7 March 2005

Piano fingering for diminished scales

I've recently been warming up before practice with the diminished scales [Wikipedia] and the chromatic scale. I'm quite the idiot for having never practiced diminished scales before. The Kansas piece "The Spider" hints at diminished scales in several phrases, and the rondo from the Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 7 ends with the chromatic scale in the right hand. A thread in rec.music.makers.piano provides the fingering for diminished scales in the right hand. I'll append to those and add the fingering for the left hand along with some cues for practicing them.

There are three distinct diminished scales; each is built up of alternating whole tones and half tones (major and minor seconds). There is no root or tonic to these scales so where on the keyboard you begin each is arbitrary. For convenience, I begin each on a whole tone interval and use the starting notes C, Db, and D, respectively. For fingering, I adhere to the rule of pairing thumbs (which I remember vaguely from my college teacher). I also practice each in triplets to provide a three octave range and to switch up strong beats in each octave.

The fingering for all three scales is in groups of 3+3+2. Alternate fingerings are:

  • For groups of two, use 1 3 instead of 1 2. This is slightly more cumbersome but makes the grouping feel more distinct.
  • For the C diminished in the left hand, use 4 3 2 1 4 3 2 1. This has fewer cross-overs but creates offsets with the thumb in the right hand.
  • For the Db diminished in the left hand, use 3 2 1 3 2 1 2 1. This has more natural cross-overs but also creates offsets.

Here are some visual cues that helped me get comfortable with the scales:

  • The C diminished has the black keys Eb, Gb, and Ab. The Gb and Ab are surrounded by half tone neighbors F and A. No diatonic scale has this pattern. It has the run of white keys A, B, C, and D.
  • The Db diminished is similar with black keys Db, Eb, and F#, and half tone neighbors C and E around the Db and Eb.
  • The D diminished has Ab, Bb, and C#, with G and B around the Ab and Bb. It also has a long run of white keys D, E, F, and G.

The JPG image below is also available as a more printable TIFF and as sheet music.

diminished scales

[ posted by sstrader on 7 March 2005 at 7:07:44 PM in Music ]