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I have a question about piano teaching / learning.

I am a beginner, older student, working through grade 1 ABRSM piano. I know theory (key sigs, note letters, chords, intervals) from rhythm guitar and being a nerd, but I am not at all fluent with notation (lines and dots). When I stumble on a piece, my teacher wants to write all the finger numbers on the score, including very obvious intervals like a third with no hand position change.

I hate that because I stop reading the notes and just play to the finger numbers. He says it's better because I can learn how the piece should feel and sound first without tripping over notation issues. I think it's more important to learn to sightread, but I will never learn if I memorize pieces relying on basically tablature (yuck!).

What is the experience of other piano learners? Is there a standard approach?

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If fingering is written down, what stops you from disregarding it if you want to sight read ?

I think your teacher's approach is good and common, and even invoked by Jean Fassina, who spread the Polish school teachings (Chopin, Liszt, Paderewsky). There are few videos about the benefits of this careful fingering:

Michel Beroff about Jean Fassina

Jacques Rouvier about Jean Fassina

Chopin believed that each finger has its own personality, and indeed there are medical and anatomical arguments to support that.

Therefore the fingering can be very important to be able to reach a better sound, and higher ease.

There is another argument for writing down the fingering: stability of movement ie., you use the same fingering each time. This increases your learning speed, and this helps you memorize a good movement, and this helps you to go back to what you were doing if you come back to the piece a long time later ie., enough to have you forget your fingering.

In Godowsky études, you'll see that the author wrote down at least one fingering for almost each note. This is part of Godowsky's way to play the piano, it's also very helpful to find faster the right movement, because indeed it is not obvious at all to do the "right" or the most optimized movement.

In Liszt's études transcendantes (eg., Wiener universal edition), you'll be able to see Liszt's fingering, but he did not write every finger on every note, rather when there is a need, maybe a requirement (eg., 42/42/24/24/42/42 in Mazeppa's theme) or a notable trick or finger technique.

In my professional practice, I write down the fingering for those reasons, and eventually at some point, I may change the fingering because the new one is really allowing something that was not comfortable before. I do/did that several times with Stravinsky's Petrouchka, Liszt's études transcendantes, or even Godowsky's études.

Hence I advise you to accept his fingering, and to focus on notes, and if you need to practice your sight reading, to find other scores or to focus on the notes and not the written fingering.

For memorizing, you should not ever rely on your fingers only, but notes and the result of your analysis (eg., tonality, degree, modulations, patterns, etc). In the end you'll have to memorize all of those aspects, despite the hierarchy of importance.

My pieces of advice are the same wether you are beginner or professional.

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Teachers and students and anyone playing piano each differ, of course, in their approaches to learning pieces and learning sight-reading, with some teachers or students treating both the same, and some treating them differently. It sounds like your teacher might be overly rigid in this regard.

One approach you could take is to separate the music you learn with your teacher from the music you use for sight-reading practice. You can do things your teacher's way for your in-lesson music, and you can do things your way for sight-reading.

It's fine to write in cues, such as finger numbers or note names, to whatever degree is helpful to reach your goals. In general, whether they are present for every single note or just a few, simply writing them and repeatedly seeing them in conjunction with the notation will sink in over time to the point where you won't need them anymore, provided you exercise some minimum discipline in keeping an eye on the staff.

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    In my experience, sight reading practice material pretty much has to be separate from all other rep to be effective. May 23, 2023 at 19:05
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First thing to do is discuss this with teacher. Who may have always used this idea, or who feels that it's the best for you. Teaching and learning is a two way thing, and student ought to be able to talk candidly with teacher about any issues that are concerning.

I understand that with the numbers, it's similar to tab, but learning a piece is rather different from sight-reading.

Sight-reading is being able to look at the dots and translate them into music pretty quickly. Learning a piece is getting inside it, and, in your case, preparing it for performance in an exam. Very different. Practising the same piece time and time again, after establishing what the notes are. From the end point of this exercise, saving time and effort just mechanically learning the dots has its merits - and it's not sight-reading.

This is probably the goal teacher is aiming for - to get the pieces learned more quickly, so as to concentrate more on a polished delivery. Which, after all, is what's expected in an exam.

As long as teacher doesn't do the same when teaching sight-reading, which would be folly, then keep the two skills separate, because that's just what they are - separate skills!

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I take the approach that fingering markings should be reserved for the places where you need it. I agree with you that you want to be reading/looking at the notes, not the fingerings. Use markings as a reminder where you'd be inclined to use another fingering--perhaps one that at first reading feels more natural for your current hand position--but where you need a different fingering because, for example, you are transitioning to a new hand position. Gradually, these "preparatory" fingerings will become more "natural" to you and you'll be able to omit most of them, too.

Marking the fingering for every note could be a good exercise for a beginner in a few pieces, but IMO it is redundant with the principle of five-finger hand positions, which form the basis of scales and piano playing in general.

Even when the composer or editor has indicated a fingering, it is more often than not omitted in repeat and analogous passages. They assume you've gotten the idea, i.e., the reasoning or principle behind the fingering and you can apply it to the rest of the piece. Of course, you can also add it in yourself where you need reminders.

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