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I realize that fingering is a complex topic. But are there any simple rules that a beginner can start with?

EDIT: This question was originally marked as a duplicate of this question I realize now that I can't position my hands solely based on the key of the song. But that doesn't tell me if there are other basic rules that can be used.

I can sight-read and play the chromatic harmonica fairly well. I want to start learning piano/keyboard. I know that if I worked my way through some beginner books, like Alfred's or Aaron's, I would eventually pick up tips on fingering. But I would much rather learn by just playing the tunes I can already sight-read on harmonica.

My main problem is that I have no clue where to place my fingers when I start to play. Let's assume we are talking only about the right hand for the melody.

Should I first find the lowest and highest notes in the first few measures. Then position my hand to be able to play most or all the notes without moving my hand. But what if there is a 6 or 7 note range? Do I position finger 1 (my thumb) over the next to lowest note because it's easier to stretch that finger than finger 5 (my pinky)? Or should I do something else entirely?

As some concrete examples, take these Beatles tunes:

I Saw Her Standing There. Key of C. The notes in the verses range from a lowest of C4 to a highest of F5b. In the first 6 measures, they range from G4 to C5.

When I'm Sixty Four. Key of Bb. The notes in the verses range from a lowest of B4b to a highest of D5. In the first 6 measures, they range from C4# to D5

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2 Answers 2

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Some general fingering tips (fingertips?):

  • Don't stretch. If two notes are too far apart to easily move from one to the other, just move your entire hand (and arm).
  • If a stretch is required, it's best to involve the thumb if possible. The thumb has the most freedom of movement. A brief test: play middle C and the F above middle C together. First try fingers 1 and 3; then try fingers 4 and 5 or 2 and 3. Must easier to create space with the thumb.
  • Play on the angled part of the finger between the tip and the pad. Playing directly on the tip of the finger creates tension, and playing on the pad limits movement.
  • When playing a series of more than five consecutive notes upward, pass the thumb under one of your fingers to extend the range. So, for example: 1-2-3-1-2-3 gets you six notes.
  • Similarly, when moving downward, pass the hand over the thumb. For example: 3-2-1-3-2-1
  • It does help to note the small-scale range of a passage so that you can place your hand advantageously to accommodate the notes without stretching. (The range of an entire piece in generally not relevant, but observing local rise and fall can be very helpful.)
  • Repeated notes are a perfect opportunity to reposition the hand. A downward passage like E-D-C-C-B-A-G-F could be played 3-2-1-5-4-3-2-1, playing the first C with one, and the second C with 5.
  • Rests are also opportune moments to reposition.
  • Place the hand according to groups of notes that easily fit within the span, and "block" where the hand needs to be at different point in the music. Similar to choreography: block out the various hand positions so that groups of notes can be played efficiently and moves between groups practiced effectively.
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  • When starting to play the next musical phrase, is it a sensible rule of "thumb" to position one's thumb on the lowest note in that phrase. Apr 9, 2023 at 1:09
  • @JohnPankowicz If the notes are reasonably close together, yes. But if the phrase covers a wide span, and starts at the high end of that span, for example, then you'd be better of playing your pinky at the top of the phrase.
    – Aaron
    Apr 9, 2023 at 1:12
  • @JohnPankowicz I've added a bullet that addresses this in a broad way.
    – Aaron
    Apr 9, 2023 at 1:14
  • Thanks. Your tips make a lot of sense. For the one about repeated notes, I assume you mean only in cases where the repeated note is tied, correct? Otherwise I would think a large jump of 1-5 for C-C would throw ones rhythm off. Apr 9, 2023 at 1:35
  • @JohnPankowicz Tied notes, too, but I meant where the same key is played two or more times consecutively. It’s a good opportunity to shift hand position by using different fingers. It needn’t be 1-5. It could be 3-2 or 1-4. It just depends on the musical need.
    – Aaron
    Apr 9, 2023 at 1:57
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Get note cards and have the student lean and memorize them. This will help in learning what each note/chord is.

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  • Welcome to Music.SE, Isaac. I would suggest you fully read our tour and How to Answer pages to understand what we need in an answer post, and why your posts are being downvoted and flagged.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    May 1, 2023 at 7:31

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