuses on the skill of sight-reading. There are several popular series of “piano methods”; in the Alfred series, for example, the books marked “Lesson” are the core instructional books. Oct 7 at 18:20
  • If this weren't a lesson specifically teaching the use of the other hand to play the note, I'd say it doesn't matter so much, since there is otherwise nothing for the left hand to do. In most music, the left hand is occupied with its own notes and might not be available to play those notes. (If it were expected to play those with the left, they'd generally be marked in such a way to make that clear.) But this being a training exercise, they probably have good reasons for telling you to do that, which might become more apparent in later lessons. Oct 8 at 13:10
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Especially when sight-reading, it's helpful to look ahead and plan your fingering. In this case, with such a short piece, it's easy to see that the B is the lowest note and G is the highest. (So we can't pick any one hand position that gives one note to each finger. We'll have to either do some stretching, or move our hand at some point.) We can also notice that there are two of those Bs in the first line and one near the end, and only one G in the piece, at the start of the second line, so maybe we'll need to move just before that G. We even have time to imagine trying out certain options before we start.

(With the disclaimer that my primary instrument is violin): I would start with 2 (index finger) on C, to be prepared for those Bs. I would prefer not to move my 1st finger (thumb) from C to B, simply because any time you play two notes in a row with the same finger, it creates a small gap between the notes as you move.

At the end of the first line, once we've gotten the Bs out of the way, I would prepare for the G by switching from 2 to 1 (from index to thumb) for the pair of C half notes. Finally, now that I have 1 on C, I'd be inclined to handle the final B by crossing my 2nd finger over my 1st as you describe (so that the last two measures are "3 2 1 2 1"). There are other valid options, including using a 4 for the E at the start of the next-to-last measure.

So why didn't I just cross over for the first "B" in the piece? Well, if we started with 1 on C, then the fingering of the second measure would be 1, cross over 2... then... 2 again for the D? That's even more awkward than moving 1 - 1 for adjacent notes. Sometimes, when sight-reading, we find ourselves having to live with awkward fingerings because we didn't notice what's coming, but it's helpful to look at least a few notes ahead and prepare. As you gain skill and familiarity it will become more and more unconscious.

By the way, let's address some of the non-answers you've gotten before when asking about "the best fingerings": Are all fingerings equal? No, of course not. You make a great example: yes, you could play the whole thing with one finger, but that would be an objectively bad fingering. Are some fingerings equal? Sure. Especially at more advanced levels, there are often multiple ways to solve technical challenges, or fingering choices that might rely on personal expressive decisions. But at more beginning, foundational levels, there are often simple, objective reasons that the most obvious fingering is the right choice. If this were a violin piece and was intended for a first-year student, I could confidently say there would be only one "right" fingering (although a more advanced student could well choose other options for expressive purposes).

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    This is exactly the right answer, IMO, but one criticism: I think you've buried the lead. The switch from finger 2 to 1 on the repeated C is the key to the solution and should be made more prominent.
    – Aaron
    Oct 7 at 19:02
  • Thanks for this! I guess I always thought of sight-reading as something you do blind, otherwise it's "cheating". But even so, it's a lot of thought I'm going to have to get used to! Oct 7 at 19:10
  • @BhagwadJalPark When I judge auditions that include a sight-reading challenge, we allow auditioners to take a little while to look over the piece before starting (and this would often be a longer passage, like at least half a page). But all the time, especially as your reading skills get stronger, you give some part of your brain to what you're playing right this second, but some part (and your peripheral vision) to noticing what's coming in a measure or two! Oct 7 at 19:13
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    @BhagwadJalPark it gets better. You'll recognize more and more situations/patterns and the various ways you handled them in the past. Until at a certain point you'll notice that for the easy stuff, you won't even need to "think" about it, you just automatically "know".
    – Creynders
    Oct 8 at 10:27
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    @BhagwadJalPark In the sight-reading part of ABRSM exams, candidates are "given half a minute to look through and, if they wish, try out all or any part of the test before they are asked to play it for assessment". Doesn't sound like a lot, but it is very different from 'blind'
    – AakashM
    Oct 8 at 13:24
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Working out your optimum fingering is always going to be part of the practice regime.

Couple of points that crop up, referencing this particular piece.

The thumb is usually the most mobile of all the digits - it'll stretch further left and right than the others (although its length gives it other disadvantages).

So, it would follow that using it on C as a base (yes, base) note would work well, as when B comes along, it'll stretch down that extra key, no problem. Physically, all is well.

However - that then produces a problem. The C note prior needs to be held until that B is played. As a beginner, one may not even notice, but what has to happen is the C note played with thumb has to be let go, in order to play the B next. So the C gets cut off a little early. It'll sound like a mini-mistake. In bars 3/4 the same thing will happen.

So a solution is needed, to keep the playing smooth. That's where moving the hand to its left, meaning there's enough digits to cover the keys, will help. Still one-note-per-digit, but meaning at some point, probably bar 4, those Cs will be played using the index finger - or, if you like, play the 1st with index, and the 2nd with thumb, restoring the hand to its original position. But that then will depend on what's coming next...

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For what it's worth, I'd start with 2 on C. In bar 4, play the first C with 2 and the second one with 1. Then, play the E at the beginning of bar 7 with 4.

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