Recently I discussed the topic of clarinet “pinky” (little finger) fingerings with my woodwind methods class. With all that school band directors have on their plates, it’s not surprising that this topic doesn’t always get taught thoroughly to beginners. It can be a bit of a puzzle to a non-clarinetist, but the important concepts can be mastered with a minimum of effort if they are taught clearly.
This is an important thing for woodwind doublers to understand, too, since they may be bringing with them some fingering habits that worked well on their other instrument(s), but which may not apply to clarinet in the same way.
The following notes on the clarinet require use of a pinky key:
|These notes require left hand pinky
|These notes require right hand pinky
|These notes use EITHER left or right hand pinky
Pinky keys are also used in the altissimo register, in resonance fingerings, and so forth, but for today we’ll focus on the notes in the chart. If you’re unfamiliar with the fingerings, check them out at the Woodwind Fingering Guide.
The crucial decision-making deals with the notes in the last row of the chart, which each have two fingering possibilities—one using the left pinky, and one using the right pinky. If your clarinet is in proper adjustment, there shouldn’t be a difference in tone or intonation between the two fingerings, as they open or close the same toneholes. (With a poorly-adjusted clarinet, it’s possible for, say, one fingering to open a certain pad wider than another pad, perhaps affecting pitch and tone.) So our only criterion will be ease and precision of fingering.
Consider this passage, and we will walk through a systematic thought process for selecting fingerings: