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NYC - MoMA: Henri Matisse's The Piano Lesson

Henri Matisse (1869 - 1954) ~ "The Piano Lesson" ~ Image by wallyg via Flickr

Fingering matters!

The 2 most recent lessons my adult student experienced overwhelmingly prove the point.

Relevant history

My student has played flute for several years, taking up piano more recently.

Flute vs. piano fingering

Playing the flute involves one position for the hands most of the time.

Flute fingering is notated with T(thumb) 1 2 3 4.
Piano fingering is different: 1(thumb) 2 3 4 5.

Printed music

Since the lowest note on the flute is Middle C, flute music is notated in the treble clef, on one staff.

Piano music is usually notated on 2 staves, with treble clef for the right hand and bass clef for the left. So it looks more complicated right away.


We are working on a Mozart Minuet and Trio.

My student’s approach is to use just about any available finger at random.

One left hand passage, C G rest C D, is fingered 5 2 rest 2 1.

We discussed how using the correct fingering would make this passage easier to play… reliable, no hesitation between notes.

My student tried the fingering as written.  The outcome was C G, what’s next?  C D.  Whew.

I showed her how she could play 5 2, then keep move her hand to the next spot on the keyboard keeping the 2nd finger ready to play immediately.

She tried that. When she reached the G with her 2nd finger (so far, so good!), she switched to her 3rd finger while still playing G. (That happens a lot.)

We talked about that, and she tried it again.

The same thing happened. I made an involuntary sound in my throat, and she picked up on it.  When we talked about that, I said, “I know you can do it!  Try it again!”  She was almost there.  I wasn’t ready to give up.

So she tried a 3rd time, and voilà!  She played the passage perfectly!

Next step

We discussed how that sounded, and decided it had musical flow!

We talked about how it felt to be able to do that, and my student was very happy!

I gave her an assignment, asking her to focus only on the fingering in this one piece for next time.

She mentioned having to look at the notes, too.

I encouraged her to look at the notes and the fingerings together.  She tried it, and played the passage flawlessly!

My misgivings

After my student left her lesson, I began feeling that perhaps I had pushed her too hard.

Next lesson

Two weeks later, my student played the entire Minuet with perfect notes and perfect fingering!  This is a first!!!

Since the fingering was perfect in more than one lesson, there’s a good chance that the new approach will stick.

The piece is under tempo, but that isn’t what we’re working on right now. She didn’t backtrack and she didn’t give up.

That’s progress!!!  ♥ ♥ ♥

How do approach fingering with your adult students? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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