Chromatic Sixths Fingering

Question: Hello Albert,

It’s good of you to help me, thanks. Like you, I am an extremely “late starter” but I feel this is my time now to achieve my dreams. I only did 3 years of classical training when I was 7 years old, I also disliked learning and would try to forget about my lessons. Now in my old age,I am deeply sorry and regret those lost years. I am 90 percent self taught, I have played contemporary music professionally, as well been a well-established church organist for many years. Now at my ripe old age of 61 I wish to learn and achieve as much as I can before I am called to leave this earth.

I know I have the ability, I started to study classical music a few years ago and have done quite well. My theory and piano technique are poor, but I read music well, my ear is good and I have learned to tune pianos.

At this stage, if I had the opportunity, I would seek a good teacher, but living in South America, they are few and far apart. This is basically where I am now.

I am learning a very difficult piece of music which I suppose people would think I were crazy but I enjoy the challenge.

In one part of this music, there it is a descending chromatic scale in 6ths over 3 octaves. The top 2 notes in the right hand are A natural(thumb) and F (5th finger) and the notes in the left hand are (5th finger) C and A flat (thumb)

I don’t think this interval is a true 6th, but 1 semitone less, I don’t know what you call this interval?

Before I get carried away and learn the incorrect fingering, please advise me what the correct fingering is.

I have thought about this and using just the thumb and 5th finger would be very difficult. I would think that one would need to start with fingers 1 & 5, then alternating them with 1 & 4, then maybe 2 & 5….? I would really appreciate your help please.

I start my practicing each day with at least 1 hour of scales, all majors played over 4 octaves, played 4 to 6 times and now learning the minor melodic and harmonic to help improve my fingering technique. I have also ordered a book written by Franz Liszt on complete piano technical exercises, these should improve my technique.

It’s so good to be able to speak with someone about music as there is just nothing going on here, pianos are not popular; besides, it is all Spanish.

Many thanks,

– Brian (Colombia)

Albert’s reply: Brian, thanks very much for your kind letter and interesting story. To address your first question, A natural to F is a minor sixth. The diatonic interval is a sixth and its quality is minor.

If you look at my notation below, you’ll notice lots of sharps and flats, more generally called accidentals. Yet you can completely remove all accidentals – and even the treble clef! – and you’d still know they these are all sixths. Simply count the lines and spaces from the bottom note to the top, starting with the first note: there are a total of six lines and spaces for each interval, so that interval must be a sixth.

Alternatively, you can simply count the letters between the bottom and top notes: A, B, C, D, E, F = six notes, so it’s a sixth.

We don’t yet know what kind (i.e., quality) of sixth it is until we know the actual notes. That requires a clef and any accidentals.

Here is the fingering for chromatic sixths (in the right hand):

(If your hand is too small to play A-sharp to F-sharp using fingers 2 and 4, you can use 2 and 5 instead.)

Regarding piano technique, I wish to caution that technique should never be viewed as something separate from music. I wrote an article called Piano Exercises in which I explain both the benefits and dangers of technical exercises. In summary, I consider them a necessary evil, and in general they should be played as musically as possible, always listening carefully to the sound you’re producing.

Again, thanks for writing and best of luck in your piano playing!

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