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 Post subject: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Sun Jan 09, 2011 8:12 pm 
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The 5th finger was one of the very first things I had to learn to train when I began lessons with my first pianist-teacher (A. Schutte, a pupil of J. Lhevinne). I was required to learn to relax the hand so that the 5th finger's metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint [the knucle that is prominent when you make a fist to punch somebody located between the hand and the fingers] did not sink downward when playing the 5th finger. Then I had to learn to swing the 5th finger from that MCP joint without sinking the MCP joint. (Often I had to use the tip of the index finger of the opposite hand or a pencil eraser under the knuckle to "keep the knuckle up" while learning to move the finger properly). The early efforts of this are most tenuous in the untrained hand; you will feel that you have all the strength of a little song bird. SLOWLY, after repeated small incremental steps, you begin to move it AND maintain the proper shape. Try just holding your hand in a 5-finger position on C major, and just play the 5th finger with a dedicated simple swing stroke, maintaining shape of the hand AND the finger (don't let any finger knuckles buckle backwards). Then you just need A LOT of practice! The exercises by A. Schmitt and then I. Philipp (Exercises for the Independence of the Fingers) are the best for this purpose. Regarding the Schmitt, use a modulating scheme for each exercise, e.g.: C major [1234543213531], C minor [same fingering], A-Flat 7 in first inversion (C, Db, Eb, F, Gb, F, Eb, Db, C, Eb, Gb, Eb, C), up a half-step to Db major, ..., etc. (Practice hands seperate with the one hand doing the finger exercises while the other accompanies with simple triad harmony; then switch.) Do the first part (without the held notes/fingers) before trying the second part with held single notes, held double notes, etc. If you do this with patience and great attention, you will develop tremendously (at least it happens when we are young).

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Sun Jan 09, 2011 11:19 pm 
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Hi Eddy,

Having a sturdy fifth finger, especially in the right hand is absolutely essential. It's frequently used in voicing or etching (some call it weighting) the horizontal melodic line found in the top notes of sequential chords and also in voicing the tops of octaves (although in some instances the thumb is used to emphasize the bottom notes instead as may be justified by the score). It would be impossible to play advanced piano literature without that capability.

I used Aloys Schmitt following Czerny and Hanon during my youth, and there is some benefit there. But you need to be cautious as some pianists have gotten injuries. Here is a simple independence exercise for hands alone that I think delivers as much or more value than Schmitt and Philipp (which I also have here):

Starting with the LH alone, depress and hold down low C with 5 and play D-E-F-G with 4-3-2-1 and reverse directon using three iterations never lifting the C; then in the next set starting on C again, play it with 5, play and hold D next with 4, and play E, F, G, and reverse F, E, C for three iterations; then play C, D, play and hold E with 3, then F and G, reverse direction holding the E; play C, D, E and play F with 2 holding it, then G, reverse doing three iterations; play C, D, E, F, and then G with the thumb and hold it, then F, E, D, C. Repeat the exercise three times making sure that the fingers being held in turn effectively do so and that the other notes are played evenly and legato. The RH alone will do likewise starting and holding the thumb on high C, then playing D, E, F, G, reversing, doing three iterations, then playing C, holding the D, followed by E, F, G, reversing F, E C, three iterations, etc. Repeat all of the sequence in order three times.

This exercise is simple, straight-forward, doesn't stress the hand in any way, and works every time. For example, the music of Catoire has tied notes everywhere. If I find they're getting sloppy, I use this exercise and it instills discipline immediately which then shows in playing the music. I got this from my second teacher and it's the only independence exercise I do now when I feel the necessity. The problem with Schmitt is that the deeper you get into the independence exercises, the more fingers are anchored, with ultimately a free finger poking it's assigned note. The more simultaneous holds, the greater the danger. The other thing I like about the one I wrote out above is that it takes just a modest amount of time, yet is so effective. We really building technique from solving problems in repertoire pieces way more than from exercise books. This short exercise is sufficient without detracting significant time from the main goal of practicing repertoire.

