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I'm an intermediate piano player and learning to play Dave Brubeck's Unsquare Dance. I'm doing alright in terms of rhythm and coordinating my hands despite the unusual meter, but I'm really struggling with the fingering in the main phrase.

This is how it is notated in my sheets:

unsquare dance sheets

My problem is right after the triplet: If I follow the fingering indicated by the little numbers, then it seems I would have to play both the C and the A right after with my thumb. That seems physically strenuous and disruptive to the flow of the phrase even at a low tempo.

Am I missing something? How are notes 2 and 3 in the triplet supposed to be played?

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    Could you explain what the problem is with playing the C and the A both with the thumb? The C is staccato. Getting from there to the A shouldn't be strenuous at all, make sure you're actually playing the thumb from the bottom joint like the other fingers, rather than picking it up with the whole hand and dumping it on its next note. Playing the thumb by rotating the whole hand is a common flaw. – user48353 Apr 5 at 21:41
  • Here is a video where somebody plays Unsquare Dance. I suggest you take a look at the fingering. – Xilpex Apr 5 at 21:52
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    @Xilpex The player in that video is not playing the notes in the OP's image. The A at the top of the triplet is not being played. Good job finding the video however. – user48353 Apr 5 at 21:55
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    Thanks both! Yes I saw that video but noticed that the upper A wasn't played. I suppose I'm just not used to playing different notes with the same finger in quick succession; when I play pieces with unspecified fingering I would generally avoid that. The tip about playing more from the joint is great. I guess my question could be broadened to ask how to practice quick thumb movement in general – waltzfordebs Apr 5 at 22:10
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I agree with you that it's not optimal to move the thumb down to play the A. I would use my second finger there the same way it's written in the second measure. Then I would play the A and the D with 2 and 5 before moving my hand to start the second measure. One advantage of this way is that you don't have to learn different fingerings for each of the first two measures.

The second two notes of the triplet can easily be played with 3 and 2 if you use 1 and 5 instead of 3 and 5 on the first two beats of the measure, like in @guest's answer. I think this is a much more natural way of playing them.

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This is just a psychological problem. You think you should be "playing the notes with your fingers" but that ignores the fact that you are really using your whole arm.

You didn't mention the jump at the end of bar 2, between the G with your thumb and the G sharp an octave higher with your 2nd finger. If that doesn't cause you any hang-ups, the much smaller jump from A to C shouldn't be a problem either.

The C is the end of a slur, which means it shouldn't be joined "legato" to the next note, and it also have a staccato dot, which means it should be played a lot shorter than the written length.

You just play the C with your thumb, lift it off the key, and then move your whole arm to the left a bit so exactly the same motion of your thumb then plays the A.

Actually, I don't like the fingering given here for the first bar, and similar places. It's trying to fit the fingers on the notes like a beginner's five-finger exercise, but that leaves your hand and arm unbalanced, because the E-A chord fingered 3-5 is slightly stretching your fingers wider apart than their natural spacing (especially for a young beginner with small hands) but leaving your hand "unbalanced," because the thumb is just hanging in mid air.

The wrong way to learn to play the piece with that sort of fingering is to stiffen up your arm and wrist, to stop your thumb "falling down onto the keys" because it doesn't have anything else to do.

A better fingering gives your thumb some "real work" to do, and makes you use your whole arm to play this. Finger the start

2-51 2-51 51-3-2-1 1-2 1-3 | 2-51 2-51 etc.

The "2 1" fingering right at the start is similar to playing a scale where the 3rd or 4th finger is on a black key followed by the thumb on a white key. To add the 5 on the A, the natural movement is to rotate your forearm, so your hand pivots around the 2 and your 5th finger moves down to hit the key. This is the basic "forearm rotation" playing technique.

It might feel strange at first, but once you get used to the idea, it gets your whole arm moving freely. As you progress that will lead to much less playing fatigue, because you are using the big muscles in your upper arm and shoulder to do the work, not the small ones that move your fingers.

  • How do you know the OP thinks he should play with is fingers and is ignoring his arm? – Michael Curtis May 7 at 20:11

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