Fingerings is about which fingers you are recommended to use and consequently the position of the hand when playing piano. There are rules and instructions for fingerings in general and depending on the situation.

When exercising scales, it is important to use the right fingerings. Doing this gives a foundation for a development of good technique. Sometimes you will see instructions that tell you which fingers to use by the numbers 1-5 on piano sheets.

Hands and numbers for each finger
1 = thumb | 2 = index finger | 3 middle finger | 4 = ring finger | 5 = little finger

Some general tips about how to position your hand and use your fingers

The way you move your hands and which fingers you use affects the outcome of your piano playing. If you use few fingers with high frequencies, it will result in disjointed transitions when smooth transitions are required. Here are some general guidelines:

  1. First the most obvious: don't use your index fingers exclusively.
  2. Include all the fingers, this makes the movement of the hand smoother and more economical.
  3. In most situations, avoid playing on the black keys with your thumb.

Learn to play piano without looking down on the keyboard

Most people who study the piano will sooner or later learn how to read notes and play sheet music. The challenge of reading notes is often overestimated – the real challenge is to read and play simultaneously. To successfully read and play at the same time you can only for short times look at the keyboard. The more notes on the score, the less time for you to look down at the keyboard without losing the accurate tempo.

This is something that takes much practice to achieve, but an important foundation is to position your hand correctly and use good fingering technique. By using all the fingers, you don’t have to change the position of your hand as often or make long “jumps” with the same finger. This is critical when playing with only short glances on the keyboard.

The right practice

In the picture below, you can see the notes of the C Major Scale. Above the notes there are numbers representing the fingers on the right hand.
Notes of the C scale with fingeringsThe first sequence is 1-2-3-1-2-3-4-5 and it involves a movement with the thumb going under the index and middle fingers. After you reach the next octave you turn around and this time it is the other way around: you move your middle and index finger over the thumb (5-4-3-2-1-3-2-1).

The secret as you can see is to move the thumb under the fingers (index and middle) and lift the same fingers over the thumb. By this method you can reach eight notes (one octave) on the keyboard with a minimum movement of the hand.

This may seem confusing. Don’t think about the pattern 1-2-3-1-2-3-4 as something you must use in all situations. In the example with the Major C Scale over two octaves is the noted fingerings suitable. In another context, another fingering could be more proper. The most important thing is to play naturally and involve all fingers.

For the most common scales you can find fingerings written out together with scale pictures on this site. In cases without fingerings written out, it should not be a huge problem for you. If you minimize the contact between the thumb and the black keys you will in most cases naturally find the right fingerings.