David

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"Interpreting music means exploring the promise of the potential of possibilities." David April


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Sun Jan 09, 2011 11:53 pm 
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Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
David,
I think the exercise you give is excellent, but especially for someone who has already developed some strength and independence of the individual fingers (including the 5th) and needs to do some basic "reminding" to the fingers. Your exercise, as you know, is very much like that found in Part 2 of Schmitt where one holds single fingers in turn. For those that don't know or have the Phillip, it is an exhaustive and systematic treatment of the permutations possible with 5 fingers as varied by number of fingers held (from 0-5) and groupings (diads, triads, etc.) alternated, all upon the vii diminished 7th chord with 5 notes (octave included), so the hand is opened fully, as opposed to the Schmitt where you do very similarly but with the hand closed to tonic - to - dominant of a scale. As far as the "danger" you describe, personally I feel (redundancy noted) that the advancing series where you hold increasing numbers of fingers/notes, are extrememly valuable and necessary for the isolation that works individual muscle groups and the development of the independence; for example, in alternating the four note chord played with 1-2-3-5 against the lonely 4th finger as one climbs chromatically, or holding the 4th while alternating 1-3 against 2-5. (Wow, this really gets me excited. I LOVE to practice mechanics while trying to refine my technique.)

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Sun Feb 06, 2011 11:03 pm 
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Hi Eddy,

It is interesting, long ago I had a few lessons with Lhevinne's student Yali Wagman, who told exactly the same thing about pinkie. Ironically, he himself was incredibly stiff and by that time already could not really play, let alone demonstrate.
Personally, besides of pinkie (as you rightly mentioned as the weakest and "hard to relax"), I believe in importance of thumb. Those two work as an enclosing "frame" for the hand. Since the thumb "looks" different direction and designed rather for a grip, it is the trickiest one to feel "like others".

Best, M


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Mon Feb 07, 2011 5:19 am 
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Posts: 1250
Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
Marik wrote:
Hi Eddy,

It is interesting, long ago I had a few lessons with Lhevinne's student Yali Wagman, who told exactly the same thing about pinkie. Ironically, he himself was incredibly stiff and by that time already could not really play, let alone demonstrate.
Personally, besides of pinkie (as you rightly mentioned as the weakest and "hard to relax"), I believe in importance of thumb. Those two work as an enclosing "frame" for the hand. Since the thumb "looks" different direction and designed rather for a grip, it is the trickiest one to feel "like others".

Best, M

Hi Marik, I agree with you entirely and consider the thumb and 5th finger the "pillars" of the hand. Regarding the thumb, I would be interested to know if your formative training (Moscow or elsewhere?) includes any similarities to that which I learned from the J. Lhevinne student that I studied with during HS and college (my formative training). I was taught to NOT move the thumb "as a finger," but rather (this is a bit difficult to describe) to lean upon it with the hand where the thumb resists relative upward colapse. I was told to think of the thumb "as a branch off a trunk." When I play Albert-bass pattern, my thumb does not come off of the key top. Instead my hand uses it as an axis of rotation where when I lift the lateral aspect of the hand it causes the thumb to sink into the key (the hand leans upon the thumb), and when I play the finger, the weight on the thumb is reduced causing the thumb key to rise back up. Anything like that in your training? I'm sure Lhevinne didn't invent this but rather learned it from Safanov (who didn't allow anyone else to teach Joseph when he was in the Lower School of the conservatory, thereby preparing him himself for his Upper Training). A few other features that I learned was to maintain the arches of the hand (longitudinally from finger-tip to wrist with elevated knuckles inbetween, and laterally from the thumb to the 5th finger (but with wrist lower than the knuckles). A peculiar trait that I was made to make natural, was the flexion of the 2nd finger (index) under the hand when not used in chords and when playing octaves. This was done to prevent colapse of the hand (like a "magic tent pole"). Your hand will NEVER colapse if the 2nd finger is folded under. A close appoximation of what I'm talking about can be seen in the photograph titled, "Mr Lhevinne at the Keyboard," included in his little book, Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing (however it seems to me that in the picture he is just actually lifting after finishing a phrase with his thumb).

Regards,
Eddy

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Mon Feb 07, 2011 8:28 am 
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Hello...Chopin Etudes are the highest form of technical exercise.

To WORK fingers 4/5...op.10#2 + op.25#6....THE RECIPE OF CHAMPIONS.


