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I'm practising sight-reading using https://sightreading.training/ which randomly generates notes for practice.

If I'm practising in the key of C Major, should I stick to C Major scale fingering/hand positions? Or is it okay to mix it up?

I find if I stick to the hand positions in the scale then I can find the notes very quickly without looking because I know which finger they are under based on my current hand position.

But I also find that there are patterns that are more difficult to play by forcing myself to stick to scale fingering. For example, A-D-A-E requires me to cross over my thumb for every note.

Whereas if I moved my thumb to A it would be much easier to play but of course I can no longer rely on my hands being in one of the two C Major scale positions.

Is there a correct method, or is it just a matter of finding what's comfortable?

Edit: To be clear I'm not asking if I should stick to scale fingering religiously, More if I should be using the hand positions (1 on C or F) primarily and veering with individual fingers when necessary, or if they're just a crutch and I should just let go of the scale hand positions entirely unless I'm actually playing part of a scale.

Note: I realize this app isn't ideal/perfect because the notes are scrolling and it isn't really music/rhythmical but this question still applies to any other method

  • The next step after knowing which note is under which finger in the 'default' position, is moving up or down, while still knowing which finger is on which key. I don't know the website, but I assume you are supposed to move your hand around to be able to play the upcoming notes comfortably. – MeanGreen Oct 1 at 13:56
  • So to summarize: Learn the 'default' and then learn to veer from the default when necessary? – Leigh Bicknell Oct 1 at 14:01
  • there is no such thing as a default position – Legorhin Oct 1 at 18:16
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When sight-reading, your long-term goal should be learning to read and play entire phrases of music, not individual notes. What fingering choice is practical for a specific note might be completely different depending on the phrase. For example:

sight-reading example

I don't think you would try to play the highlighted D note with any other finger than the thumb of your right hand, because of the D - B jump after it?

As far as I can see, a scale fingering is made so that you can play the scale as a "phrase". Use that fingering pattern where it makes sense. :) Your piano teacher and books can probably give more concrete guidelines, but I think you'll learn which fingerings work and which don't for different phrases, when you sight-read a lot.

What is a phrase? Definitions vary somewhat, but in general it's about larger, musically meaningful lines. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrase_(music)

The point is that you should select your fingerings so that the end-result is musically meaningful. Your hand and finger movements should be fluent and not create unnecessary gaps and discontinuities at places where it's not musically sensible. If you think that the music is a poem or a paragraph of text, you should place your punctuation in the right spots. Not between, the wrongwordsbecause, itdoes not, makesen, smusical, ly.

Disclaimer: I'm not a piano teacher. (IANAPT)

  • How big is a phrase? Does that depend more on your skill level or the layout of the notes? For example, would a beginner consider the first 4 notes a phrase whereas an advanced player the entire bar? Or are phrases divided by hand movements... so each time you move your hand you start a new phrase? – Leigh Bicknell Oct 1 at 15:11
  • I don't necessarily believe your last sentence! – Tim Oct 1 at 15:37
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    @Tim I'm a little cautious when making claims about proper piano technique. My wife has had proper classical piano training, and she says I do many things wrong. In piano playing, I mean. (nowhere else of course) – piiperi Oct 1 at 15:53
  • Not belittling classical piano playing technique (I did it for years) I don't believe there's only one good technique on any instrument. Look at many different 'good' players, and while there are certain things in common, there's a lot of differences too. So 'wrong' may well not be the best word to use. Quote me if you like (or dare!). And don't encourage dv-ers. Please. – Tim Oct 1 at 16:01
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    @Legorhin I would go with 1 2 4 1 5 ... :) The point is that each phrase needs its own fingering decision, and the recommended scale fingerings have been made for scale runs as the phrases or phrase segments or whatever. There are scale runs in many actual pieces, so the scale fingerings will be useful as well. – piiperi Oct 1 at 18:43
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From your question, and the subsequent edits, it is clear you have no idea how fingering on the piano works. I think you have the impression like many beginners do that piano playing starts from a fixed five finger position (like 'C-position' or 'G-position') and then veers out of that.

In reality, in most piano-music (that is a bit more complicated than absolute beginner repertoire), it is not like that. There are no real rules: any finger can be used on every pianokey, you just have to choose the fingers that:

  • are at that moment the most comfortable to produce the sound you need, and

  • consider your hand position in relation to the notes that come before and after it.

I think the sort of app you are using right now is excellent to learn the names of the notes and where they are on the keyboard. A very useful skill to have when learning to (sight)read!

BUT, the app, or even only sightreading in general, is not very useful, maybe even counterproductive, to learn actual fingering (or making music out of sheet music). I would recommend using a lot of repertoire at or below you level to learn that (like method books or beginner repertoire collections). The essential fingerings will be indicated, you will have to 'fill in' (with pencil in the score or only in your head) the rest of the fingerings. You learn a lot doing this.

