Basic Piano Lesson

This basic piano lesson focuses on your hands.

If your nimble digits are going to caress the ivories with skill, you need to learn the role they play and how they’re incorporated into music in their various ways. If you did my earlier lessons here and here, you already know the note names and numbers on the keyboard.

Now, let’s work on getting to know what you’ll be playing your keyboard with: your hands.

Note: This drill can be done either before or after the drills here and here have been completed.

Finger Numbers

In piano music, each finger is assigned a number. You’ll usually see these numbers printed above the notes on a score in very small type. Like this:

Image showing fingering numbers as printed on sheet music

As you advance in skill, you’ll find that the “right” fingerings will just come to you more or less naturally. This is how they numbers are laid out:

Thumb – 1

Index – 2

Middle – 3

Ring – 4

Pinky – 5

piano finger numbers diagram

This applies to both the right and left hands.

Basic Piano Finger Exercise

A good exercise to do is to just write down various combinations of these numbers (1-5) and practice tapping your fingers on a tabletop in the order the numbers are written out. Do this with each hand separately. Then try it with both hands simultaneously.


Say for example, you had a combination of numbers like this:

1, 5, 3, 4, 2, 1

Translates to (in order):

Thumb, pinky, middle, ring, index, thumb

Now drill it. Do it…

First with the right hand.
Next, with the left hand.
Then with both hands together.

The motion you make is really more of a scratching motion, and should be very small and precise. Make up your own combinations of numbers and practice this until it comes to you easily with both hands together.

Try to get to the point to where you no longer need to look at your hands.

Some Additional Information about Fingerings

basic piano lesson diagram showing which fingers play black keys
  1. Here’s how fingers, or digits, are used:
  • Digits 2, 3, and 4 are used on the black keys.
  • Digits 2 and 3 are for the group of 2 black keys.
  • Digits 2, 3 and 4 are for the group of 3 black keys.

2. When fingering passages using single notes, try to avoid using the thumb (#1) and pinky (#5) on the black keys. Like all “rules” in music this is not absolute and will often be impossible or not practical to follow, but try to stick with it as much as possible. I’ve found that it does keep the hand balanced.

3. When playing chords, #2 above does not apply. #2 is for single notes.

If you’re already used to working with your hands or just naturally dexterous, you will not need to spend much time with this drill. However, some people are not used to working a lot with their hands, nor are they naturally agile with them. This will help to overcome that liability.

Well done! You’ve just completed a basic piano lesson here at Piano fingering is a huge subject and this is just the very beginning. Later lessons will get into more detail and will show specific examples using specific pieces of music.

Wanna learn more? Check out these lessons:

Beginning Piano Lesson Learning the Keyboard

Beginning Piano Lesson Learning each Key