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I'm a self-taught pianist. I know how to play all the major and minor scales, so I believe I can progress to modes.

How should I practice modes on the piano? Should I just use the fingering for the corresponding major scale, or are there special fingerings?

For example: In B flat major, technically to be consistent with the way the scale is played you would start on the 4th finger for the right hand, but I have heard it's ok and natural to start on the 2nd. Are there similar cases for modes?

Is there a book that will tell me the mode fingerings, perhaps a free pdf online? I don't have many musical resources at home.

Most importantly, and to reiterate, should I just use the fingering for the corresponding major scale?

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If you can play all major (ionian) and natural-minor (aeolian) scales, you can play already 24 of 84. I think this is a rather big question asking for fingerings of all the left 60 ones. Also we are not talking about melodic or harmonic minor, which have 7 modes too, times 12 times 2 equals 168 modes.

Not to discourage you: With your ability of already playing 24 keys I would say you have a pretty good start.

Also as for the major or minor scales you have quite a few fingerings in common. For example in C major you can play all modes with:

RH: 123-1234(5)-123-1234(5) etc.
LH: 54321-321-4321-321 etc.

As a rule of thumb:

try to avoid the thumb on black keys!

As you play F major on the right hand with: 1234-123-1234-1234 to not get the thumb on the Bb. As you know you can use the same fingering as for c major for the left hand in F major

As you mentioned the fingering for B flat major, you seem to be familiar with those fingerings that in the beginning need a little practice, but you should be able to adapt those to the modes too.

Not to forget:

"Fingering itself is an art, it needs time and practice."

For example: the fingering I wrote for the C major scale makes sense if you play from c to c, but what if you want to go one tone further and play from c to d? It surely depends on the run but here I would go this way:

scale using fingering 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 4 3 2 1

the same applies for the modes too, as soon as you play more complex figures rather then just the scale from one octave to the other you might need to use different fingerings.

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  • Would you recommend I use a book to learn mode fingerings, or can I just figure it out myself and mostly use the major key fingering? – reincarnationofstackexchange Aug 13 '17 at 3:30
  • honestly saying I don't know a book containing fingerings for all modes, I have been searching one for myself and my plan was to make one, but I did not find the time yet. I would say that by adapting the techniques used for playing the major scales you probably get very far. If there is a special mode that you have problems with, just post a new question. Also be aware of the fact that the fingerings used for scales are good practice, but in real music you often need to adapt them to the context. – nath Aug 13 '17 at 12:01
  • That's very surprising - I thought it would be a common thing to find in more advanced music books. Thanks for the pointers! – reincarnationofstackexchange Aug 13 '17 at 20:54
  • @nath Did you get a chance to write that book yet? ;) – robert Jan 1 '18 at 4:04
  • @robert thanks for asking. Straight answer: "NO" :-) I have been working on a bash script that circles you through the "Circle of Fifth" in the time-frame supplied by the user. But, I still have this one here in mind. I have been actually thinking of creating an answer to be edited as "Community Wiki" maybe using LilyPond syntax so one can make any book out of it quite easy. – nath Jan 8 '18 at 2:11
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@nath Already posted a great answer and I don't have much to add. I would like to elaborate on one thing though: at the most fundamental level, scales do not have dedicated fingerings.

@nath eluded to this with the C-D scale. The fingering depends on the context as a whole far more than the particular scale being played. Most scale exercises help to increase skill in 2 things: finger dexterity and fingering intuition. They help to build muscle memory and train your fingers to naturally find a comfortable fingering for whatever you happen to play.

What scale exercises are not meant for is dictating exactly what fingers to use for each key of the scale. The standard fingerings found in most scale exercise books are only there to help build good habits when it comes to fingering.

So, even if there is a book or something out there that explicitly lists out fingerings for every possible scale of every possible mode don't use it. You will be better off, at this point, by using the modes to practice the fingering techniques and guidelines you have picked up intuitively from practicing all of your major and minor scales.

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I'm a self-taught pianist, too. And I am using a book that is more than 100 years old, namely James Francis Cook's Mastering the Scales and Arpeggios. Thousands of students have used this book in order to prepare for the examinations through the decades. It also contains an ingenious method for developing the greatest possible velocity of playing scales by means of so called pier notes (see page 51).

@WillRoss1: you are right with your statement in the first paragraph but if you are learning the scales for the first time you have to stick to a fingering, otherwise you are lost. The fingerings given in the above mentioned book really turned out to be the best for me and I soon was able to predict the fingering that was given in the book. If you really follow the anatomy of the hand there is not much choice, especially if you play multiple octaves.

All Jazzies know that mastering the major scale means mastering all the other six modes. But this is only true when you don't change the fingering! If, however, you change the fingering for all the modes, it will be difficult to remember for a beginner.

For example, take the A♭ major scale which starts with the 3rd finger in the right hand. The corresponding B♭ Dorian minor scale has the same keys as the A♭ major scale. Therefore, this scale begins with the 4th finger at B♭ in order to have the already familiar fingering of the A♭ major scale. The only thing to remember is that the B♭ major scale also begins with the 4th finger on B♭.

Of course, once you are familiar with the keyboard you will choose the fingering automatically and maybe won't follow the rules anymore.

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