How to find the right fingering

  1. Play the phrase, or a part of it, very slowly. Using the printed finger numbers as guidelines, fill in the gaps with the implied fingering. Use your knowledge of scales and arpeggios to construct fingerings that connect all notes logically and fit the hand. Try different combinations. When you feel you have the best one, try it at the projected final tempo (hands alone). If the fingering is still comfortable, proceed to step 2.
  2. Add the notes directly before and after the part you’ve just fingered.  Does your fingering fit with them?  If not, make the necessary changes. If so, go to step 3.
  3. Write the fingering in the music: write all numbers if the passage is complicated, for example in a piece by Bach. Otherwise, write in enough numbers to guide you. In the scale and arpeggio passages, write in numbers for the third and fourth fingers and the thumb.

General principles to keep in mind

Establish a “permanent” fingering early on. Use it every time you play the passage and don’t change it unless absolutely necessary.

If a passage is difficult to finger, search for the spot which can only be done with one possible fingering, and work backward or forward from that spot.

Avoid using weak combinations, like 4-5, at important points in passage-work.

When fingering repetitive patterns or sequences, first try the same fingering for all patterns. If keyboard geography causes problems in certain patterns, change the fingering to fit.

If the printed fingering doesn’t work it can be changed. Have a good reason for changing, though, and be sure to write your fingering in the music.

If you mis-finger something during practice, stop and write the fingering in the music immediately. If it’s already written in, circle or highlight it and drill immediately.

If mistakes keep occurring in a passage, search for a new “permanent” fingering.

Related Links

How to read a musical score

How to find the right fingering

How to become a good sightreader

How to sightread at home

More sightreading tips