72 • Fingering Principles

Fingering obeys two main principles: melodic/structural and passage/ornamental:

Fingering for melodic expression, in which the most suited fingers are used to play an articulated melodic arc with absolute attention to dynamics, accentuation, articulation, and legato. If at all possible, tactile connection of the melodic line must be pursued, which often necessitates finger substitution on the key. Think of melodic fingering as expressive choreography.

Fingering Principles for melody:

Sing and articulate! Connect notes with a physical gesture; use finger substitution like an organist.

Fingering for speed in patterned passages, in which fewest thumb-under and -over crossings are pursued and the hand positions are perceived and executed as arpeggiated (i.e., compressed) clusters in which fingers submit to arm movements. The arm leads, the hand follows, the fingers fall into place. Think of passage fingering as "arming,” like the bowing of a stringed instrument.

See: 41 • Arm weight is always involved

Fingering Principles for passages:

1. Avoid thumb on black key, seek a natural hand-dome position.

2. Place as many notes as possible under one natural hand position. Fingers relaxed and ready on the cluster (ergonomic position prepared on the whole group). If patterns occur, repeat the same fingering, even if it contradicts rule number 1.

3. Use thumb as a rhythmical divider if possible, putting it on the first notes of groups if necessary, even if it contradicts rule number 1 and 2.

4. Use the 4th finger! He is a it is a perfectly good member of the hand family. Its only impediment is lifting above the neighboring fingers, which is never necessary. Fingering principle for the fourth finger from the fifth finger in chords: if it's a fourth, use the third; if it's a third, use the fourth.

5. There is no such thing as a right fingering - every hand is different. Different fingerings have different purposes, and these purposes are artistic concerns. Don't write fingerings in your score - if you need, notate armings, clusters, and the right combination of fingers will fall into place. Use a triangular marking for arming over clusters of notes; the natural position of the cluster is the best fingering. See example on two pages from the last movement of the Cello Sonata, Op. 40, by Dmitri Shostakovich pdf.

There of course is a small gray area: fast expressive melody that need cluster fingerings and slow melodic passages that require articulated fingerings.

See: 138 • Ornamental (passages) and structural (melody) applications on the piano need different physical approaches.

PS: A lot of harm was done by editors (talking to you, Mr. Hans-Martin Theopold of Henle), who with the best intentions lead innocent and uninformed students and amateurs to fingering hell; see: 140 • Customer service


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