• Ask Jermaine: “The key to proper piano chord fingering”

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    I’m back with another “Ask Jermaine” question of the week — this time about piano chord fingering.

    This question is from Danny in the UK:

    “Jermaine, hope all is good & well. I finally made it to seventh chords!! (Pheww). When building a major/minor 7th in all 12 keys, what is the correct piano chord fingering?”

    My answer:

    Hey Danny,

    Congratulations on making it to seventh chords. The thing about seventh chords is once you know your basics (major, minor, dominant, diminished, augmented), you can pretty much play any desired bigger chord on demand – ninths, elevenths, thirteenths… because those are merely comprised of stacked sevenths + triad chords (another lesson).

    Proper Piano Chord Fingering

    I have good news and bad news.

    The bad news is when it comes to piano chord fingering, things aren’t exactly black and white. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find one common answer out there.

    The good news is proper piano chord fingering not as hard as you think since seventh chords have 4 notes and if you’re going to play them in one hand, you only have 5 fingers to choose from. That naturally leaves few options.

    Remember, each finger is labeled 1 through 5 with the thumb always being 1 and the pinky always being 5.

    So on your left hand, it’s: 5 (pinky) – 4 (ring) – 3 (middle) – 2 (index) – 1 (thumb).

    On your right hand, it’s: 1 (thumb) – 2 (index) – 3 (middle) – 4 (ring) – 5 (pinky).

    (Here’s an article illustrating the piano chord fingering layout above.)

    For my beginners, if you’re playing 3-fingered “triads,” you’ll most likely be using 5 – 3 – 1 on left and 1 – 3 – 5 on right for your piano chord fingering. The only exception is for chords that require a wider finger span. In those cases, you can do 5 – 2 -1 on left and 1 – 2 – 5 on right.

    Also, fingers 2, 3, and 4 are best for black keys. Try to avoid the thumb or pinky on black keys if you can help it.

    4-finger piano chord fingering

    For 4-finger chords (aka tetrads), you’ll most likely be using 5 – 3 – 2 – 1 for left and 1 – 2 – 3 – 5 for right hand fingering.

    But like I said before, this isn’t written in stone so if you need, for example, finger 3 for a melody note that is passing by, use 5 – 4 – 2 – 1 on left and 1 – 2 – 4 – 5 on right.

    As the chords get bigger and more flexibility is required, you can use your own discretion.

    Some piano chord fingering pointers

    • Keep in mind where you’re going next or what the melody is doing. If you’re making one finger do extra work, it can slow you down.
    • You’ll be better off choosing a chord fingering that allows for more mobility rather than sticking with the “textbook” in every situation. So instead of having to lift a finger from one chord immediately to another, if you’ve chosen the best piano chord fingering for your situation, you can simply swap in a “free” finger for speed.
    • Strategically space out your fingering so you have room for things in between your chord tones.
    • Remember to slow things down in the beginning. There’s no harm in going super slow. What you’re looking for is accuracy and precision. If you’ve worked out the proper piano chord fingering at a slow tempo, speeding it up will be eventually be a piece of cake.

    Remember, everyone’s different and there is no one size fits all when it comes to piano chord fingering. From different hand/finger sizes to situations requiring a “stretch,” you’ll continually be adjusting. But use these piano chord fingering tips as a start.

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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    { 16 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Ken Fisher

    Germaine, I’m just getting started and know very little about the piano. In your 6 minute audio lesson at #2 Db9 (add6)- “Db ninth add six”

    I don’t understand what you mean by add6. Can you help me?

    Reply

    2 Ivan

    If your barely getting started i wouldn’t worry about or maybe just search add6 chord on youtube also i recommend searching michael new on youtube search “michael new how basic chords work” and when you click on one of the videos click on his channel and you will see he has videos on music theory he is really good and i highly recommend to check him out and view his videos in order he teaches on what chords to play and so on.

    Reply

    3 Jermaine

    Those come from the major scale of the chord. In Db the 6th is Bb.

    So a Db9 is Db F Ab Cb (aka B) and when u add 6 thats Bb.

    But I like to voice it Db on left and F Bb B Eb on right. (Ab left out)

    Reply

    4 Daniel

    Hey, Jermaine,
    Thanks a lot for the new e-zine. I am sure it will help my playing get better!

    Reply

    5 Dewayne

    I have been playing the keys (organ, piano) for a number of years now, and I am getting people asking me to teach them. I feel that I can help them, but I am asking for your help, Jermaine, on an outline/guide that I may go by to teach them.

    Any info you can give will be greatly appreciated

    Reply

    6 George

    Thank you. I have lent alot from you

    Reply

    7 merchell ross

    I truly enjoyed and understand your story of determination thank you very much for the advice it will stay with me whenever I need strength to carry on.

    Reply

    8 ROBERT

    Thanks Jermaine,I really appreciate your teaching style and info.

    Reply

    9 Soji

    How am i supposed to make use of the left hand while playing chords with ma right and I also want to know the best minor chords that can be combined with the major chords while playing worship songs

    Reply

    10 Sally

    The chord shape dictates the fingering as many chords need to be inversions, to keep the melody note at the top in the right hand. You get some pretty interesting sounds when playing organ for instance, since the pedals take care of some alternative notes in the chords, such as G/F# (GMaj7). Having moved to also playing a digital piano, I’ve had my work cut out, changing left hand chords occasionally, because the chords are dictating to me what is what…. I’ve had to re-jig some of them a bit to get the sound I want.

    Reply

    11 solve your problems

    Techniques. Fortunate enough myself I uncovered your web site by accident, for gob smacked the reason why that accident failed to transpired before! I actually added it.

    Reply

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    13 Josef-Peter Roemer

    Hi,
    I just bought a digital Kawai piano CA65 on the 17th of June 2014, and I am just starting to learn how to play the Blues, and Boogie Woogie by myself and help from online U tube. I have a really big problem trying to play in a steady rhythm with the left hand and a different with the right. It just won’t work for me, does that mean some people will never learn that, or does it just take a lot of practice. I will be 68 next month, can it be that at my age I am not able to learn to do that? or am I expecting something too soon?

    Thanks

    Josef-Peter

    Reply

    14 EMMA

    hi,tnks for d videos nd teaching. i just want u to please help me to knw hw to play d chords progression to gospel songs in churh

    Reply

    15 Leez Simmons

    Hey Jermaine, based on the chord fingering, I use 1-2-3 for triads and 1-2-3-5 for tetrads all on my right hand. Ive been using those fingerings for about 8 months, is that okay?

    Reply

    16 Damilola

    Good day my boss, I want you to give me some chord progressions, fingering and their note. Thank you.

    Reply

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