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Is it usually a good idea to begin and end piano scales on the same finger? When I looked up "proper" fingering some people seem to recommend that and others didn't. Maybe there are pros and cons to both. What are they?

  • Are you referring to scales as independent exercises, e.g. four octaves of B major ascending then descending, or scale passages in real music? – replete Nov 24 '18 at 4:11
  • It's also unclear what you mean by starting and ending on the same finger. For example, if you play an octave of B major ascending then descending, do you mean the first and last note - both the lower Bs - with the same finger, or do you mean the lower and upper Bs with the same finger? – replete Nov 24 '18 at 4:19
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There's not a short answer to your question. Scale fingerings are a big topic.

I think that scales are taught in an overcomplicated way. They're taught as if all 12 major scales have 12 separate fingerings, and then the fingerings change depending on how many octaves they are. That's a lot to learn.

There's actually only two different scale patterns: The ones where scale degrees 1 and 5 are white keys (C, G, D, A, E), and the other ones. For the first category, the pattern is always:

  Scale degree  1 2 3 4 5 6 7
  RH            1 2 3 1 2 3 4
  LH            1 4 3 2 1 3 2

The use of the 5th finger is merely an optimization, to avoid a cross when you're done going in one direction and are either stopping or going back the other direction.

The other pattern: consider B major:

  Scale degree  1  2  3  4  5  6  7
  Note          B  C# D# E  F# G# A#
  RH            1  2  3  1  2  3  4
  LH            1  3  2  1  4  3  2

We're using all 5 black keys. We use fingers 2 and 3 to go across the two neighboring black keys, and 2, 3, and 4 to go across the three. The thumb goes in the white key gap. Again, any deviation from this is merely an optimization to avoid a cross (in this case, starting at the bottom with 4 in the left hand, and ending at the top with 5 in the right)

We apply the same logic to the other two scales that use all 5 black keys, F♯/G♭ and C♯/D♭. Then, consider A♭ to be exactly the same as these three, but with a G♮. That is, consider playing it with a G♭ and apply the same logic, but then play G♮ instead. Continue around the circle of fifths this way all the way through F.

In fact, if we look at the two fingerings I've written out, the only difference is whether you cross to 4 or 3 first in the left hand. It's entirely reasonable to play the "white key" scales with 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 in the left hand. If you do that, then there's only one pattern, and you merely start in different places for different scales.

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Since a scale is traditionally played ascending then descending, then, yes, it should end on the same finger!

However, if you mean the start finger at the lowest note compared with the finger playing the highest note, usually they're going to differ. Think about playing one octave, then going into the second octave, ideally that second will start with the finger which started originally. But when you reach the highest root note, and there's at least a finger left, you'd use that instead.

The main point for me about scale fingering is to use whatever is best for you. With the caveat that once you find that, always use that same fingering. Scale finger patterns are only a guide. They may suit you and your hands, but we're all different in finger length, articulation, flexibility.

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No. The obvious example is C major. 123,12345. (That's not the only possible fingering, but it's a perfectly good one.) If continuing, you turn 1 under so that the second octave is fingered the same as the first. But at the top, there's no point in end on anything except 5.

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Your question could mean a number of things:

  1. When playing a scale, only going up: I’m not sure why a C major scale (123,12345) would end on a 1.

  2. When playing a scale, going up and down: Definitely. Any scale (123,12345,54321,321 or 1234,1234,4321,4321) would logically end on the same finger.

  3. Playing scales in multiple octaves: This meaning isn’t likely, but yes. Playing multiple C major scales in a row should start each new scale with the same finger (123,1234,1...). This applies to nearly, if not all scales.

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It depends where you are going and where you are coming from. At least in executing the performance of a piece which contain scales. But if you are talking about a simple octave scale, up and down, it is very natural to wind up on the starting finger. Personally I am not a slave to fingering because I play from the arm and can afford unorthodox fingering.

Just look at the fingering of some of the world's greatest jazz pianists. Art Tatum famously played huge scales and arpeggios with just two or three fingers. Adam Makowicz, Oscar Peterson, all of these people were arm players and were able to execute notes most of us struggle to emulate because we are playing by the rules and the masters found ways to break them. ACTUALLY, they are playing by the rules of physics and we are playing by the rules of teachers who teach what they were taught. Physics wins every time.

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In practical terms you need to "use the same finger" if you play the scale past the octave. That is why you see that fingering in some methods.

When fingering a scale passage you really have two main considerations:

  • the standard fingering of the scale
  • what notes come before and after the passage in question

Basically, you deviate from the standard finger as necessitated by the fingering needs of what comes before or after.

...begin and end piano scales...

It seems clear you are talking about practice drills of scales.

Now you should consider what is the purpose of the drill.

Let's consider two scales in the right hand: B flat major and C major, both starting on the tonic and both spanning only one octave.

The standard B flat fingering would have finger 4 on the tonic B flat.

The standard C fingering would have finger 1 on the tonic C.

However, it can be convenient to start the B flat scale at the bottom with finger 2 then when ascending the octave using finger 4 at the top B flat.

Similarly, the C scale ascending could be ended using finger 5 for the top C.

But, again, what is the point of the drill?

  • preparation for 2 or 3 octave scales?
  • memorizing the standard fingering?
  • passing the thumb under?

If the drill is for purposes such as those, consider not using the fingering conveniences above. Otherwise, you are not performing the motion for the critical purpose of the drill.

The other general bit of advice is to practice alternate fingerings. Don't look for the correct fingering, because in real music (not practice drills) you often have to choose fingerings from a number of options.

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