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Jazz Technique, Forward Motion Fingering - KeyboardMag

Jazz Technique, Forward Motion Fingering

As keyboardists, we have ten fingers of unequal length, and we’re playing an instrument whose black and white keys are at two different heights and distances from the hand.
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By Hal Galper

As keyboardists, we have ten fingers of unequal length, and we’re playing an instrument whose black and white keys are at two different heights and distances from the hand. We’re trying to achieve uniformity in a situation that’s in no way uniform. To compound our problem, piano fingerings tend to be asymmetrical and hard to memorize because we’re applying a number system of five (the fingers on each hand) within a number system of four (a ubiquitous number of note groupings and rhythmic divisions in music).

Another realization of mine (probably considered heresy by most piano teachers) is that there’s no rule that says we have to use all five fingers all the time. My alternative is to look at the five fingers as being used to form four-fingered patterns, which we’ll call sets. The main ground rule is this: The last finger of each pattern—the target finger—is always predictable because it repeatedly falls on beats 1 and 3 of a bar. We’ll call these the target beats.

For example, using four-note sets such as 1-2-3-4, 4-3-2-1, or 5-3- 4-2, the first three fingers in the set help you anticipate landing the final finger on the target beat. You eventually develop a “muscle memory” of feeling your fingers in motion toward the final finger landing on the target beat. You’ll actually feel them “coming up” as your hand progresses through a four-note set. Applying the rule of no thumb on a black key wherever possible, I discovered the trick to applying these four-fingered patterns was deciding which white key the thumb had to be on to achieve the finger pattern that will best set you up for playing the next group of notes fluidly. I’ve tried to apply the four-fingered rule to as many situations as possible. It doesn’t work perfectly with all types of arpeggios and scale-based note groupings, but it works in enough situations to make your musical life easier.

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To start you re-thinking your fingering, above are my dominant seventh bebop scale fingerings in the key of C. CLICK HERE to download a PDF of these fingerings in all keys. Practice these scales starting on every beat, e.g., the third finger on the fourth beat, the fourth finger on the “and” of the fourth beat, and so on. Keep your fingerings synchronized with the numbers as written. Note that the target beats (1 and 3) for these examples have target notes of the root and fifth of each scale. The basic tenet of my book Forward Motion: From Bach to Bebop is to think of all music as being in motion toward points in the future. Your practice routine and pursuit of fingering excellence should do the same!

This article and accompanying notation are abridged from Hal Galper’s interactive online book Forward Motion: From Bach to Bebop. All materials are copyright 2003-2009 by Hal Galper, and used by kind permission of Hal Galper/Amenable Music. All rights reserved. Readers are encouraged to download the book in its entirety at forwardmotionpdf.com. —Ed.

With over 90 recordings to his credit, pianist, composer, and educator Hal Galper is best known for his work with Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderley, and Phil Woods, with whom he received both Grammy Awards and nominations. Galper has also won accolades from Berklee College of Music and the International Association for Jazz Education. He currently teaches at the SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Music in New York, and has a new trio album titled Trip the Light Fantastic. Find out more at halgalper.com. --Jon Regen

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