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I always find it difficult to play pentatonic scales on a keyboard. For example, I have been trying to play a scale containing the following notes:

F G G# A# D.

(I am not sure about the scale name, but it is similar to F melodic minor)

I am not sure what fingers should be used for each note in ascending and descending for the right hand.

Can anyone help?

  • As a side-note to this question, when writing out a scale you should never repeat note names. This means that the notes should be written as: F G Ab Bb D. Just something to keep in mind :-) – James Whiteley Aug 9 '18 at 8:19
  • It is a pentatonic scale (5 notes) but neither the major or minor. – Tim Aug 9 '18 at 8:59
  • @JamesWhiteley - that falls apart a little when writing out a blues scale, major or minor. #4 or b5 needs a repeat of letter name. Ah, the blues! – Tim Aug 9 '18 at 11:13
  • @Tim alas, all rules start to fall out of the window when you start to include blues notes. Ah, the blues.. – James Whiteley Aug 9 '18 at 16:16
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Pentatonic scale has only 5 notes instead of the regular 7 note scales. This means that you will move your wrist more often when playing this scale back and forth.

The notes you mention don't represent the classic pentatonic on F, since you have a 2nd (G) and a 6th (D). Minor pentatonic for F should consist of intervals 3rd minor (Ab), 4th perfect (Bb), 5th perfect (C) and 7th minor (Eb).

For the notes you mention, I would use fingers 1, 2 and 3 for F, G and Ab, then move the wrist so you can use again fingers 1 and 3 (or 4) for Bb and D, then move the wrist again to start over on the next octave. It should be the same when going back down, probably using finger 3 for D.

Please note that when I say "move the wrist" it doesn't mean that it has to be rigid or fixed when playing, it should flow with the ascending or descending order of the notes, but usually when you need to move foward the 1st finger over a depressed 2nd, 3rd or 4th finger, you will need to do a slightly fast movement of the arm.

You can practice a pentatonic minor scale if you just focus on the black keys, these represent the pentatonic minor for D#. The scheme is the same, first 3 keys on one go, then the remaining 2 starting with finger 1 again. If you add the augmented 4th you will have the blues minor (adding A between G# and A#).

  • 'Blues pentatonic' with six notes?! – Tim Aug 9 '18 at 9:13
  • @Tim true, corrected. – EzLo Aug 9 '18 at 9:15
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I'm going to disagree with EzLo's answer suggesting the thumb on Bb, or repeating 3 on Ab and Bb.

To play this as a scale you want to follow the basic principle of all scale playing, which is to keep you thumb off the black notes. The most natural place for your thumb is either side of the two black notes - i.e. on G and D.

Of course you can (and probably should) change this at the start or end of a scale. It would be perverse to start an ascending scale from F with the fingering 2 1 2 3 1 etc, with your thumb on G, when you could just as easily play 1 2 3 4 1 etc, and then continue the "standard" fingering with thumb on D and G.

  • Why would it be perverse to start with 2 on F? If that is the most comfortable way of playing the scale smoothly, then that is the correct fingering. I would play this 21231 (if continuing another octave; if not, ending on 5.) Thinking of a Bb major chord arpeggio, I find it much easier to move from 3 on the Bb to 1 on the D, rather than 4 to 1, which would happen if one started this scale 12341 rather than 21231. Of course, each person's hands are different. The fingering is not only about smoothness, but about comfort for the hand and the avoidance of over-stretching. – Heather S. Aug 9 '18 at 10:20
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    I absolutely agree there isn't "only one right way" to finger anything. I guess the 3-1 or 4-1 issue with Bb-D depends to some extent on whether you are a "thumb over" or "thumb under" devotee of scale playing (but let's not start an argument about that!) – user19146 Aug 9 '18 at 10:48
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You ask several players, and get several different answers. There is rarely an absolute way to finger anything. Each player has his own way to make it easy/sound smooth. One simple hint, as alephzero reminds us, is to try to keep the thumb off any black keys, as it's very short, and doesn't do that job as well as longer fingers. Sometimes, though, that's impossible. I encourage students to come up with a logical fingering for anything they might be playing. Learning the fingering for a scale is great for that scale, but doesn't really set you up for much you may play in the future.

So, look at what options are available to you, and when you find a good one, stick with it. I could give my version, but unless your fingers/hands are just like mine, you may well think it's a rubbish answer!

After all, part and parcel of practice time is to make things work for you. And figuring out fingering is a pivotal part of that.

All that apart, try playing this unusual pentatonic as a bass pattern, starting on Bb, going Bb D F G Ab G F D. Does it sound familiar?

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