Advanced Piano Fingerings for
t
he Chromatic Scale and Diminished Scales

First and foremost, piano fingerings are simple logic.

If the fingering is logical, then it's correct. If it's illogical, it's not.

Likewise, if you are uncomfortable (or in pain), you are doing something wrong.


As regards fingering the chromatic scale, there are three ways to do it (each have their advantages and each have their disadvantages):


a) 13 123 13 13 123

The advantage to this is that it can be fingered the same either ascending or descending.

The disadvantage is that it is not the fastest way to do it.

 




b) "Speed Fingering"

The advantage is that you can group your fingerings into faster 1234-123 or 123-1234 positions.

This can also be fingered the same ascending or descending.

The disadvantage is that using this technique for chromatic passages that span greater than an octave requires two different sets of fingerings.

When divided at D, two RH "symmetrical" patterns emerge:

The four-finger pattern is always the same: white-black-white-black [ 1 2 3 4 ]

This type of chromatic tetrachord may occur with the thumb either on F, C or G, depending on which region of the two-octave pattern you are in.

Pattern 1

1
2
3
|
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
|
1
2
3
4
D
D#
E
|
F
F#
G
G#
|
A
A#
B
|
C
C#
D
D#

In both of Pattern 1's 3-finger shapes, the black note is in the middle:
D D# E and A A# B


Pattern 2

1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
|
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
C
C#
D
D#
|
E
F
F#
|
G
G#
A
A#
|
B
C
C#

In both of Pattern 2's 3-finger shapes, the black note is on the top:
E F F# and B C C#


Note how C C# D D# [ 1 2 3 4 ] is common to both patterns,
so that Pattern 1 may smoothly and conveniently transition into Pattern 2:

The pattern repeats every two octaves:

1
2
3
|
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
|
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
|
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
D
D#
E
|
F
F#
G
G#
|
A
A#
B
|
C
C#
D
D#
|
E
F
F#
|
G
G#
A
A#
|
B
C
C#

Note that the thumb falls on the white notes comprising a Dm13 chord (D F A C E G B)
ie. dorian thirds.


Pattern 2, however, does not transition to Pattern 1 in a similar overlapping manner.

Rather, the two different three-finger positions at the end of Pattern 2 and the beginning of Pattern 1 are simply butted together:

pattern 2
pattern 1
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
|
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
C
C#
D
D#
|
E
F
F#
|
G
G#
A
A#
|
B
C
C#
||
1
2
3
|
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
|
1
2
3
4
D
D#
E
|
F
F#
G
G#
|
A
A#
B
|
C
C#
D
D#

thumb notes = Cmaj13 (C E G B D F A C)
ie. ionian thirds

 

Chromatic Speed Fingering Drills

A chromatic passage may begin on any of the twelve notes and can contain several notes.

These practical drills cover both sets of RH fingerings ascending and descending in one octave exercises
(LH is the mirror image).

Having sufficiently mastered these, chromatic lines can be effected with great speed and virtually effortlessly.


1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
1
2
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
4

 

3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
D
Db
C
B
Bb
A
Ab
G
Gb
F
E
Eb
D
4
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
2
1

 

* * *

 

2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
2
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
4
5

 

4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
Eb
D
Db
C
B
Bb
A
Ab
G
Gb
F
E
Eb
5
4
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
2

 

* * *

 

2
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
5
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3

 

5
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
2
E
Eb
D
Db
C
B
Bb
A
Ab
G
Gb
F
E
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1

 

* * *

 

1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
1
2
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4

 

2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
F
E
Eb
D
Db
C
B
Bb
A
Ab
G
Gb
F
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
2
1

 

* * *

 

2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#
2
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
5

 

3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
Gb
F
E
Eb
D
Db
C
B
Bb
A
Ab
G
Gb
5
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
2

 

* * *

 

1
2
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
4
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
1
2
3

 

4
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
2
1
G
Gb
F
E
Eb
D
Db
C
B
Bb
A
Ab
G
3
2
1
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1

 

* * *

 

2
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
4
5
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
1
2
3
4

 

5
4
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
2
Ab
G
Gb
F
E
Eb
D
Db
C
B
Bb
A
Ab
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2

 

* * *

 

1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
A
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
1
2
1
2
3
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
5

 

3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
A
Ab
G
Gb
F
E
Eb
D
Db
C
B
Bb
A
5
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
3
2
1
2
1

 

* * *

 

2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
A#
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
2
1
2
3
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
3

 

4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
Bb
A
Ab
G
Gb
F
E
Eb
D
Db
C
B
Bb
3
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
3
2
1
2

 

* * *

 

2
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
5
B
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
1
2
3
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3

 

5
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
2
B
Bb
A
Ab
G
Gb
F
E
Eb
D
Db
C
B
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
3
2
1

 

* * *

 

1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
C
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
1
2
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
4

 

2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
C
B
Bb
A
Ab
G
Gb
F
E
Eb
D
Db
C
4
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
2
1

 

* * *

 

2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
C#
D
D#
E
F
F#
G
G#
A
A#
B
C
C#
2
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
4
5

 

3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
Db
C
B
Bb
A
Ab
G
Gb
F
E
Eb
D
Db
5
4
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
2

 



c) "Crushed Chromatics Runs"


On piano, "crush" is the term used for when a finger "falls off" a black note onto a white note.

