Selecting alternate fingerings

November 20, 2015

When several fingerings are available for a note, how do you choose the “right” one for a situation? Below are some criteria you might use in that decision, but be aware that it is virtually always impossible to meet all the criteria, so you have to choose the one that best balances the pros and cons.

make cool fingering diagrams with the Fingering Diagram Builder
  • Which one would involve moving the fewest fingers? (Look at the previous note and the following note.) In general, moving fewer fingers is safer because it reduces the risk that the fingers will fail to move at exactly the same time.
  • Which one lets you make tidy, positive motions like lowering a finger onto a key or lifting it up from a key? Sliding fingers from key to key is harder to do accurately.
  • Which one lets you keep most or all of your fingers moving in the same direction? It is easier to keep your fingers synchronized if they are all either pressing down together or rising up together.
  • Which one keeps the movement in one hand? It is easier to keep your fingers synchronized if all the moving fingers are on the right hand, or all on the left hand.
  • Do the fingerings have different pitch tendencies? Does one sound more in tune in this situation? (It may be necessary to consider “just” intonation.)
  • Do the fingerings sound different tone-wise? Which one best matches the tone of the surrounding notes?
  • Do the fingerings have different response characteristics?

That might seem like a lot of mental effort just for one note, but if you practice conscientiously over the long term, it will become more and more automatic. In the meantime, use a pencil to mark in reminders for which fingerings to use on things you are practicing.