This is a question I encounter so often!
Short answer: Because if sight-reading is all you ever do, then that’s the best you will ever play.
Today, while learning a Mozart piano reduction (violin concerto), I had to stop myself from switching between fingers on a single key several times.
We have two options: sight-reading and improving. (One is more fun than the other!) The pic above accurately represents the way I feel when I have to write fingerings in my music.
The problem, for me, stems from three sources:
1. Sight-reading (both music I need to learn and music that’s put in front of me in work situations);
2. Organ playing; and
3. Playing for chorus/opera/dance/musical rehearsals.
1. Sight-reading is a great skill to have! Without it, there would be far fewer work opportunities. The problem is that when one relies only on sight-reading, fingerings are random and so is the resulting sound. The playing will be slower and have considerably less finesse. In addition, when sight-reading is the only game in town, the music benefits from very little thought.
2. Organs and pianos both have keyboards, but they are completely different mechanically. To sustain a pitch on the organ, the key must be depressed. On piano, the damper pedal is available. Organists are trained to play a key with one finger, then switch to another while still depressing the same key. That’s how they navigate around the keyboard while playing legato. Playing the piano in that manner, however, is not helpful except in cases where the fingering cannot be solved in other ways.
3. When playing piano reductions (chorus, opera, and concertos where the pianist acts as the orchestra), pianistic fingering is not possible. There are too many notes included in a piano reduction to fit under the hand. (Reductions are not “pianistic.”) So “bad” fingering often results. The object is to get to the next location on the keyboard however you can, ahead of time.
So, what is “good” fingering?
- Good fingering is pianistic (comfortable);
- Good fingering enhances the flow of the music;
- Good fingering makes use of different parts of the hand for intended results.
- The thumb is heavy;
- The pinkie gets a bright sound;
- The 3rd finger can imitate French horn;
- The 4th finger is guaranteed to be softer; and
- 2 and 5 are great for flute solos.
Try playing Mozart. Unintended accents will be immediately disruptive. Making good fingering decisions is the shortest route to playing appropriately.
Schumann, Verdi, and Prokofiev sound distinct from each other when played by good orchestras. Why not play them with different sounds on the piano, too?
Why spend valuable practice time eliminating accents produced by the thumb when you could find a better fingering? Practicing for hours attempting to produce an accented downbeat with the 4th finger is similarly a waste of time.