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On fingering...(somewhat technical)


jazzyprof

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My classical piano teacher insists I should avoid using my thumb on black keys, if at all possible. Why is thumb on black such a bad thing? I see jazz pianists using their thumb on black keys all the time.

 

The reason I'm asking is that I'm currently working on the Chopin Etude Op. 10, #3 and I've come to the hard part. In particular, there is this measure (#38) where the left hand plays a descending chromatic scale segment, two notes simultaneously, a tritone apart.

The top line goes B A# A G# G F# F E

The bottom line goes F E D# D C# C B A#

 

It seems most natural for me to simply walk the thumb chromatically down the top line while playing the bottom note with 3rd or 4th finger. The suggested fingering for the top line is however 1,2,1,2,1,2,1,1, thus avoiding thumb on black at all cost. The bottom fingering alternates between 4 and 5. Is it a bad thing to use the thumb on those black keys here if it allows me to go faster? Any teachers out there?

"Playing the piano is my greatest joy, next to my wife; it is my most absorbing interest, next to my work." ...Charles Cooke
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Hi jazzyprof,

 

The short answer is, you need to play the line legato. That's impossible without alternating your 1st and 2nd finger. The lower fingering is negotiable, depending on the size your hand.

 

"No thumbs on black keys" is an accepted rule for scale playing. Apart from that, the only correct fingering is the one which allows you to play the music the way it was intended. :)

 

Nice piece!

"........! Try to make It..REAL! compared to what? ! ! ! " - BOPBEEPER
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Originally posted by gangsu:

Hi jazzyprof,

 

The short answer is, you need to play the line legato. That's impossible without alternating your 1st and 2nd finger. The lower fingering is negotiable, depending on the size your hand.

 

"No thumbs on black keys" is an accepted rule for scale playing. Apart from that, the only correct fingering is the one which allows you to play the music the way it was intended. :)

 

Nice piece!

Its basically a variation of walking thirds by alternating 1 and 5 with 2 and 4. If your teacher has not shown you this, get them to do so.

 

I just tried it. No way I can play that with just the thumb - it makes my hand too unstable.

 

Notice how it stops on A#. Try passing your fourth finger over the fifth to get to A - yikes. So what you have here is a little device that Chopin liked to play in the left hand.

 

As for never putting the thumb on a black note, there are places in Chopin where you have to put your thumb on a black note. In fact, you have to put it on two black notes at once because you are playing octaves Eb-Eb with a Gb on the top and the only way to do it is by bridging the top Eb and the Gb with your thumb.

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If you learn to use alternating fingerings more, you'll acquire a better sense of legato and dynamic control. Practice the passage without using the pedal and you'll see what I mean.

 

Frankly, it has little to do with the 'rule' about avoiding thumb on black notes. That's good advice, but it must be taken with a grain of salt (try playing op.10 n.4 with no thumbs on the black keys! :D ). The point here is, as Sue said, to strive to play as legato as possible.

 

So in short, yes, try practicing that 1,2,1,2,1 thing... The only exception would be if you got 'extremely' small hands.

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Thank you Sue, Byrdman, Marino! I must admit I hadn't been striving for legato playing in that phrase because I was trying to play it as fast as I have heard it played on cd's. Now I'm going to go back and practice the legato 1,2,1,2,1 thing very, very slowly until it becomes second nature. It will probably take me 6 months to learn this piece but I think the effort is more than worthwhile. I fell in love with it when I heard it on the radio a couple of months ago as I pulled into my driveway. So I had one of those "driveway moments" where I simply had to sit in the car till the piece ended to find out what it was!
"Playing the piano is my greatest joy, next to my wife; it is my most absorbing interest, next to my work." ...Charles Cooke
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Originally posted by InTheDark:

no thumb on black keys - ever? What about F# arpeggio??

I guess there's got to be many exceptions.

 

Another question: I've read in several places that it is good to practice Hanon exercises in all keys. Do you use the same fingerings for the other keys as you do for the original exercises which are written in C?

"Playing the piano is my greatest joy, next to my wife; it is my most absorbing interest, next to my work." ...Charles Cooke
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You think measure 38 is tough. (Referring to Etude in E Major), wait till you get to measure 46. Those chromatics will kick your butt. legato 52's to 31's and vice versa on both hands. A part one must definitely memorize to play it well. Definitely the hardest passage in the song. Oh, but to hear it played at speed. Beautiful. I just started on this piece a couple of weeks ago. Can't wait to get it down.
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Of course in early music (not quite sure when this went out - whether it was pre JS or during his lifetime) using the thumbs at all was considered gauch.

 

Seems one played scales legato by passing your other fingers over 5. On an instrument with a short decay time or no dampers one would have been able to just translate the hand.

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