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Mon Feb 07, 2011 7:49 pm 
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Joined: Fri Mar 19, 2010 8:08 am
Posts: 59
musical-md wrote:
Marik wrote:
Hi Eddy,

It is interesting, long ago I had a few lessons with Lhevinne's student Yali Wagman, who told exactly the same thing about pinkie. Ironically, he himself was incredibly stiff and by that time already could not really play, let alone demonstrate.
Personally, besides of pinkie (as you rightly mentioned as the weakest and "hard to relax"), I believe in importance of thumb. Those two work as an enclosing "frame" for the hand. Since the thumb "looks" different direction and designed rather for a grip, it is the trickiest one to feel "like others".

Best, M

Hi Marik, I agree with you entirely and consider the thumb and 5th finger the "pillars" of the hand. Regarding the thumb, I would be interested to know if your formative training (Moscow or elsewhere?) includes any similarities to that which I learned from the J. Lhevinne student that I studied with during HS and college (my formative training). I was taught to NOT move the thumb "as a finger," but rather (this is a bit difficult to describe) to lean upon it with the hand where the thumb resists relative upward colapse. I was told to think of the thumb "as a branch off a trunk." When I play Albert-bass pattern, my thumb does not come off of the key top. Instead my hand uses it as an axis of rotation where when I lift the lateral aspect of the hand it causes the thumb to sink into the key (the hand leans upon the thumb), and when I play the finger, the weight on the thumb is reduced causing the thumb key to rise back up. Anything like that in your training? I'm sure Lhevinne didn't invent this but rather learned it from Safanov (who didn't allow anyone else to teach Joseph when he was in the Lower School of the conservatory, thereby preparing him himself for his Upper Training). A few other features that I learned was to maintain the arches of the hand (longitudinally from finger-tip to wrist with elevated knuckles inbetween, and laterally from the thumb to the 5th finger (but with wrist lower than the knuckles). A peculiar trait that I was made to make natural, was the flexion of the 2nd finger (index) under the hand when not used in chords and when playing octaves. This was done to prevent colapse of the hand (like a "magic tent pole"). Your hand will NEVER colapse if the 2nd finger is folded under. A close appoximation of what I'm talking about can be seen in the photograph titled, "Mr Lhevinne at the Keyboard," included in his little book, Basic Principles in Pianoforte Playing (however it seems to me that in the picture he is just actually lifting after finishing a phrase with his thumb).

Regards,
Eddy


Hello Eddy,

Since at this point my whole approach to the keyboard, fingers, technique, and tone production is rather a system, it is very hard to say what was exact influence. My musical education and schooling was quite eclectic. I started with my father, who was a student of one of the favorite Goldenweiser's students. In Moscow I mainly studied with my dear teacher Lev Naumov, who for many years was one of the most favorite Neihaus' assistants. He did not have any systematic approach to technique, other than complete relaxation coupled with artistic imagination.
On the other hand, in Moscow it was customary to sit in other teachers classes and observe all the "secrets" (so the lessons always were full of people). Besides, I played for almost all of them.

After that I was very much influenced by Pnina Saltsman--eminent Israeli pianist, who was Cortot student for many years since she was a little girl--with whom I was taking many lessons for some 5 years. For her all the sound (and everything) was in incredibly flexible wrist and very "grounded" sinking into the key. She used quite a bit what you are writing about "2nd finger to prevent collapse", but very often her 3rd joint would get broken (like famous picture of Rachmaninov at the keyboard).

Again, it is hard to say how throughout those years my concept of the thumb has developed and what was exact influence. Moreover, the thumb technique very much depends on every particular place, technical difficulty, or music context. But here is my feelings about the general principle of thumb work:

The thumb consist of 3 joints (not two, as many people think of it), where the last, 3rd one is "inside" the hand, close to the wrist. That's where its motion starts. It should be very fast and flexible, esp. with passage work, or arpeggio, when the cross over done mostly not with the turn of the hand, but the thumb reaching the next position, while the hand remains absolutely relaxed and calm, and arm assists with only the very last bit of inevitable pivot. It is very hard to explain or put into the words... maybe a little clip made with iPhone will help. Is it possible to download the file directly to the forum?

