There is something that is a little different about learning to read piano music than learning to read music on other instruments. In order to have the proper technique, you need to play the notes on the piano in the most effective ways. This allows your hands to reach all of the keys that they need to reach in the smoothest and quickest way, so that the music sounds natural and effortless when it is played. Many times, this means that there is a “right” way to play the notes on the piano keyboard according to which notes come before or after the notes that you need to play. The context surrounding a single note is needed to determine which hand should play the note, as well as which finger of that hand will actually press the key.
You probably already know that music written in the treble clef staff is played most often by the right hand, and music written on the bass clef staff is generally played with the left hand. But how do you know which finger to use to play each note? In beginning method books, and other sheet music that is specifically designed to be played by students first learning how to play the piano and read music, there are numbers placed over several of the notes as clues about which finger to use to play the note. In order to do this correctly, you first need to know which fingers are given which numbers in piano playing. Look at your right hand. Your thumb would be marked as finger number 1, your pointer finger would be called finger number 2, your middle finger is finger number 3, your ring finger would be called finger number 4, and your pinky would be finger number 5. These numbers are exactly the same for the fingers of your left hand. To practice thinking about your fingers in this way, hold both hands above a desk or table, facing with the palms down. Touch both of your 1 fingers (your thumbs, remember) to the table. Then lift them up and touch your 2 fingers (pointer fingers) to the desk. Practice this pattern and you can see how the fingers of your left and right hand are labeled. To get more practice, write the numbers 1 through 5 on a piece of paper in any order. Write a different series of numbers several times, you may even use the same number more than once. Now try and touch the correct finger to your desk (or a piano keyboard) as your eyes move across the line, reading the numbers. You can try this with the right hand first, then the left hand, then both hands together.
Before you know it, you will be able to use the right finger when you see a number without even thinking about it. There is usually not a number above every note on your music. This is because sometimes it is obvious which finger should be used. If the note E (on the treble clef, so remember you will play it with your right hand) is marked to be played with finger 1 and the next note is the F just to the right of it, you would obviously play that note with finger 2, so it is not necessary to put the number 2 over the F.
Using this system of numbering helps musicians figure out how to place each hand correctly on the keys so that they can play as quickly and as smoothly as possible. This will give the music a more natural, effortless sound as the piano is played. You will be able to tell very soon why numbering the fingers of both hands and using specific fingers at specific times is very useful for piano players. Eventually, you will learn how to tell which fingers to use without relying so strongly on the numbers system to tell you. However, even professional musicians sometimes make marks on their music to remind them which finger to use in certain tricky situations. Every piano player, from the very young beginning student, to the experienced performing professional needs to know how to use the number system and how to determine which finger is the best one to play each note. Before long, this will be a natural element of playing the piano for you, and you won't need to give it much thought at all. You will find the number system to be extremely useful!
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