Hey beginning pianist!
Do you want to play piano well?
Of course you do!
If you want to be a good pianist with a solid understanding of music theory, you need to build a good foundation.
The best place to start (once you know the letter names of the keys) is with a five-finger pattern!
Five-finger patterns are the foundational blocks of all chords, scales, and keys.
In this article, I’m going to teach you how to master 5-finger patterns for any key on the piano, plus teach you some impressive words and give you resources.
Ready to get started on five-finger patterns? Let’s go!
Before We Begin: Some Important Words on 5-Finger Patterns
For the nerds in the audience, five-finger patterns are also called “Pentascales.”
Pentascales are one of the first things you’ll learn when you begin to take piano lessons, and they are one of the most essential building blocks as you begin to play the piano.
Pentascales may be easy-peasy, but they are important to master for a few reasons:
- First, they will help you recognize major and minor chord triads.
- Secondly, they will prepare you for major and minor scales. In turn, the scales will teach you about key signatures and prepare you to play in a variety of keys, transpose, and more.
- Third, pentascales show the tonic and dominant notes. In English, that means that five-finger patterns teach you to understand both the most basic chord for each letter note as well as the chord variations that can come from it.
All of those things are essential to building music theory and playing well!
There are actually ways you are learning when you practice five-finger patterns:
- First, you are learning kinesthetically. Your muscle memory is working, and your body is learning important piano positions.
- Secondly, you are learning in an auditory manner. Listening to the way the notes sound will help you form recognition and understanding of each position.
- Finally, if you are using written music (and I hope you are), you are learning visually. If you don’t have written music to use, sign up for Playground Sessions, an online piano course that comes with written music.
But enough of that!
Without further ado, here is how to play a five-finger pattern:
The Basic 5-Finger Pattern in C Major
When learning a new musical element, it’s best to start with C, the easiest key.
Here’s how to play a pentascale in C Major:
- Set your hand on the keyboard, with each finger on its own key. Thumb goes on C, second finger on D, third on E, etcetera.
- Starting with your thumb, slowly play each key in succession, one finger at a time.
- When you get to your pinky, go back down.
Easy enough, right?
Now try it with your left hand:
- Place your pinky on C, your fourth finger on D, your third on E…. you know the drill.
- Starting with your pinky, play each key slowly, one at a time, until you get to your thumb.
- Go back down the way you came up.
Now, it’s time to learn how to do a pentascale in any other key.
The Basic Five-Finger Pattern in Any Major Key
Keys other than C require black keys for their five-finger patterns.
But don’t freak out!
This is not so hard.
You can use a chart when you first try it, if you like.
Or better, just memorize this rule:
Five-finger patterns use all whole steps, except a half step between the third and fourth notes.
Not sure what the difference between a whole step and a half step is? No worries!
Take a look at your keyboard.
- A half step is simply the very next key on the piano, no matter the color.
- A half step up from C is C#, a black key.
- A half step up from E is F, a white key, because there is no black key between E and F.
A whole step is two half steps.
- A whole step up from C is D. The half-step in between is C#, a black key.
- A whole step up from E is F#. The half-step between them is F, a white key.
On the C Major pentascale, you start with C. Then you go to D (whole step), E (whole step), F (half step), and end on G (whole step).
Now, let’s try it starting with D:
On the D pentascale, you start with D, and then go to E (whole step), F# (whole step), G (half step), and end on A (whole step).
You can use the Whole, Whole, Half, Whole pattern on any major pentascale!
Minor 5-Finger Patterns
Now, major keys aren’t the only game in town.
You also need to know minor five-finger patterns!
You can tell the difference between a major pentascale and a minor pentascale by the way they sound:
A major pentascale sounds happy, but a minor pentascale sounds sad.
How does this happen?
Basically, it all comes down to when you play that half step among the whole steps:
- For a major scale, remember, you play the lone half step between the third and fourth notes.
- For a minor pentascale, you put the half step between the second and third notes.
Here is your pattern for a minor five-finger pattern:
Whole, Half, Whole, Whole.
See what we did there?
Let’s put it into practice!
A C Minor pentascale is like this:
Start with C, go to D (whole step), then E flat (Half step), F (whole step), and finally G (whole step).
Now, let’s take a look at the D Minor five-finger pattern:
Start with D, head to E (whole step), then F (half step), G (whole step), and end on A (whole step).
Great work! Now, you can apply this to any key!
Did you hear the melancholy sound of the minor key? Try comparing a minor five-finger pattern with a major five-finger pattern and listen to the difference.
More Five-Finger Pattern Practice… and the Next Step
Now that you know how to play a five-finger pattern, you need to practice them!
You can do this in about five minutes a day at your piano.
You’ll have them all mastered in no time!
Of course, pentascales are just the beginning.
To learn the next steps, it’s a good idea to take lessons.
No time? No worries! You can sign up for online lessons at home at learn at your place.
One awesome resource is Playground Sessions.
Playground Sessions will not only help you practice five-finger patterns...
It will also teach you how to build on five-finger patterns to make scales, chords, and more!
So sign up today, and keep on playing!