In today’s episode of PianoTV, we’ll be looking at four piano exercises for the fourth finger. The fourth finger tends to be our weakest, least independent finger. These exercises are to your fourth finger what kettlebells are to your shoulders.
We’ve done a couple similar videos if you enjoy finger exercises:
Let’s get to it!
A note on the finger exercises
In general, these exercises are going to be best-suited to late beginner and intermediate-level students. Of course, they can all be adapted depending on your level and I’ll mention any adjustments you can make as we go through each exercise.
If you’re more on the beginner spectrum, play all of these exercises hands separate, and don’t expect to go anywhere as fast as I do when playing through these. You’ll still make significant gains going slow and steady. In fact, you’ll be much better off if you play slowly but accurately than quickly with no control over your technique.
Exercise #1: Walking Finger Four
The first exercise is a little ditty I made up. It basically involves alternating back and forth with finger 4, first in the right hand and then in the left.
Instead of playing the same four notes over and over, you’re also walking up the keyboard – each bar, you move one step up the keyboard. The biggest reason for doing this is building multiple skills at once. You’re strengthening your fourth finger while also strengthening your sense of keyboard geography.
Exercise #2: Biehl op. 30 no. 88 and no. 103
Biehl’s op. 30 “The Elements of Piano-Playing” reminds me of Czerny finger exercises. It’s a collection of over 200 very short exercises (1 bar long, meant to repeat several times) which some people will find appealing.
I don’t personally like spending too much time on tuneless exercises, but there’s no doubt they’re useful. One great thing about these exercises is you can even practice them without a keyboard – try playing them on a tabletop.
You know people suggest you exercise while watching TV so you’re not just passively sitting there? You could do the same thing with Biel’s exercises. Pick a few patterns to try in your right and left hand and repeat the pattern (on a chair arm or your leg) for several minutes. Rest, then try another pattern.
The first exercise, op. 30 no. 88, involves holding down a D. That means when you play the right-hand finger 2 will hold down the entire time, and when you play the left hand, finger 4 holds down the entire time.
Exercises with held notes like this can be deceptively difficult. On paper they don’t look too bad – it’s just a 5-finger position, after all – but it’s an exercise in self-control to keep that finger stuck down while your other fingers move around it. Don’t be surprised if you feel very awkward with this at first, and if it takes you quite a while to get the hang of.
The second exercise is similar. Depending on what hand you’re playing with, you’re either holding down finger 2 or finger 4.
Depending on your level, feel free to either play it hands separately or together. My general suggestion is for students below a grade 3 level to play it hands separately always, and those at a grade 3 level (or higher) can play it hands together, hands separately, or both.
(Here’s a link to the sheet music from Biehl’s entire collection.)
Exercise #3: Exercise in Speed
One thing I’ve mentioned many, many times on this channel is how awesome pentascales (5-finger scales) are for building finger coordination. Unlike regular scales, 5-finger scales use all 5 fingers in equal amounts, so you’re able to strengthen all 5 fingers in equal amounts.
I would recommend practicing pentascales in order to strengthen the 4th finger. Please check out that video/blog post for more information, but they’re excellent for building control.
So why am I talking about pentascales here?
None of these exercises involve playing pentascales. But exercise #3 is a little riff on pentascales. You’re doing a repetitive 4-note pattern that climbs up the keyboard, first in the right hand and then in the left (you can play them hands-together if you’re more advanced).
One twist is that you don’t use your thumb at all. That makes you work much harder, since our thumbs are typically nice and strong – and they’re more separated from the tendons of your fingers, making it easier to keep the thumb independent.
For this exercise, we’ll be playing fingers 2-3-4-5 (5-4-3-2 in the left hand) all the way up the scale.
Once you have the hang of this finger pattern, work on being able to play it at a slow and steady tempo with complete evenness. One thing that’s likely to happen is when you play the notes on finger 4-5, your fingers fly off the rails a little. You lose your control and coordination, and those fingers end up “mushing” down on the keys instead of playing with distinction and control.
Make sure to master that control – this one’s great to try with a metronome. Once you’re comfortable there, start working on speeding it up in small, incremental gains. See how fast you’re able to get it in the next week or two. You’ll probably meet your edge at some point – there’ll be a tempo that you’re okay with, but once you cross that tempo threshold, everything flies apart.
Try to stay within this threshold. It’s not helpful to practice poor executions. Make your repetitions excellent, even if that means not playing as fast.
And maybe in a week you’ll find your threshold has moved and you’re able to play faster while maintaining control! Awesome! If not, no worries. Building finger independence takes a long time (a very long time for some).
Exercise #4: Gallant’s Little Lopsided Waltz
This etude makes an excellent study for so many reasons. Included today are just the first couple lines – it’s enough to work your fourth finger and get you started. Check out Pierre Gallant’s book “Clowning Around” if you’d like to check out the full version (and support a fellow Canadian)!
Here are the reasons I love this exercise:
- Left-hand melody (less common)
- Heavy use of finger four in the left hand (probably our weakest finger of all 10)
- Syncopation (learn a punchy new rhythm)
- Right hand follows a simple pattern of triads and no black keys to fuss with
- Requires hand independence (so you’re not holding over the rests)
Let’s look at it on the keyboard. This is a grade 3-level piece, so it’s the most difficult of the bunch and will take the most work to get the hang of. But it’s also the least repetitive and the most fun!
Start by mapping out the left hand, which carries the melody. Get familiar with the various hand movements in the two lines of music. Then do the same with your right hand, minding the staccatos and accents.
It’s a coordination challenge when getting it hands together the first time. Be sure to go VERY slow – slow enough that you preserve the integrity of the rhythm and accents. The accents are pivotal to our funky syncopated rhythm, and not something you want to “add later”. Add it right from the beginning!
You’ll find the sheet music PDF of these four exercises here. I hope you have fun working on these, and here’s to a stronger fourth finger!
Catch you next week,