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In Kuhlau Sonatina Op. 55 No. 1, first movement Measure 48 (image), I saw more than one prints suggesting fingers 4-2. I understand it's just a suggestion, but what could be the reason? It would require the hand to shift a little both before and after this double-note, since it was 5-3 for the same note right before, and then the next note E-C would need to change from 3-1 to 4-2 according to the suggestions. Seems to me 5-3 would be the obvious choice?

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    I cannot say exactly why, but after playing the passage on an air-piano, it seems very natural. The hand moves very little and there is no repeated one of the same fingers.
    – ttw
    Apr 1, 2023 at 21:02
  • So maybe it is to keep the hand moving? Apr 1, 2023 at 21:23
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    I would never, ever, play two isolated thirds like this as 53-42. It's just so much easier for the right hand to play 42-31. Apr 2, 2023 at 18:34

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There are two primary options for that pair of chords:

5 - 4
3 - 2

or

4 - 3
2 - 1

However, there is a convention in piano playing — being followed by the editor — that when repeating a note, the finger should change each time.

The idea behind the convention is that

  1. Each finger has a different size, shape, and angle to the keyboard, and thus produces a different sound, giving nuance to repeated notes.
  2. For very fast repeated notes, it can make the repetition easier and quicker.

Of course, it's up to the pianist whether or not to follow the suggested fingering. Personally, I like it, because I find it more comfortable to execute than 53 - 42.

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  • Thanks Aaron. I never thought double notes also follow the convention of using different fingerings for repeated notes. I tried this again and agree with you and ttw it's perfectly fine. Apr 1, 2023 at 22:33
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There can be several reasons. First, each editor will put in the fingering they were trained to use or that felt best in their hands. Secondly, each of your fingers are different lengths, are connected to the hand and radius differently and depending on what notes and position they are coming from and where they are going, that would determine the fingering.

The reasoning for the switch of fingering in this piece, for the repeated notes, is that it is common practice to never use the same finger on the same note twice in a row because that creates tension. If you were playing a single note triplet, say three G's in a row, if you raise the arm from the bicep and allow gravity to play the keys and you employ a forward motion and lower the wrist with each strike, while playing to the point of sound and not pressing into the keybed, you can play the three notes just as fast and effortless because even though you use the same finger you are using different fibers of your tendons and muscles because the arm, wrist and forward motion changes with each note. However, many of us find it easier to play 321 321 321 but you still would want to play with the bicep, gravity, with a little bit of pronation and supination and in and out motions. The fingers are not equal but many teachers try to equalize the fingers with static positioning. That creates immediate tension which many of us get used to. When the arm places the fingers, they all feel the same length and have the same strength.

Fingering is subjective to our training and understanding of physics and ergonomics. Art Tatum famously played blistering fast arpeggios with just two fingers because he placed each finger with his arm, he didn't drag the arm behind the fingers. Lay your arm on a table and with a cloth in your hand, using only your wrist, wipe down the table. OUCH. That hurts immediately. Don't do that. It is called ulnar and radial deviation. Now from your shoulder and elbow, wipe down the table. Notice that it is your arm that is placing the fingers, hand and wrist and they are doing nothing. That is what piano playing should feel like.

Back to playing two notes in a row - your long flexor tendon is in your wrist and that is the tendon that pulls your finger or curls it. Your fingers have no muscle. A tendon is made up of fibers which are bundled up into something like a cable. Then more fibers are bundled up into a cable. Then hundreds of those cables are bundled up into a larger cable and hundreds of those larger bundled cables are bundled up into even larger cables until bundles of bundled bundles form a single tendon. Think of it as speaker wire but more complicated with thousands of more wires. So one end of the tendon attaches to several locations of your finger bones or phalanges. The other end attaches to your muscles in your forearm. Your brain can control your muscles which in turn can pull and fiber or bundles of fibers as needed. Again, if you use the same fibers twice in a row, tension and cramps can ensue, likewise uneven playing. So by making subtle shifts, you can play the same notes but use entirely different tendon fibers each time. The best thing you can do is learn to allow gravity or arm weight to depress the keys then you hardly use your tendons.

Your teacher should know this. If they don't you should find a new teacher for what they DON'T know will hurt you.

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  • Thank you. So there is more than one reason to avoid using the same fingers for repeated notes: sound effect from the keys and muscle/tendon strains. Apr 2, 2023 at 22:31

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