With traditional woodwind instruments, the fingers work together to change the effective length of the instrument’s body tube by opening and closing toneholes. Woodwind fingerings at their most basic use the fingers in sequence. For example, a certain note might be produced with an “open” fingering (all toneholes open). When the “first” finger (the one closest to the mouthpiece) closes a hole, the pitch drops, perhaps by a whole step. Adding the next farther finger drops the pitch again, and so on toward the bell end of the instrument.
“Forked” fingerings, in which a lower tonehole is closed while one above it is open, often produce somewhat inferior results—notes that are mismatched in timbre and/or intonation. (Some modern woodwinds use special mechanisms to correct for this, such as the F resonance mechanism on a high-quality oboe.)
An electronic woodwind-style instrument, such as the Akai EWI series, uses a fingering system that is designed to be similar to a traditional woodwind, so that a traditional woodwind player can easily adapt to it. But this is an arbitrary choice. Since the instrument’s tone production system uses electronic circuitry and software, rather than a vibrating air column, the fingering system don’t necessarily have to use the fingers in sequence, and forked fingerings don’t have any inherent problems. The fingerings can be invented completely from scratch, with no acoustical limitations.
EWI fingerings are designed to draw upon the best of both worlds—the familiarity of traditional woodwind fingerings, and the flexibility of a non-acoustical fingering system.
Note that the current-model EWI4000s, using version 2.4 of the operating system, includes several fingering modes. The mode I am considering here is the “EWI” mode, as the “flute,” “oboe,” and “saxophone” modes sacrifice some flexibility for the sake of increased familiarity to traditional woodwind players. You might consider this article to be subtitled, “Why you should be using the ‘EWI’ fingering mode.”
The current manual (“revision D”) shows a mere 17 fingerings in its EWI mode fingering chart (11 chromatic pitches, with B-flat through D having fingerings in two octaves, and B-flat having one additional alternate fingering). But many, many more are possible.
We can consider the individual EWI keys as having individual functions, rather than being inherently interdependent. For example, pressing none of the keys produces a C-sharp:
Adding any key will alter the C-sharp pitch by a given amount:
|LH bis||-1||If both LH 1 and LH 2 are pressed, LH bis has no effect|
|LH 2||-2||If LH 1 is not pressed, LH2 produces -1 (this makes LH middle finger C possible)|
|LH pinky 1||+1|
|LH pinky 2||-1|
|RH side||+1||No effect when used in combination with LH pinky 1|
|RH 1||-2||If LH 3 is not pressed, RH1 produces -1 (this makes 1 + 1 B-flat possible)|
|RH pinky 1||+1|
|RH pinky 2||-1|
|RH pinky 3||-2|
If I press LH 1, LH 2, and LH 3, the pitch is lowered from C-sharp by a total of 6 semitones, producing the G fingering familiar to saxophonists, oboists, flutists, and clarinetists.
But that is only one possible combination. I could also produce a G with, for example, LH 1, LH 2, and RH 3. Or LH 3, LH pinky 2, RH 1, and RH pinky 2. These fingerings would be extremely unlikely to work on a traditional woodwind, but with the EWI the possibilities are wide open. As long as the total pitch change adds up to -6 (and accounting for any of the listed exceptions), you get a G.
|Standard G fingering.(LH 1 + LH 2 + LH 3) = (-2 + -2 + -2) = -6 = G||One alternative G fingering.(LH 1 + LH 2 + RH 3) = (-2 + -2 + -2) = -6 = G||Another alternative G.(LH 3 + LH pinky 2 + RH 1 + RH pinky 2) = (-2 + -1 + -2 + -1) = -6 = G|
These examples are illustrative but likely have few real-world applications. For a more practical example, consider trills, which among traditional woodwind players are a subject of endless discussion and books upon books of awkward, complicated fingerings. An ideal trill fingering involves moving only one finger, preferably one that can be moved in a rapid, controlled, non-awkward way.
Take a look at the following musical example (one that oboists will recognize).
This passage would be a nightmare to play using only Akai’s 17 listed fingerings, but is easily manageable if you take a moment to work out some alternatives.
Assuming that you are using the “side” B-flat fingering in the first measure, the most obvious A-flat to B-flat trill is to hold the B-flat fingering and trill will LH 3. However, if you prefer, LH 2 will work equally well, as will RH 3 or RH pinky 3. (LH 1 will not work, because of the LH 2 exception; that would produce an A-flat to B-natural tremolo.)
|Awkward A-flat to B-flat trills using Akai’s published fingerings. (Alternate the blue and red keys.)||A much better trill fingering.|
The next problematic trill is F to G-flat in the last measure of line 2. I suggest holding the F fingering and trilling with RH pinky 1. (LH pinky 1 is also serviceable, but I find RH easier because RH 3 is free.)
|F to G-flat trill|
For the G-flat to A-flat trill in the same measure, I would hold the G-flat trill fingering (standard F, plus RH pinky 1) and trill with RH 1. (Again, there are more possibilities. In many cases the standard A-flat fingering trilling RH 1 would make sense.)
|G-flat to A-flat trill|
Try that whole measure—the fingerings are unfamiliar at first, but they lie very comfortably under the fingers and make for effortless trills.
Here’s what it sounds like:
Take a little time to experiment with your EWI’s fingerings, and see what you come up with!