The Art of Piano Fingering

Book Review

CoverCompleteRami Bar-Niv is one of Israel’s most acclaimed and sought after pianists. He performs worldwide as a soloist with orchestra, recitalist and chamber musician, and has become an ambassador of goodwill for Israel. He has made several well received recordings for CBS, several of his compositions have been published and recorded, and he is widely in demand as a teacher.

Though some UK readers may not have come across Rami, those who are active networking on Facebook will have seen, and no doubt benefitted, from his erudite, constructive and generous support of other pianists, especially in the Piano Technique Discussion group, which he helps to administer. In short, Rami has won many friends around the world with his warmth, charm, and passion for the piano.

The Art of Piano Fingering

The Art of Piano Fingering is essentially a large manual for piano playing, published as a 212 page book via CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Several readers have asked me about it, and my opinion can effectively be summed up in just two words: Buy it.

Books about piano technique are rarely page-turners, and the idea of a large book that just deals with the nitty-gritty of piano fingering may not immediately appear enticing, but don’t be put off. In this review I will explain why I believe this book is an essential purchase for anyone who plays or teaches the piano…

About the book

According to the author:

“This book is devoted to the art of piano fingering and is intended for anyone who plays the piano, from children to college students, from adult amateur pianists to professional piano teachers and performing pianists. The traditional basics are covered, but the book deals mainly with advanced and innovative fingering. In addition, there are suggestions about related piano playing techniques, useful exercises, phrasing, and interpretation.”

This is actually a great summary of the book, which also points to the fact that there is material here to help almost any player.

Before outlining the content in more detail, it should also be stressed that Rami doesn’t advocate a finger-only approach to technique, so readers should not be confused by the book’s title in this regard. In fact he makes much of the use of arm weight, wrist movement, and so on. There’s even a chapter on breathing, which particularly pleased me given my own experience and commitment to teaching Piano Qigong.

The book starts with an interesting chapter covering some historical approaches to keyboard playing, giving some background and perspective. And then it’s straight into the practical advice.

Each section covers a key area of fingering practice, starting with easy techniques and moving to more difficult ones. And each section is broken down into very clear sub-sections which could be used as a single reading and practice activity. And the writing style is at all times clearly expressed, straight-forward and highly readable.

The book is illustrated throughout with a full range of keyboard charts, musical excerpts, and black and white photos of Rami demonstrating hand positions and finger techniques. These really must be understood by reading the text, as they include examples of awkward positions as well as good ones, and form part of the ongoing discourse.

Ideally the reader will have access to the piano to try out the musical examples, but such is the readability of the book that at times I actually enjoyed reading and processing the contents as it were for pleasure, away from an instrument.

Who is the book for?

For the relative beginner, the book starts with a section covering five-note positions, as well as explaining comfortable fingering of basic chord shapes. For those of us who are classically trained players and experienced teachers, this information may seem obvious, but I can think of several amateur adult players who have learnt using YouTube videos, for example, for whom this clear and sensible information will come as a revelation.

art-piano-fingeringAmateur players will equally benefit from working carefully through the next section, which covers scales patterns, passing the thumb, broken chord and arpeggio fingerings (including some useful alternatives to the conventional ones!) and more advanced chord shapes.

Teachers will find all of this material a brilliant help in finding clear ways to explain different fingering conventions, and will want to explore and consider the exceptions and alternatives that Rami so helpfully introduces.

For more advanced players, the book quickly moves onto fingering suggestions and solutions for the advanced repertoire, from trill patters to rapid repeated notes, and from double third to octave playing at speed. There is much here that players will find useful, and throughout the book Rami writes with the authority and clarity of an experienced performer who has faced and overcome the many knotty fingering challenges that crop up in the virtuoso repertoire.

Players with small hands are also catered for, and Rami explains in his introduction:

“Other than large chords and intervals, I generally recommend the use of small-hand fingering, which utilises a lot of thumb crossing and pivoting. My own hand span is very large, yet I almost always choose small-hand fingering for myself.”

The book concludes with some very helpful advice for the four-hand repertoire.

Throughout the book, Rami stays true to his clear foundational statement:

“The principles of efficient fingering at the piano should be:
1. Serving the music, i.e., helping produce the desired sound, speed, effect, phrasing, style, etc.
2. Healthy and comfortable, i.e., free of unnecessary tension which can cause hand ailments and injuries.”

Conclusions

There are many good books on piano technique, but few which I would consider as trustworthy and useful as this.

The Art of Piano Fingering doesn’t offer a radical breach with convention, but what it does is explain those conventions in the clearest possible manner, while suggesting creative and innovative alternatives where (and only where) they are useful and appropriate.

This is a thorough, systematic and comprehensive exploration of a vital topic, and I think that there is genuinely something here for everyone. I would be very surprised if you didn’t pick up some highly useful tips from reading it.

Rami must be congratulated for writing a volume that surely takes its place on the top shelf of books about piano technique, an essential addition to the pedagogy literature. And I can only marvel that he has approached such a potentially dry subject and produced such an enthralling read.

The Art of Piano Fingering is available from Amazon (in the UK, USA and elsewhere), or from the publishers here. Translations in German and Hebrew are also available, with a Chinese translation in preparation.

Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK. He runs a successful independent teaching studio and music education business, Keyquest Music.

6 thoughts on “The Art of Piano Fingering”

  1. This is an interesting review on Rami Bar-Niv’s book.

    I really look forward to reading about what Dr. Bar-Niv says about playing double-thirds, as I have quite the amount of difficulty finding ways to practice and execute double thirds (such as with Chopin’s Op. 25 No. 6 double third etude). I have watched a youtube tutorial by Paul Barton which provides great insights, but I hope to gain even more from this book.

    Like

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