Tips for Teaching Pentascale Shapes

Two pilots have just landed their plane after a very rough approach.

"Wow, that was the shortest runway I've ever landed on," says the co-pilot.

"Yeah,"  says the pilot. "But it sure was WIDE!"

I'm reminded of this silly joke every time I see my students struggle trying to place their fingers on the tiniest piece of real estate on the piano key.

The average piano key is about 1 inch wide. But it's 6 inches long! 

(2.54 by 15.24 centimeters for the metric gang)

The video below is from a lesson where Audrey was exploring the difference in shape between a C minor five-finger pattern and an E Flat minor five-finger pattern.

As you watch, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is doing the teaching?
  • Is the teacher giving her information by telling her anything?
  • Who's asking questions? 
  • Is Audrey engaged in the learning process?
  • Is it worth the time it took (3 minutes) to let her discover these things herself? 

Where a student places their finger on the key is often the key. (Pun intended...sorry.) 

I've been thinking a lot about this with students of all ages and abilities. From Iliana, with her magnets placed to help her slide her hand in to prepare for a black key, to my student Stan, who was working on the Chopin F Minor Ballade today.

Often the first note we hear as being "wrong" is a result of an error made several notes earlier. An incorrect fingering can cause this - but so can a "correct" finger poorly placed on the key.  

A finger placed in the wrong place on the right key can set off a chain reaction.

We need to take the time to notice and adjust this placement.

There's a fabulous book called That's a Good Question...How to Teach by Asking Questions by Marienne Uszler. I had the good fortune to have Marienne as my Pedagogy Teacher at the University of Southern California. Her open-mindedness and curiosity was infectious. When I decided to started writing this blog, the first thing I did was reread her books.

I highly recommend all the books in this series including: Play it Again, Sam...How Where and Why to Repeat, and Time Flies: How to Make the Best Use of Teaching Time.


Magnets placed so a student plays behind them - closer to the fall board - to help prepare for black keys.

Puzzle erasers placed to show the V-shape of fingers in a C Minor five-finger position. (Pentascale)