First off I am not a conventional musician. I have taken classical lessons in trumpet and some in piano, but have taught myself almost everything I know about music. I have a vast understanding of harmony and theory and know and can notate practically any fairly common scale (ex. major, minor, modes, cosmopolitans, bebop, etc.) I am applying for college as a jazz piano focus and need to relearn all of my major and minor scale fingerings. This is because even though I can play all of the scales to 16th notes at around 160 bpm this is unacceptable to the colleges I am applying to because my technique isn't of a classical standard.

My question is:

Why is the music education system so one-sided in its approach to music, that people with much less talent than myself are considered stronger musicians just because they know the "right" fingerings?

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    What do you have to support your claim in the last paragraph? Because at least where I live, nobody cares about what fingerings you use. Have you actually been to an audition and you were not accepted just because you used the wrong fingerings?
    – nonpop
    Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 21:41
  • I am still preparing for my first audition on the 31st of this month, but I have come into contact with some of the schools I am applying to and they say that the fingerings are an absolute must. Regardless I am going to learn the fingerings, I would just like to know why it is so important to know them. Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 22:46
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    @Spider: Scale fingerings are not just a matter of convention. The two considerations are these: you want to use the same fingers on the same notes as you go from octave to octave, and you want to avoid putting your thumbs on black keys. Since there are seven notes in each scale, and groups of two and three black keys, it therefore stands to reason that each octave has some combination of one group of 123 and one group of 1234 for fingerings, with some exceptions at the start and end.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 3:23
  • @SpiderShlong What fingering a do you use? Can you give some examples? (Say, C major, f minor, g# minor?)
    – 11684
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 7:30

2 Answers 2


Your fallacy here is in thinking that "people with much less talent than myself are considered stronger musicians just because they know the "right" fingerings?"

Listen more closely to what you have actually been told: "they say that the fingerings are an absolute must." Unless you've left something out, they never actually said you are a worse musician for not employing the expected fingerings.

Now, consider the possibility that they are not saying that to you because students who know and employ the standard fingerings are better musicians than you. Perhaps it is simply because they will make better students for that school.

You are applying to be taught by these institutions, at great expense to yourself and indirectly to them, and their classrooms are staffed by instructors whose entire body of knowledge is built upon that standard foundation. In order for them to instruct you most effectively, they need to have a shared frame of reference with you.

When there's a shared agreement about the basic approach, they can focus their attention on more advanced refinements and enhancements to your technique. When there is instead a fundamental disagreement about the basics, the instruction can be sidetracked over arguments about whether your idiosyncratic fingering is more or less effective than the standard. You will likely end up learning less than another candidate, simply because you are not immediately compatible with their pedagogical model.

Now, if you were to say it I would agree with you that the established pedagogical model is not necessarily the best one. It is entirely possible that there are alternate approaches that are more effective. For example, for many years we have known that the Dvorak layout on a typing keyboard is more efficient than the standard QWERTY, but everyone is still taught QWERTY as the standard. And with good reason: the vast majority of the keyboards in the world are QWERTY, so even if the dusty old pedagogy is dated and inefficient, it does make you immediately compatible with the world at large.

The same is true of musical pedagogy: it has its crufty corners, but it still prepares you very well to be compatible with the classical music world at large. If that is something you aspire to, then you're going to have to be prepared to bend your will a bit to accommodate the imposing weight of the classical tradition.

On the other hand, if you are more committed to remaining unconventional, seek out those schools that will support you in your idiosyncrasies, and lose no sleep over those other schools that won't. In communicating to you their insistence on conformity, they are merely doing you the favor of steering you more swiftly to where you truly belong. Thank them for it, and move blithely on.

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    Excellent answer. My personal opinion on this sort of thing is that any musical skill that you can improve at through practice is worth developing, since it can make you a broader musician or at very least give you an additional angle on things.
    – NReilingh
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 5:12
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    I agree that this is a fantastic answer, and I also love your analogy to keyboards. The only issue that I have with this approach to musicianship ; it's outdated, and the majority of the musical world in this day and age doesn't require the common approach to scales (or even an absolute need to know in general). Colleges now are training students to be classical musicians, and I am applying as a sound recording/audio engineering major where the field I will go into has maybe 3 classical recording studios. My issue is more that the way we are taught is better suited for generations ago. Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 3:50
  • This is true...much of the conservatory world presses on with its traditions as the popular music world and the academic music world grow further and further apart. And that reaches far beyond the matter of how technique is taught. All the more reason for any aspiring music student to choose a course that is appropriate for their aspirations, because the paths diverge more dramatically than they once did. Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 4:35
  • A perfect answer. It says to me that maybe the institution you need to attend is NOT the one that insists on 'correct fingering'. If you have taught yourself and play well, the 'academic' side of playing will stultify most of your creativity.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 11:27
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    Skeptical or not, I think the fundamental principle of StackExchange is that we're answering the question, not the questioner. Ultimately this is a reference site, and we are answering to benefit not only the original questioner but everyone else who comes looking for answers to that question. I think a certain amount of asking for context is good, to ensure that we thoroughly understand what is asked and why it is asked, but if it reaches to the point of trying to undermine the questioner's authority, it's an empty effort. Our answer is for more than just one person. Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 14:27

Well, without hearing you play your scales I can't really say. However, if you really play all your scales at that speed (I assume you're saying you play a quarter note per beat, and you're playing 16ths) without wrong notes and evenly, then your scale technique is up there with the professional concert pianists, and better than all but the best. Typical graduate-level students come in playing scales at 144, and work to get them up to 160.

If your talents and technique are as great as you say they are, then you would be a shoo-in at pretty much any of the top schools in the country. You might try Eastman; they have one of the country's strongest jazz programs and I'm sure they would jump at the chance to pick up a jazz student with the virtuoso chops your scale prowess suggests.

I'd be interested in knowing some of your scale fingerings, just out of curiosity. Maybe you'll pick one and share it.

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