After a while you will see chunks of notes and have an idea how to finger them (especially because music written for piano will be written to be playable with your hands and fingers)

  • "I think you have the impression like many beginners do that piano playing starts from a fixed five finger position (like 'C-position' or 'G-position') and then veers out of that" Thank you, this was the essence of the question. "Do you start with the fixed five finger positions for the scale in the key you are playing and veer out from there as necessary, or do you just 'wing it until it works'?" – Leigh Bicknell Oct 2 at 9:12
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    When really sight reading (trying to play immediately from a score with little preparation) you 'wing it until it works', altough with experience you are able look ahead and look at the notes in chunks and adapt you hand position at that. – Tim H Oct 2 at 9:25
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    But, that's not how learned repertoire works. This is music you had the chance to prepare and practice, until you can play it almost perfectly. For this sort of music you choose your fingering beforehand (you pencil it in) and you practice it only with the fingering you decided. This sort of work is very useful to learn to choose your fingering while sight reading. – Tim H Oct 2 at 9:29
  • I fully agree, this app is not for sight reading but to learn the notes, two completely different things. – Albrecht Hügli Oct 2 at 9:54
  • Also -'consider your hand position in relation to the notes that come before it'. – Tim Oct 2 at 10:22
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Scales fingerings are for scales. Which only get played in practice time and exams. They're designed to allow flowing movement of the hand/fingers.

Pieces rarely contain scales - maybe partial scales, but even then, they won't necessarily start and finish as they do when playing 'proper' scales.

So, although it's comforting at the moment to do what works for you, very soon, it will trip you up. Often, lines of music spread out wider than the 5 fingers you use, and crossing like you do for a scale just won't be convenient. Better to keep your fingers over enough notes that there's little lateral movement required, but get used to stretching past those points when you have to.read ahead, and try to ascertain where a good placing for the whole hand would be for the next phrase or so.Sometimes the finger will stretch past the 5 notes you're over, sometimes they'll need to squash right up.

But don't stick with the scale fingering idea - it doesn't work - for most players. As a simple example to sway you - imagine playing a run C D E F G F E D C. Right hand. Would you really swap thumb onto that F, play G with index, then flick over your middle finger to play the E again?

EDIT: even if you are playing part of a scale, there's no need to actually use those specific fingers as you would in the scale itself. it depends more on where you came from and where you're going. it may be appropriate, more likely not. Instead, just get used to the fact that scale fingerings are for scales, and other fingerings (and that's part of the fun of learning) are what they are at the point in the music. Eventually, it'll happen spontaneously, but at other points, you'll have to stop and work out, finger by finger, what's best for you and your hands with the music at that time. After 60+ yrs, I still have to dissect what happens sometimes. Each piece has its own challenges!

  • Dvs intrigue me! What's the reasoning? – Tim Oct 1 at 15:36
  • With the CDEFGFEDC, no I wouldn't swap my thumb because I can reach all of those keys from the 1st position of the C major scale. My question was more about whether I should veer from these positions or not. I'll edit my question to make this more clear. – Leigh Bicknell Oct 2 at 7:46
  • My point was that yes, of course you can reach all these, but not from the 1st position of C major scale. Playing that, necessitates moving thumb onto F. – Tim Oct 2 at 7:48
  • I understood your point, but I think I wrote the question a little vague in that regard. From the 1st position of a C major scale, F can be reached with the 4th finger can't it? It can't be reached without a crossover if using the EXACT C major scale fingering, but as I said my question was poorly worded. See the edit i've made for clarity :) – Leigh Bicknell Oct 2 at 7:58
  • When you edit, I'll try to answer that question! – Tim Oct 2 at 7:59
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In my opinion it doesn't make a lot of sense to train sight reading by randomly generated notes. Sheet music - in common practice - is composed in scales and chords.

So it makes more sense to train sight reading by learning the pictures of chords e.g. triads and arpeggios

  1. in root position 1,3,5 (c,e,g and all other chords notated on the lines or between!) fingering 135 or 123 depending on the music following
  2. chord inversions (e,g,c and g,c,e) fingering 1,2,5 or 1,3,5 or any other convenient ones.
  3. scales (as you mentioned and obviously know how to play) and applying them as learnt.

Traditional music (not 12 tone music) usually is not randomised but composed and embedded in "meaningful" motifs, patterns and progressions.

If you train sight reading as you're describing above you can play all that stuff only with your index, as the index indicates you were you are, on which key and on which note. And this concentration on your index will help you to be more aware what you are doing and to memorize better where the notes are placed in the staff system.

The other method - playing triads and scales - could inhibit the awareness by accelerating and automate your reactions of fingers by promoting the conditioned reflex reading - what could be also a final goal.

Sight reading is not a goal to me, as I always try to get an overview of the composition, looking at the sections, analysing the chord progression, the harmony functions and the difficulties and reducing the chords by breaking down the harmony in simpler constellations and by remaking a new lay out in my mind that represent the formal design of the song or the composition - like a lead sheet. This makes sight reading much easier! Then I first start playing: one hand the tune, the other the bass line or the fundamental harmony always bringing more and more together by adding chord tones in the left hand or in the right hand.

(of course I don't always be that strictly follow my own advice but it is a my purpose!)

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