I think, I understand what you mean by "leaning". I use it a lot, esp. in thicker music sonorities (like Brahms, Rachmaninov), when the thumb almost rubs deep into the key. At those moments I like to "break" my 3rd joints--then it will never sound harsh.

The work on Alberti bass I actually divide into two steps. The first, work on it with fingers only (again, with absolutely calm and relaxed hand), and then add rotation. Unlike you, I feel the rotation around the 3rd finger, using it as a center.

Another way is vibration, which comes from the shoulder with more straightened hand. The thumb feels almost as a "slapping swing" used in funk bass guitar. That kind of technique is especially appropriate to something like most of say, Schubert Wanderer Fantasy, or a lots of Liszt.

I never take the thumb off the keys (well, as well as any other finger--the closer to the keys we stay, the more efficient work. If we raise the finger it means we lost time twice (going up, and then back), which also takes mental attention from the most important thing, i.e. matching the image in your head with what you hear.

Best, M


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Mon Feb 07, 2011 8:42 pm 
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Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
Quote:
The thumb consist of 3 joints (not two, as many people think of it), where the last, 3rd one is "inside" the hand, close to the wrist.
If you want to say that, then you have to say that the fingers have 4 joints not three, because both the fingers and the thumb have a metacarpal (beyond the wirst) bone, though only the thumb's is actually movable, whereas those of the fingers form the "hand." The two joints of the fingers that we all see are called the proximal interphalangeal (near inbetween finger bone) joint (PIP joint) and the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint. The thumb has just the Interphalangeal (IP) joint. The joint where the fingers connect to the hand (and the thumb's "middle" joint as you describe 3) are called the metacarpophalngeal (MCP) joints. Where the metacarpal bones join the wrist (carpal) bones, (the "1st" of the thumb's joints as you describe them) is called the carpometacarpo (CMC) joints. Enough of the anatomy lesson (I have a patient to go see :) )

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Mon Feb 07, 2011 11:38 pm 
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musical-md wrote:
(I have a patient to go see :) )


So what makes you think this is a good enough reason to put on us all that avalanche of information, I will never be able to learn even to pronounce? :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: Well, I guess, I will return it back when next we start talking about recording and microphones... :P

OK, what I meant, we have three visible joints, is that right? The fingers work from the third one (if start counting from the finger tip), called menopaus... never mind. I haven't read the Lhevinne book in ages, but from what I remember, that is what he says where the finger starts working from, is my memory correct?

Best, M


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Tue Feb 08, 2011 12:38 am 
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Location: Springfield, Missouri, USA
Marik wrote:
musical-md wrote:
(I have a patient to go see :) )


So what makes you think this is a good enough reason to put on us all that avalanche of information, I will never be able to learn even to pronounce? :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: Well, I guess, I will return it back when next we start talking about recording and microphones... :P

Google is your friend :lol:

Marik wrote:
I haven't read the Lhevinne book in ages, but from what I remember, that is what he says where the finger starts working from, is my memory correct?

Best, M

Yes! He states that there should be no movement (flexion/extension) in the other joints, rather just the one from which the finger swings.

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Wed Feb 09, 2011 2:08 am 
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When I teach piano, I teach the importance of the arm and what it has to offer in piano playing. I tell my students to let the arm follow the fingers which allows for all of the strength that they wish to have in their playing. I also think that doing it that way will help ease the tension in the fingers which did not help the pinky finger in the first place. Also, the wrist should be very flexible, which will allow the arm to move with the fingers. It should neither come up too far or down too far, but always remain level. Thus, the arm should be horizontally in line with the pinky finger when the pinky is playing, and so on and so forth.
I think that we should remember that the strength comes from the arm, not the fingers, and the fingers are only the mechanics that enable us to hear what we are feeling.

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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:21 am 
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Hanon exercise N°13 at http://www.hanon-online.com
Notes by C. L. Hanon :
Special exercise for the 3rd, 4th and 5th fingers of the hand.


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Sat Mar 19, 2011 9:21 pm 
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For those who find Hanon and such quite boring...

noland wrote:
Hello...Chopin Etudes are the highest form of technical exercise.

To WORK fingers 4/5...op.10#2 + op.25#6....THE RECIPE OF CHAMPIONS.

