Exercises in Thirds

One of the greatest challenges to us piano players is playing our 3, 4 and 5 fingers consecutively. Because of the way tendons are connected in our hands, it’s difficult to play fingers 3 and 4 or fingers 4 and 5 one after another. It can be so frustrating, sometimes we find ourselves avoiding playing with our 4-fingers altogether 😆. These Exercises in Thirds can help you gain more finger agility, if you practice them like this:

Using the PENTASCALES chart, practice Exercise #1 Parallel Motion (Parallel Motion means that your hands are playing the same notes and moving in the same direction) in the C pentascale (a pentascale is the first 5 notes of a major scale), then G, playing through all the rest of the 12 pentascales. Once you can play the Exercise #1 Parallel Motion in all 12 pentascales fairly well, move on to Exercise #1 in Contrary Motion in all 12 pentascales. Contrary Motion means that your hands are playing different notes, moving in opposite directions, but using the same fingering (i.e. both hands are playing fingers 1 – 3, 2 – 4, and 3 – 5 at the same time, but your hands are playing different notes.)

Next, move on to Exercise #2 Parallel Motion in all 12 pentascales. After playing all 12 in parallel motion fairly well, play Exercise #2 in Contrary Motion in all 12. You will have better and deeper brain retention and small motor skill development if you do each part of each exercise in all 12 pentascales (i.e. Exercise #3 in Parallel Motion) before moving on to the next part (i.e. Exercise #3 in Contrary Motion.) Students sometimes like to play all of the exercises in each key at once, but trust me 🙋🏻‍♀️, you will gain greater flexibility if you play each exercise part in all 12 keys before moving on to the next part. Here is Exercise #1 Parallel Motion in C and Db:

Click to Print Exercises in Thirds and the Pentascales chart:

I hope you find these exercises helpful. I like to have my students go back and review these exercises yearly or at least every other year; each time you review them you increase dexterity and finger independence.

How is your spring going so far? Here in Los Angeles it has been an uncharacteristically spring. We haven’t gotten much rain, but I am nevertheless enjoying watching my few vegetables grow in my garden (artichokes, corn, tomatoes and collards). What are you growing in your garden? Or are you planting seeds for new ideas or new summer projects? Please leave a comment and tell us what you are playing on the piano, what you are composing, or what seeds you are planting for new growth in your life. I do hope that you have been vaccinated and are enjoying increased in-person connections with loved ones.

With love and music, Gaili

Author, Upper Hands Piano: A Method for Adults 50+ to Spark the Mind, Heart and Soul

10 Replies to “Exercises in Thirds”

  1. These exercises came at a perfect time for me. I am learning Finlandia by Jean Sibelius, which requires similar finger flexibility. Thanks Gaili! Seattle’s spring has been off and on, with still plenty of showery days to stay inside and play.

    1. Wow Finlandia is a challenging piece! that’s fantastic! I’m so glad these exercises came at the right time for you. Good luck with your practice and enjoy a verdant Seattle spring!

  2. Hi Gaili, Thanks so much for all your free sheet music, recordings and practice suggestions. I am a piano teacher . Many of my students have enjoyed the sheet music! Currently, I’m practicing Lullaby in a Strom Op 54#10. Wow! The key signature and accidentals make this piece really challenging! I also discovered a gem from 1943 called La Golondrina! Fell in love with it! Maybe you or some of your subscribers have heard of it? Enjoy your Spring!

    1. Oh my! Lullaby in a Storm is such a gorgeous and challenging piece. How wonderful that you are playing it! I’m glad that you are making use of the free sheet music I give away each month- that’s great! I had never heard of La Golondrina but I just listened to it on Youtube. It reminds me of the song The Water is Wide because it starts just the same. Isn’t it great the way we can fall in love with a piece- then we just have to keep playing it until we learn it! Thanks for telling us about the pieces you’re playing, I love learning about new repertoire and being reminded about beautiful pieces such as the Lullaby. Cheers!

  3. As a 72 year old beginner, I enjoy your informative blog. Always something new and of interest. I appreciate all your unpaid efforts.
    Here in St.Paul Mn, I just planted all my seed crops (corn, beans, spinach, lettuce) and my broccoli, pepper & tomato seedlings. It has been unseasonably dry this spring.

    1. How wonderful that you planted so many wonderful crops. It has been a dry winter for us in LA too, sadly. isn’t it beautiful to watch our food grow? Every day I go outside and see my corn plants my heart does a little dance 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment! I just love hearing from people and appreciate that you took the time to respond. And congrats on beginning piano studies at 72. That’s fantastic. You will never regret the brain boosting effects! Learning to play the piano is difficult at any age. Please reach out if you need support sometimes! Happy spring, Gaili

  4. Thank You for these exercises. YES!!! PERFECT timing!!! I am working on an arrangement of Rock of Ages. It has 3 thirds. Up until you sent the exercises, I have had to slow down in this area because of the fingering and the pedaling. But, yesterday, I practiced exercise #1 in all the scales and then played the arrangement. I sailed right through!!! I will be doing exercises 2 and 3 this week.
    I so appreciate your blog, practice techniques, free sheet music and all the love that you put into music.

    1. Wow, you made my day Carol! In fact you made my month! I’m so thrilled that you saw results after practicing these exercises. Thanks so much for writing. And continue to warm up with these exercises going forward. They are going to keep expanding your finger agility. Happy spring!

  5. Hi Gaili, I’m camp hosting up in Marin Co again with a newly acquired portable piano and lots of free time to practice, if I can get it set up on a picnic table. The exercise in thirds is timely. My 3rd finger always wants to take over for the weaker 4th. No garden up here but we had a good crop of tomatoes and scallions in our AZ spring garden. We’re still eating them as they ripen on the trailer windowsill. Jerry made 3 jars of pickled green tomatoes that are delish! As always thanks for the superb piano posts.
    Love, Nancy

    1. Oh how wonderful! I’m so glad you’re doing the camp again. Hope it’s not too hot where you are, Marin tends to stay cool. I’m so glad the Exercise in 3rds is helpful for you! How brilliant that Jerry pickled the tomatoes. I was just watching one of Alice Waters’ classes on cooking- she pickles everything! And it lasts forever. Have a wonderful summer Nancy and thanks for your comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *