Help me, Mr. Piano Man
December 16, 2005 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Bad pianohabitfilter

Being mostly self-taught and rather haphazardly so, I find myself mostly playing sing-along classics. I took lessons years ago and found myself quickly frustrated by a process that only gave me a song and a half after several months' practice.

So yes, I am of the "cheater" school and haters -- y'all know what you can do.

Point being, I find myself making some odd hand positions. Some of this may result from the spurious references I may have used to teach myself the chords in the first place. For example, I've seen chords based on the root of the triad (C: C-G-E) as well as the middle of the triad (C: G-E-C).

I found the root-note triad easier to remember (as the first note struck in a "C" chord should not be, duh, G -- tho I learned trumpet first and am now forever single-note biased that way) but find that it makes for some difficult and cumbersome positionings. C# for example is position/note: 1/C#, 3/F, 5/G#

This makes for kind of a weird hand position where my middle finger is below the first and third. This seems strange and awkward, but so do the ofset triads.

What's a piano hack to do?

(I mean for himself and other than lessons. Its Christmas, damnit, I'm po')
posted by Ogre Lawless to Media & Arts (10 answers total)
Best answer: Do exercises with all of the triads and inversions. For a C major chord, root position is C E G, first inversion is E G C, and second inversion is G C E. You should be able to play all of them easily.

If you're doing your own thing, you can use whatever fingering is comfortable for you. However, the traditionally correct fingerings, according to my piano book, are as follows:

Left Hand: Root pos.: 5 3 1
1st Inv.: 5 3 1
2nd Inv.: 5 2 1

Right Hand: Root pos.: 1 3 5
1st Inv.: 1 2 5
2nd Inv.: 1 3 5

Practice all the triads and inversions with each hand separately, then together. Start with major triads, then move to minor, diminished, and augmented.

And your fingering is correct for C# major (although the third of the chord is spelled E#), as all root position triads are played 1 3 5. C# major is a tough key. Good luck.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:58 AM on December 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

And in case my example didn't make it clear, root position means the root of the chord (the named note) is on the bottom, 1st inversion means the third of the chord is on the bottom, and 2nd inversion means the fifth of the chord is on the bottom. If it's a 7th chord, then 3rd inversion would mean the 7th is on the bottom.

The order of the notes besides the bottom note doesn't have any impact on the inversion; for example, E G C and E C G are both C major in first inversion. However, the latter is not convenient to play with one hand on the piano.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:00 AM on December 16, 2005

I have found that as you practice the inversions, arpeggiate them as well, moving up and down the keyboard. I don't know if it's muscle memory or what, but I find that arpeggiations help me remember things better and get more comfy with awkward chord positions and progressions.

Want awkward? Watch a pianist pick up a guitar and learn barre chords for the first time. Heh.
posted by TeamBilly at 10:08 AM on December 16, 2005

ludwig_van is right on. Practice root chords and their inversions until your hands just know where to go. A good exercise is to start with say a C major chord, then move up and down chromatically, as slowly as it takes to use the correct fingering. Repeat the same exercise with different inversions. Then instead of chromatic movement, move up and down in fourths and fifths. This exercise is especially useful since much popular music moves in fourths and fifths. Finally you can mix and match major-minor combos in this exercise, e.g. Em A Dm G Cm F Bbm Eb Abm Db etc. through all the keys.

Soon you will realize that some inversions are close to each other, and you can change chords smoothly. For example the EGC (C maj) and DGB (G maj). This will smoothen your overall playing style -- your hands won't be jumping all over the keyboard when you change chords.
posted by ldenneau at 10:08 AM on December 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

posted by thirteenkiller at 10:09 AM on December 16, 2005

Response by poster: Fuuuuck, ludwig_van, even :)

LV -- fantastic, 1-2-5 is something I was clearly missing on the first inversion. Also nice to know that on some chords I'm just plain fucked (really, its more about F#m but C# was more to the piece at hand)

Team Billy -- I can't agree with you more. Breaking the chord down note by note is like hand yoga. Also helps my listening.

Hanon -- where were ya when I needed ya? Looks like a good resource. Drill-oriented, I take it? When I was younger I thought drills were the LAMEST but now that I'm older and wiser I think such things are invaluable.

Also, something to do while drunk ;)
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:21 AM on December 16, 2005

Hanon was my nemesis when I was little, but if anyone can get through it without getting strong hands and perfect fingering I'll give them a dollar. Hanon is very, very good. You can see some of the drills here. The later ones can be pretty complicated, but at the beginning they're fairly simple.
posted by thirteenkiller at 10:27 AM on December 16, 2005

I'll third (or fourth?) the suggestion on the Hanon, with one caveat. If you're going to do them, make sure you are following the fingerings EXACTLY (if you're going to cheat and download images off the net make sure you can read the fingerings). I wasn't paying close enough attention on one of the exercises, mastered it with an incorrect fingering in the left hand, and it took me two weeks to retrain my hands/brain to play it correctly. It's a bitch but I won't be taking thirteenkiller up on that bet. Strong hands and perfect I come!
posted by turtlegirl at 2:16 PM on December 16, 2005

I recommend taking a lesson occasionally with a classical-oriented piano teacher, preferably someone at the university level. Even one lesson every 4-6 months can help direct you and give you feedback on your hand positions. Also - doing Hanon wrong is a waste of time, as it only reinforces bad habits. Get some "hands on" instruction once in a while and it will be much more useful in the long run.
posted by kdern at 5:57 PM on December 16, 2005

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