Learning to play the piano is fun and exciting, but one of the most challenging aspects for beginners can be learning finger positions and how find the right fingers for the keys. Without the correct finger positioning, you can spend weeks practicing a piece without seeing much progress at all. Figuring out where to put your fingers when playing a song is a skill that can take years to master. However here are some exercises that will set you well on your way to gaining an instinctive understanding of what fingers to use and when.
Finger numbers for correct finger positions
Before we go through the examples, let’s take a short moment just to remind ourselves that our fingers are named using numbers. Looking at the image below we can see that starting at our thumbs, our fingers are numbered one through five. This is really important, as it is the universal language all musicians use to show correct finger positions in their songs.
Piano finger exercise #1: The five finger position
First, let’s start with an easy example, the first four bars from “You are the Sunshine of my Life”. The first step when assigning fingers to keys is to look for the highest and lowest notes within the melody. As you’ll have no doubt already figured out, the highest note is D and the lowest note is G. On the piano these two notes are five keys apart. This means that we can use a five finger position to play the entire melody without moving our hand. All we need to do to get into a five finger position is place our thumb on G, our fifth finger on D, and our three middle fingers on the notes in between… and voila! All the keys we need are at our fingertips.
💡 Make sure to try and play all of the examples using the fingers shown!
Piano finger exercise #2: Moving between different five finger positions
In this example, “House of the Rising Sun”, our left hand starts in a five finger position with our thumb on E. This allows us to play the first three bars without moving our hand. Easy right?! In the fourth bar however, some of the notes are out of reach. Looking closely at the bar, we can see that the lowest and highest notes are five keys apart. This means that we can easily play the bar by sliding our hand up into another five finger position. This time with our thumb on G.
Piano finger exercise #3: Thumb under
In this example, we have bars eleven and twelve from the lively and popular 80’s hit “Copacabana”. As you can see, if we play the first five notes from bar eleven our thumb ends up on E, leaving the highest note in bar twelve (D) out of reach. This means that we cannot play the entire melody without moving out of the five finger position. To play this melody correctly, we’re going to play the first two notes from E normally, as if we were still doing the five finger position. The next part is the tricky bit so pay attention! To play the third note, we need to move our thumb underneath our second finger and onto A. This will allow us to play the rest of the bar using a new five finger position, only with the thumb now on A.
Piano finger exercise #4: Finger over
In this next example, we have the first four bars from “White Keys” by Chilli Gonzalez. Remember the thumb under technique we just learnt? Well this next example consists of doing the same thing, only in reverse! Looking at bars one to two, we can see that the highest note is C and the lowest note is C. To play this melody correctly, we’re going to cover the first five notes with our hand in a five finger position, starting with our fifth finger on C. To cover the last three notes, we’re going to put our third finger over onto E, and finish the run of notes with fingers two and one. This makes the song easier to play, and keeps the melody smooth and flowing. To play bars three to four, just use the same finger over technique as we did in bars one to two!
💡 Generally as pianists we should avoid using our thumb for black keys unless it is absolutely necessary!
Final words of advice
Once you have figured out the best fingering for a song, write them down if needed, and stick to them every time. This consistency will build muscle memory and make songs far easier to play.
Also, remember that with Skoove, you can see the correct fingering for every single song! Just make sure you watch the hand videos carefully, and copy the fingering and hand positions. By doing this, you will eventually be able to figure out how to play a song correctly all on your own! You can start with these easy piano chords for beginners, then try to understand piano scales.
And to go further, check out how to use your left hand for the bass clef notes efficiently.
Author of this blog post:
Elliot Hogg – Music tutor from Leeds who specializes in teaching piano, music theory, and music composition.