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CS student, required to tag a corpus of piano chord exercises.

I understand that for the minor and major triads without inversions, the correct fingerings is always 1-3-5, like for the following: (minor) enter image description here

However, I'm having a harder time with both:

  • Inversions: (are all minors inverted like this? what about majors?)

    enter image description here

  • 7 chords, and 7's inversions:

    enter image description here

Except for A minor, and G7 (which I found here), I need to tag all the other Minor/Major with 1/2 inversions, and 7 Minor/Major with 1/2/3 inversions.

Is there a good source for fingerings for these chords? If not, what rule of thumb can I use to come up with them myself?

  • Having trouble understanding the first chart. – Tim Feb 20 '18 at 17:44
  • @Tim First image is just all of the minor chords. The second image is all inversions of the A minor chord, and respective fingerings – Amit Feb 20 '18 at 17:58
  • But it isn't (first image). Basic triads, major and minor, in root position, will always have the three notes on consecutive lines, or spaces. 1st, 3rd and 5th are good, but some others are skewed. – Tim Feb 20 '18 at 18:02
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    That 4th chord, presumably Ebm, should be spelled Eb Gb Bb. Just 'cos it's on the net don't make it right ! – Tim Feb 20 '18 at 18:14
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    @Amit It's probably worth observing that there are often multiple equally valid ways to play a given passage as well, not just a chord. Shouldn't be a major show stopper, but good to be aware of. – endorph Feb 20 '18 at 21:15
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As we've established, this question is hard to answer because it's hard (impossible?) to define an objectively "correct" fingering. But I do think, for a given player, you can say that some fingerings are better, or more optimal, than others.

An aside: Musicians get touchy about correct usage of sharps and flats. For good reason, too, although it's not immediately obvious to most beginners. It's kind of like replacing the word "the" in every sentence with "coconut". I can eventually understand you, but it makes everything unnecessarily harder. This is not the place for a full explanation, but you can find one elsewhere on this site.

If I read between the lines, you're basically looking for truth data to train your model. I think you might be able to find a better source than static chord fingerings. Why?

  • Because it's so context dependent. For example, if I'm playing root position C Major, I might use 1-3-5. Or I might use 1-2-4, if the next chord is a second inversion F Major.
  • Because a lot of chords aren't major, minor or seventh triads, or inversions thereof.
  • Because it's very dependent on the physical layout of each player. Big hands, different fingerings become optimal. You get the idea.

So, what then? I think your best source of truth data would be to get a series of pianists to play a real piece, and record their fingering. Note that they might actually change what they do on different runs of the same piece. I think this would be a much more "real-world" data source. If you can't get real live keyboard players, YouTube is your friend. Of course, the quality of player may vary.

Without specific knowledge of how you're training this model, this may not be practical advice. But I think you could train it on several different players, and see what comes out. It would actually be really interesting to compare the difference between two training sets. Lots of scope for future work if interested.

Of course, all of this might not work at all. But then you've learnt something. So what's to lose?

  • I think your answers captures best my struggle and explains why my premise is misguided. It is really hard to collect training data from real-world performance (there are some papers on that as well), therefore I optimized a model to look at the progression of the weighted relativity of mass in comparison to the mean, and I am getting great results for monophonic data by just learning exercises. Just adding major/minor chord progressions (50 tagged fingerings), got my model from 78% to 81% (on real-world data), which is a nice bump for this small amount of data – Amit Feb 21 '18 at 9:23
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You'll want to look at hand anatomy, for a question like this concerns ergonomics. You want to play each chord with as little tension as possible. If you look at other instrumental playing techniques similar questions come up. For cello playing positions are understood with the fact that the index(2) and pinky(5) fingers can both stretch from center of the hand, while the middle(3) and ring(4) cannot as reliably stretch away from each other. The ring finger also often supports the pinky, and sometimes the middle finger. When you add in the thumb on a keyboard it can stretch much further away than any of your other fingers, so 1 and 2 becomes a powerful combination for any chord. 5 is usually used as well because it is the furthest away from the thumb.

If you notice in your first example, the root position A minor chord is played 1-3-5 while the first inversion is played 1-2-5. You could play the inversion 1-3-5 but it would unnecessarily force you to stretch your pinky to compensate. Using 1-2 allows the palm of the hand to move further up preventing this. Using 1-2-5 or 1-2-4 or 1-2-3 is possible on the root position chord, but it's an unnecessary stretch for the thumb to do, and it rotates the pinky off the keyboard which can be detrimental to speed.

On your second example with 7th chords 1-2-5 is a given in all of them, because again those are the most versatile of the fingers and prevents stretching on such wide chords. The choice then becomes between 3 and 4, since they tend to be tied together. I find that when fingering the G7 chord it's easy for 1 to stretch between 2, and 2 can also stretch away from 3 easily. 3, 4, and 5 tend to rest over D, E, and F respectively. For the first inversion 1 and 2 are again bringing up the bottom, but this time there is no stretch between 2 and 3 necessary. 3 rests over E while 4 and 5 take up the two adjacent F and G keys. The puts all 4 fingers on adjacent keys while the thumb is the only one skipping a key.

General rules:

  • 3 is the center of the hand.
  • 2 can stretch away from 3.
  • 1 can stretch the furthest away from 2.
  • 4 can't as easily stretch away from 3.
  • 5 can stretch away from 4.
  • 3, 4, and 5 tend to stay close compared to 1 and 2.
  • The more you stretch the further the outside fingers rotate away from the keys (ie a stretched 5 will pull 1 back).
  • The closest fingering is the most efficient by itself, but it depends on the passage.
  • My hands must be deformed ! Thumb to middle finger is 15cm at a comfortable stretch, middle to pinky only 10cm. Hardly the centre! And 4 can stretch more easily from 3 than 5 can from 4 (4 and 5 are not so independent). – Tim Feb 21 '18 at 9:38
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The rule of thumb is simple. What fingers (and thumb) fit best and most comfortably when playing each. Get on that keyboard/piano, and give each a try. Bear in mind that your hand anatomy may not be the same as other people's, so your recommendations won't be 'one size fits all'.

All inversions work :Root, 1st, 2nd, 3rd (if there are 4 notes), with the lowest note determining the name. Root >1 1st inv. >third note of scale, 2nd inv. > 5th note of scale, 3rd inv.> 7th note of scale.

  • While there is no 1 size fits all, and that is understandable because none of these chords stretch over an octave, I doubt there would be a big change. I tried your suggested method, but unfortunately, I can't seem to decide what is most comfortable. For example, for B Major, I seem to like both 135 and 124, and that is just a really basic chord. – Amit Feb 20 '18 at 18:01
  • Also, it is important to explain I have very small piano experience, but I do understand how inversions work – Amit Feb 20 '18 at 18:02
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    So now, you've found there isn't always just one 'correct' fingering! I explained inversions in the answer. – Tim Feb 20 '18 at 18:04
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It's also important to look at the chord in the context of the whole passage. Are you moving quickly from one chord to another? Is this an isolated chord (like the big chord at the end of a piece)? Do you need to have your fingers ready to play a run of single notes after the chord? Experiment and see what fingering gives you the most efficient and/or smoothest action.

  • All chords are played in a progression of 1 bar for each chord, slowly, individually. While I agree it generally depends, I am trying to first find the base values for the model, independent of movement, what are the "best" values. – Amit Feb 20 '18 at 21:41

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