I observe that many woodwind players, when learning a new fingering—whether a beginner learning a standard fingering or an advanced student learning a new alternate fingering—tend to think of them as sequences: “This finger plus this finger and this finger and this key over here.” Sometimes my students even want to recite the fingering aloud as they add one finger at a time, and then finally play the note. The problem with this is that there is obviously no time for such a procedure when playing music.
I now occasionally find that I have the opposite problem: a student will ask about a fingering, and I will discover that I am not prepared to verbalize it. I need to pick up the instrument, do the fingering, and then explain which keys I am pressing. My fingers know how to make the right shape, even if I can’t immediately recall the list of keys involved.
To learn new fingerings in the most efficient and practical way, move as quickly as possible to the “shape” stage. I suggest this method:
- With instrument in hand, think through the fingering, referring to a fingering chart if necessary. If you need to, think in sequence about each finger that will move and where it will go, but don’t move yet.
- When ready, move the fingers all at once, in a crisp and snappy way.
- Freeze, and think through the fingering again. Did you form it correctly? If it is incorrect, don’t fix it “in place,” by moving a finger or two into place; release all fingers and start over. Fixing it in place habituates a sequence of events, rather than a single shape.
- Put the fingering into context (a scale, a musical passage, etc.) using a metronome set on a very slow tempo. The object at this point is to succeed at forming the fingering shape accurately and on cue. Speed up only as you are certain that you can maintain 100% accuracy. If your fingers don’t move simultaneously, you are wasting time cementing a sequence.