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Piano Exercises: Fingering and Practicing Chromatic Scales

Piano Exercises: Fingering and Practicing Chromatic Scales

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One of the most important scale patterns is the chromatic scale. It is also an important piano technique to master, because it is used by so many composers in so many different instances—in delicate runs, in crashing bravura passages, and in everything in between. Practicing the chromatic scale teaches speed; it also reinforces the thumb-under/fingers-over scale technique. In this guide you’ll learn how the fingering for playing a chromatic scale, and how you should practice it.

Note: To make practicing easier, you can download and print out all of the music exercises in this quick guide here.

Fingering and Practicing the Chromatic Scales

The chromatic scale contains every single note—all the black notes and all the white notes. Indeed, you can start it on the very lowest note of the piano and go all the way up to the highest note on the piano, playing all 88 keys. The following tips will help you learn the chromatic scale:

As with other scales, note that there are several ways of fingering chromatic scales. The most common approach for right-hand ascending and left-hand descending is as follows:

Right-hand ascending and left-hand descending.

When the right hand is descending and the left hand is ascending, follow these fingering rules:

Piano Exercises: Chromatic Scales. Right-hand descending and left-hand ascending.

The following exercises are designed to get you playing the chromatic scales in time, while doing something else with the other hand—in this case, working your way through the basic triads (three-note chords) in all keys. Two exercises—scales and chords—all for the practice of one.

Piano Exercises: Chromatic Scales with chords. Piano Exercises: Chromatic Scales with chords. Piano Exercises: Chromatic Scales with chords. Piano Exercises: Chromatic Scales with chords.

These exercises can be printed out here.

Playing Hands Together in Contrary Motion

Starting with both thumbs on D, the left hand descends while the right hand ascends. This is actually much easier than it looks, and may be easier than practicing hands apart because the two hands are exact mirror images of each other. They play exactly the same fingers, which helps reinforce the fingering pattern. Play the pattern until each hand reaches the next D note with the thumb.

Playing in the opposite direction (the right-hand-descending/left-hand-ascending approach) is a little trickier because it requires you to remember that every time you reach the end of a series of black keys, you must put the second finger on the following white key (not the thumb). This takes a lot of repetition, because it seems intuitive to simply pass the thumb under. The problem with playing intuitively is that there are no fingers left for the following white note. Thus, the fingering for this direction is as follows:

Piano Exercises: Chromatic Scales in Contrary Motion.

Chromatic Scales in Parallel Motion

Playing chromatic scales in parallel motion (in which the hands go up or down the scale in the same direction at the same time) is much trickier.

The difficulty lies in dealing with the two white notes—the E and the F, and the B and the C. When one hand is playing the thumb and the second finger, the other hand has to play those two fingers in the opposite order.

Piano Exercises: Chromatic Scales in Parallel Motion.

The most effective way to practice this is to concentrate on the right hand when it is descending and the left hand when it is ascending. This is because it is easier to trust the ascending right hand and the descending left hand, which have fingerings that seem more natural and intuitive. With the descending right hand and the ascending left hand, the pianist needs to be sure that the second finger is placed correctly when the fingers reach the two-note white groups of B and C, and E and F.

Getting to the point where the correct fingering is automatic takes practice, but it is well worth it. Parallel chromatic scales can be used for great effect in improvisations. Composers often use this technique. Additionally, practicing this technique teaches you how to use your hands independently.

Now that you know the fingering from chromatic scales and how to practice them, its time to hit the piano! Have a great practice!

From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Piano Exercises by Karen Berger