I wonder how are melody fingerings decided and suggested, especially in beginner books. I want to explain this with context and example.

I am 50 and being taught (for few months now) by a fairly good tutor and one of the books is "John Thompson Teaching Little Fingers to Play" (embarrassing, right? :-) ). I am finishing the book now and one of the pieces is "My Bonnie". A very easy piece, but with a confounding finger suggestion.

I am attaching that part of the score which perplexes me. What is the reason for playing the C with left thumb here right after playing it with the right thumb?!! It is creating major confusion. And I don't see any subsequent fingering which may benefit from this change.

Any kind soul who may help with some comments and clarifications?

"My Bonnie" excerpt

3 Answers 3


I think this is more because of some general decisions Thompson made about pedagogy, than for "musical" reasons. For example there is no reason why a more advanced player couldn't play all the notes in this piece with one hand - either right or left.

Probably Thompson decided that, at this stage, there should be no notes below middle C played with the right hand, and no notes above middle C played by the left. That certainly makes the music easier to read for a complete beginner, since the only leger line in the notation is the unavoidable middle C, but there is no particular musical justification for it, and of course most music not arranged for beginners doesn't have that restriction.

There is no musical reason why you shouldn't play the bars circled in red with the fingering 4 3 2 | 2 1 2 | 3 all with the right hand, for example - except that using both hands alternately, as printed, may be a better technical exercise to practise at this stage.

Playing a note with one hand, immediately followed by the same note with the other hand, is common enough. Beginners have to be introduced to it sooner or later, though this example is a fairly artificial situation for using it.

  • Thank you!! Very useful indeed. I understand every bit of what you said. I am trying to persevere through my irritation, but it's unnecessarily slowing down my progress through an otherwise easy piece. And instead of focusing on the main objective of the piece, which is a start on the weak note, this is taking my attention away.
    – Subir Nag
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 4:10

Apparently the editor is trying to avoid any shift in arm position, thinking that this would confuse their young learners. Having assigned the three first notes to 3-2-1 of the right hand, this means that the right hand couldn't play the B, so the entire next bar was assigned to the "strong" fingers of the left hand.

It turns out that you find overlapping hand positions more confusing than shifting positions. That's unfortunate, but the editor cannot foresee the pupils' individual reactions, only guess.

  • That is an interesting and useful perspective, although I don't see any really perceptible arm shift for that one note. Moreover, having assigned G-A-B to the 3-2-1 of left hand" how does he want the pupil to play the C with right hand? For an average right handed players, the brain is suited to do more things with the right hand, than the left. Thus in my opinion and experience, the right thumb moving to B is easier than left thumb playing the C, right after the right thumb playing it.
    – Subir Nag
    Commented May 1, 2017 at 4:02

In addition to the other answers, it's worth addressing the issue of why different hands play the middle C. After all, it would be straightforward to play all middle Cs with the right hand, reserving the left hand for only the B.

The reason for the switch is related to musical phrasing. The E-D-C and C-B-C each can be treated as a single gesture. The E-D-C "gesture" is three notes moving downward one step and a time. Repeating the C "interrupts" this gesture, but starts a new "down and back" motion. That's why it makes sense to switch hands at that point.

It also matches the musical meter: 3/4. The right hand is responsible for one measure, then the left hand is responsible for one measure. For a beginning level pianist, this also better promotes the flow of the music than the alternatives.

Although a teacher might not explain this level of phrasing to a beginning student, it's built into the method so that some fingering/phrasing intuition can begin to develop.

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