Finger Organization Games for Kids
The best way to introduce fingering is to play finger organization games which teach kids to use the five fingers as a unit. Fingering is the process whereby a group of fingers are selected for a group of notes. It is one of the key organizing factors for a pianist, and is what makes playing quickly and fluidly possible. Young kids start out jabbing with the index finger, which I permit to get the process going.
Later, we need to broach the subject of grouping the fingers. Kids usually understand the idea of the fingers as a team, much like a basketball team. There are strong and stronger players and fingers. But treating the fingers as a group is difficult both physically and intellectually for kids. Many kids put up fierce resistance to grouping the fingers.
The Thumb Becomes The Leader, Not The Index
The three strongest fingers are the thumb, index and third. I concentrate on training those first. Thus all our energy is concentrated on getting the first three fingers to act as a group. I use comparisons such as legs walking, staircases, anything that will get them wiggling their fingers in a row.
Often they need guidance to start using the thumb as the first in the group. They are instinctively used to their index finger. But the thumb is strong, and all children have an easy time starting to use it as the primary finger in the hand group. The thumb is shorter than the other fingers and to a child it is rather strange and useless.
You may have to literally take their fingers and move them like a puppet to get the idea across, and I often do this, as all children respond when you gently push the fingers in the proper way so they feel the muscle from the inside. Show, rather than tell. If they don’t understand the hand position required for the thumb, move their fingers into position.
Play Fingers In The Abstract, Off The Piano
I also have them play the fingers as a group outside of the piano keyboard, on a book, any flat surface. This is to defuse the complexity of the keyboard and show them that the fingers are really involved in a simple pattern. I also use the game of having them hold their fingers in the correct position and I push the fingers down in the correct order, once again giving them a physical idea of what the passage requires in terms of finger movement.
The younger the child, the less usable are the fourth and fifth fingers. I don’t insist on them, and allow them to trail along as best they can unless the music requires them. The problem is always that kids are barely able to lift the last two fingers, due to weakness. We as humans do not use these fingers much anyway, unless it is as a group with the other fingers.
Look at your fingers as you grab for a doorknob or pencil and you will see that the dominant fingers are the first three, thumb index and third.