Along with these two, 25/11 also has a lot to offer. I have been struggling with the weakness of my 5th fingers while working on it, but I've also noticed that 25/11 exploits the strengths of the 4th finger quite a bit as well (in both RH and LH), which you also find in 10/2 and 25/6 (RH only). The interesting thing is that the common fingerings given in 25/11 have the 5th finger where I suspect the 4th finger was intended. I haven't had my hands on an urtext edition (some fingerings were Chopin's, but I don't know which) since I discovered this, so I'm not sure. But in many of the keyboard-ranging arpeggiated passages, the 4th finger is much stronger than the 5th. Sometimes it's a bit of a stretch, but then I have to keep in mind that my hand is pretty small, and that the keys were slightly narrower on Chopin's pianos - and it's not so much of a stretch that it isn't still easier to use the 4th finger instead of the 5th.

25/11 also strengthens the LH 5th finger quite a bit (along with the 4th), not only in the passages where the 16ths go to the LH, but in the simpler melodic LH passages. I am only just now starting to get a grip on the LH of the piece after months of practice.

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"Z Czernym poznałem się na panie brat—na dwa fortepiana często z nim u niego grywałem. Dobry człowiek, ale nic więcej..." - Fryderyk Chopin


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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2012 12:16 pm 
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musical-md wrote:
The 5th finger was one of the very first things I had to learn to train when I began piano lessons with my first pianist-teacher (A. Schutte, a pupil of J. Lhevinne). I was required to learn to relax the hand so that the 5th finger's metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint [the knucle that is prominent when you make a fist to punch somebody located between the hand and the fingers] did not sink downward when playing the 5th finger. Then I had to learn to swing the 5th finger from that MCP joint without sinking the MCP joint. (Often I had to use the tip of the index finger of the opposite hand or a pencil eraser under the knuckle to "keep the knuckle up" while learning to move the finger properly). The early efforts of this are most tenuous in the untrained hand; you will feel that you have all the strength of a little song bird. SLOWLY, after repeated small incremental steps, you begin to move it AND maintain the proper shape. Try just holding your hand in a 5-finger position on C major, and just play the 5th finger with a dedicated simple swing stroke, maintaining shape of the hand AND the finger (don't let any finger knuckles buckle backwards). Then you just need A LOT of practice! The exercises by A. Schmitt and then I. Philipp (Exercises for the Independence of the Fingers) are the best for this purpose. Regarding the Schmitt, use a modulating scheme for each exercise, e.g.: C major [1234543213531], C minor [same fingering], A-Flat 7 in first inversion (C, Db, Eb, F, Gb, F, Eb, Db, C, Eb, Gb, Eb, C), up a half-step to Db major, ..., etc. (Practice hands seperate with the one hand doing the finger exercises while the other accompanies with simple triad harmony; then switch.) Do the first part (without the held notes/fingers) before trying the second part with held single notes, held double notes, etc. If you do this with patience and great attention, you will develop tremendously (at least it happens when we are young).

Couldn't forget the time I was learning how to fix my pinkie problem when I had my lessons. Here's a trick on what my teacher told me before. Place your fingers on the keyboard. Now, make sure your wrist is dead level straight and your fingers are bent at the centre knuckle and that the skin of each fingertip is touching the key at the point where the nail grows out of your finger. Push down and hold the fourth finger.
Now here's the trick, the 4 finger doesn't do any work, the 5 finger does it all. Your 5 finger MUST BE BENT, if it's straight this wont work! Gently lower the 5 finger and you'll notice as it does the 4 starts to pull itself back up until it releases. Now swap back again, the same way. (Slow, so you can see) Repeat and repeat.

If you want a good finger exercise for this the best one is Beethoven's Fur Elise. He actually wrote it for an 11 year old girl that wouldn't do her 4-5 finger exercises! In fact it's written so that it's not possible to be played without using the 4-5 finger exercises.


Last edited by StephenC on Sun Jan 22, 2012 7:52 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: developing the 5th finger
PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2012 3:03 pm 
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StephenC wrote:
it's not possible to be played without using the 4-5 finger exercises
Try 3, 2, 3, 2, 3, 1, 3(4), 2, 1, etc. The fact that so many untrained hands play it with 5-4 is why so many renditions are not rhythmically smooth. :wink:

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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