I like to start teaching students 5-finger patterns pretty early in study, beginning with C and usually continuing around the circle of fifths as they are ready to learn new patterns. There are many benefits to learning 5-finger patterns and I feel that they are important to include in lessons, but sometimes they can feel like a drag. You play the same thing over and over each week and it’s easy for me as a teacher to use this as a “reset” time between students’ lessons, a minute or two that I can zone out as the student goes on auto-pilot to play the assigned keys. But, is that really the best use of our lesson time? 5-finger patterns can be used to teach a variety of skills, so I started brainstorming ways that we can vary them to teach students new skills in a familiar context and came up with this list of 10:
- Quarter notes, then eighth notes – this seems simple, but can be really tricky at first for students if you haven’t done this with them before, but I’ve found that having students learning to switch from quarter notes to eighth notes in the context of 5-finger patterns improves their rhythmic pulse and understanding of eighth notes in their repertoire significantly!
- All staccato or all legato – a great way to practice different touches at the piano
- One hand legato, the other hand staccato – significantly more challenging, but builds independence of the hands that will be necessary as students progress into harder repertoire
- One hand forte, the other hand piano – great preparation for voicing the melody, be sure to try switch it up, don’t always have the right hand play forte!
- Crescendo the way up, dim. on the way down – an excellent way to start creating and hearing smooth dynamic changes
- One long crescendo or decrescendo – requires an even more gradual c change than #6
- Whole notes with wrist bounces on the beat – I like to do this with students who are struggling with keeping a good hand position and relaxed wrists, going super slow helps them to watch their hands and fingers, bouncing the wrist helps to keep loose
- Contrary motion between the hands – good preparation for future contrary motion scales
- With a teacher accompaniment pattern – try this one here, or create your own!
- Swing it! (long-short-long-short) – prepare for swung rhythms in jazz pieces
Now, what to do with this list? I’ve created a printable for you that has two purposes, first it has a handy summary of the list above that you can use to remind yourself of different ways to ask your student to practice their 5-finger patterns, second, it has individual cut apart strips with each variation on them. You can cut these out and use it as a game with your student, have them draw one and play a 5-finger pattern that way, somewhat similar to our “Play it Again” Jar idea.
Download the printable here:
Spring Seals, NCTM, teaches 60 piano students ranging from age 3 to 70 in Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as the Director of Certification for TMTA. She is passionate about helping teachers become more effective in their studios through professional development, new resources, and fresh ideas.