The advantage here is that it is the very fastest way to play the chromatic scale and can cover as many octaves as one wishes.

The RH technique for descending is as follows:

Thumb always falls on either E or B.

ring finger: Bb-A
middle finger: Ab-G
index finger: Gb-F
thumb: E

middle finger: Eb-D
index finger: Db-C
thumb: B

Bb-A Ab-G Gb-F E | Eb-D Db-C B


The RH technique for ascending is as follows:

Thumb always falls on C or F.

Thumb: C
index finger: C#-D
middle finger: D#-E

Thumb: F
index finger: F#-G
middle finger: G#-A
ring finger: A#-B

C C#-D D#-E | F F#-G G#-A A#-B


The first disadvantage is that it requires a great deal of practice to insure that each note has equal value and that there is no sloppiness involved. The next disadvantage is that it is mostly used as an effect (and one that gets old quick if overused).

If you would like to see this technique used in live performance, watch this youtube video below. I do this long descending chromatic on the first tune just before I start singing:




There are teachers who espouse taboos about using the thumb on black notes.

Using intermediate classical fingering, it can be difficult to cross to a white note while the thumb is on a black note.

However, this can be alleviated by eliminating the crossing altogether. This is called the "Thumb Over" technique by Chuan C. Chang (book pages 89-95 / pdf pages 91-97).

In this technique, thumb crossings are avoided by moving the entire hand over to the next position (hence the term "Thumb Over") rather than crossing the thumb under the hand.

Chang, in his book, attributes this advanced fingering technique originally to Liszt and mentions that Chopin taught it.

To illustrate this technique using the descending "chromatic crush run" that I mentioned above:

When moving from the Eb-D Db-C B position (321) to the Bb-A Ab-G Gb-F E position (4321), as the hand changes position to place the ring finger on the Bb, the entire body of the hand moves over so that the thumb is already positioned above the E before it arrives.

This "Thumb Over" technique works equally well with both scalar phrases and arpeggios. It is fast, efficient and avoids the uncomfortable arm- and wrist-twisting associated with crossing the thumb under.

While "Thumb Under" crossings are preferred for dealing with slow one-note legato passages, the "Thumb Over" technique is preferable for all fast scalar or arpeggiated passages.


Also regarding the "no thumb on black notes rule", if the next adjacent note to "cross to" from the thumb is also a black note, there is no physical problem whatsoever.

Example:
If the thumb were on Bb and the next note to be played is an Ab, there is absolutely no issue with hitting the Ab with either the ring or middle finger (or even index finger) no matter what fingering technique is used (Intermediate Classical "Thumb Under" OR Liszt's "Thumb Over").


To elaborate a bit more, it is completely feasible to use the same fingerings (for example) for
D dorian and Eb dorian:

In this fingering for D dorian, the thumb falls conveniently on the root and fifth of the scale:

|
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
4
|
|
D
E
F
G
|
A
B
C
D
|


As a "greater than an octave" walk-up

|
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
|
1
2
3
4
|
etc
|
D
E
F
G
|
A
B
C
|
D
E
F
G
|
etc


Compare:

|
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
4
|
|
Eb
F
Gb
Ab
|
Bb
C
Db
Eb
|

|
1
2
3
4
|
1
2
3
|
1
2
3
4
|
etc
|
Eb
F
Gb
Ab
|
Bb
C
Db
|
Eb
F
Gb
Ab
|
etc



Thumb Over Technique for Diminished Scales


It can be advantageous to view any diminished scale as two stacked minor tetrachords (with a half-step between) - and to play them that way!

For example:

C Wh-dim scale = F# Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]       h         [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ C minor tetrachord ] h [ F# minor tetrachord ]

Eb Wh-dim scale = A Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]         h        [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ Eb minor tetrachord ] h [ A minor tetrachord ]

F# Wh-dim scale = C Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]          h         [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ F# minor tetrachord ] h [ C minor tetrachord ]

A Wh-dim scale = Eb Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]        h          [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ A minor tetrachord ] h [ Eb minor tetrachord ]


C# Wh-dim scale = G Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]          h        [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ C# minor tetrachord ] h [ G minor tetrachord ]

E Wh-dim scale = Bb Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]        h          [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ E minor tetrachord ] h [ Bb minor tetrachord ]

G Wh-dim scale = C# Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]      h        [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ G minor tetrachord ] h [ C# minor tetrachord ]

Bb Wh-dim scale = E Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]        h      [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ Bb minor tetrachord ] h [ E minor tetrachord ]


D Wh-dim scale = Ab Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]        h          [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ D minor tetrachord ] h [ Ab minor tetrachord ]

F Wh-dim scale = B Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]        h        [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ F minor tetrachord ] h [ B minor tetrachord ]

Ab Wh-dim scale = D Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]        h      [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ Ab minor tetrachord ] h [ D minor tetrachord ]

B Wh-dim scale = F Wh-dim scale
[ 1 2 3 4 ]        h        [ 1 2 3 4 ]
[ B minor tetrachord ] h [ F minor tetrachord ]

Using the "Thumb Over" technique greatly simplifies the question of how to finger the diminished scales smoothly.



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