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Scales in Thirds and Sixths

piano technique

Question: Hello Albert,

Thank you for your reply mail regarding “the fingering” for playing descending chromatic minor 6ths. It is most helpful and is going to take me some time to practice these few octaves correctly, especially playing this section with both hands with the 2 thumbs a semitone apart…. Hmmmm. This is going to take a lot of concentration but I am confident that I will achieve in the end. Do you have any advice you could pass on to me regarding the correct way to practice these minor 6ths please?

Just reading your article about the proper way of practicing makes me realize just how much I have missed out. Maybe when I return to New Zealand next year, I will seek a good teacher to help me for a couple of hours per day to put me on the right track. At this moment, I could be making so many mistakes, I do feel a teacher is the way to go.

Reading your article about the way to practice scales, starting from B major and playing chromatically backwards is very interesting which I started this morning. You mentioned starting with B major and including the B minor scales as well, namely the melodic and harmonic. Does this mean learning the 3rds and 6ths as well?

How important is it to learn the 3rds and 6ths? What other scales are necessary?

I have found a source for the book you recommended to me called “Keyboard Harmony.” It is secondhand as the new ones are too expensive for me right now. So tomorrow, I will place my order.

Have a great weekend and hope to hear from you again soon.

Many thanks,


– Brian (Colombia)

Albert’s reply: Scales in thirds and sixths are quite advanced, and double note scales (double thirds, or double sixths as in your example) are extremely advanced material. Standard scales in thirds or sixths involve playing the top line with your right hand and the bottom with your left. Double thirds or sixths involve playing a third or sixth in one (or each) hand.

Most piano students do well enough sticking with basic major and minor scales with the hands an octave apart. If you know these extremely well you should have little trouble playing scales with the hands a third or sixth apart.

Double thirds or sixths are really professional-level material. Even some professional pianists shy away from them. An infamous example is the fourth movement of Brahm’s Second Piano Concerto, with its very fast ascending D major scale in double thirds in the right hand. Many pianists split this scale between the hands (and leave out Brahm’s left hand accompaniment).

Previously I posted the fingering for chromatic double sixths in the right hand. Here is the corresponding fingering for the left hand:

A good practice strategy is to articulate the two lines differently: practice the top line legato and the bottom staccato, and then switch.

Make sure you practice slowly!

Once that’s comfortable (and you’re hearing the bottom line as well as the top), strive for even articulation of both voices. This means that even if you can play some notes perfectly legato, don’t. Instead, match their articulation to the shortest note.

Some notes will inevitably be held for a shorter time for the simple reason that we don’t have enough fingers to connect all the notes. This should be your reference. Work to hold that as long as possible so that there’s no perceptible break in the sound, and then match all the other notes to it.

Good luck!

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