confronted with very young children who have to learn fingering.
Fingering, briefly, is the process whereby a group of fingers
are selected for a group of notes. It is one of the key
organizing factors for a pianists, and is what makes playing
quickly and fluidly possible.
start out jabbing with the index finger, which I permit to get
the process going. Later, we need to broach the subject of
grouping the fingers.
understand the idea of the fingers as a team, much like a
basketball team. There are strong and stronger players/fingers.
the fingers as a group is difficult both physically and
intellectually for kids.
strongest fingers are the thumb, index and third, and I
concentrate on training those first.
Thus all our
energy is concentrated on getting the first three fingers to act
as a group. I use comparisons such as legs walking, staircases,
anything that will get them wiggling their fingers in a row.
Often they need
guidance to start using the thumb as the first in the group,
since they are instinctively used to using their index finger,
and have only a dim awareness of their thumbs. But the thumb is
strong, and all children have an easy time starting to use it as
the primary finger in the hand group.
You may have to
literally take their fingers and move them like a puppet to get
the idea across, and I often do this, as all children respond
when you gently push the fingers in the proper way so they feel
the muscle from the inside. Show, rather than tell.
I also have
them play the fingers as a group outside of the piano keyboard,
on a book, any flat surface. This is to defuse the complexity of
the keyboard and show them that the fingers are really involved
in a simple pattern.
I also use the
game of having them hold their fingers in the correct position
and I push the fingers down in the correct order, once again
giving them a physical idea of what the passage requires in
terms of finger movement.
The younger the
child, the less usable are the fourth and fifth fingers. I
don't insist on them, and allow them to trail along as best
The problem is
always that kids are barely able to lift the last two fingers,
due to weakness.
We as humans do
not use these fingers much anyway, unless it is as a group with
the other fingers. Look at your fingers as you grab for a
doorknob or pencil and you will see that the dominant fingers
are the first three, thumb index and third.
I play a piano
game called the pencil test, in which I have a child slowly pick
up a pencil, from above like one of those supermarket clamshell
machines where you get a prize if you maneuver the claw to the
surprised to find out that they use the first three fingers
instinctively for this movement. Playing the game makes them
aware of their fingers in a new, fun way.
concept of fingers in a row/group has been established, I always
assign a familiar song in which all the fingers are in a row,
MARY HAD A
HOT CROSS BUNS
We play these
songs and make up games involving those songs until they
instinctively play with the proper fingering, all five fingers
nicely in a row.
It may take
months, and they may not make the association that other songs
need the same rational approach to fingering. They fail and go
in and out of using proper fingering. I just make a note and
joke about it, maybe correct it briefly, but move on.
I don't want
them to get a phobia about fingering by breaking the flow every
time they break a rule. But I do make them aware of it. One good
way to make them aware of fingering transgressions is to play a
game called the FINGERING METHOD.
Kids come up
with the darndest piano finger combinations! I watch them all
day long so I think I know just about every contorted
configuration: backwards thumbs, pinkies only, upside down, you
name it, the imagination of child has already thought of it and
tried it out at the piano.
As they learn
fingering, soften the blow of your constant correction by
calling their errors the "Jimmy Franklin Fingering Method"
or whatever their name is. Always call attention to the use of
the Jimmy Franklin Fingering Method when they use a strange
combination rather than some rational group. I
say, "Oh, I see you use the Jimmy Franklin Method, four
thumbs in a row, yes, very unusual..." They will laugh, see their error, and soon their
fingering will magically become correct, or more correct, and
they will try.
pointing out the weird finger combinations. After all, even the
greatest of pianists takes a wrong fingering and skids off the
road. I always explain that fingering is a perfect example of a
rule meant to be broken, either by circumstance or design.
But you have to
understand the rules first, and kids all understand that game.
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