Exercise For Students: Thumb Position Octaves

Your hand can be fuzzy but your intonation can’t.

Your hand can be fuzzy but your intonation can’t.

Three weeks before I perform, especially if I haven’t been doing serious practice, it’s time for half-an-hour a day of octave work in order to strengthen my hands and solidify my hand spacing across the instrument.

Octave practice = Star Trek: The Next Generation time!

(TNG is the perfect show to do technical woodshedding, with no sound and subtitles on. I love the show but let’s face it: the conversation is slow, the action minimal, and most of the time you stare at the screen you’re looking at people staring at a screen. However, I have colleagues who watch sports, soap operas, etc.)

You’re going to use your own hand frame to measure all shifts, as indicated by the boxed numbers: “2x3” is shorthand for “2nd finger takes 3rd finger,” or “2 replaces 3.”

Set up a major hand frame for your octaves and keep it consistent throughout the two-page exercise:

Whole Step from Thumb to 1
Whole Step from 1 to 2
Half Step from 2 to 3

This cycle covers every shift from one thumb position to another through the third partial (1.5 octaves) while re-enforcing ear-training of standard intervals. Diamond-shaped notepads indicate natural harmonics with which you can double-check your intonation.

Repeat-and-slur is my preferred way of practicing this exercise, but I invite you to come up with your own variations.

Happy octaves!