The Best Clarinet Fingerings for F# and Eb

ClarinetMike says, “Teach The Best Clarinet Fingerings!”

The Best Clarinet Fingerings for F# and Eb by Dr. Michael Dean “ClarinetMike”

Below I discuss two common fingerings that should be taught to beginning (and all) clarinetists.

First space F#/Gb.  Beginners are often taught to play this note in a chromatic scale with thumb and right bottom 2 side (trill) keys. I strongly suggest that teachers teach the standard fingering of left hand index finger instead. Have students use it all the time, even in the chromatic scale.  In actual music it almost always is the preferred fingering for F#/Gb. Learning to “flip” between thumb F and index F# is an important technique for all clarinetists.

I was taught to introduce alternate fingerings early and often – and I agree. However, I would make it clear to the students that the basic (or guide) fingering for F# is index finger. FYI, legendary clarinet performer/teacher, Robert Marcellus, said in an interview, “…the two side trill keys are not chromatic ‘F#’ like a lot of people play. The chromatic of “F#” is just the index finger in the left hand.”

[However, if for some reason you simply MUST teach trill key F# in a chromatic scale, I plead with you to make sure your students also know regular index finger F#. I’ve seen far too many clarinet students use trill key F# all the time as their basic fingering – I suspect their beginning clarinet teachers never taught the standard fingering to them. Further, the inadequate preparation of beginning clarinet teachers is an important topic for another day!]

First line Eb/D# (also Bb/A# second space above the staff). Beginners are often taught to play this note with the left hand fork key (also called the “sliver” or “banana” key). Instead, teachers should teach the students to use the normal fingering of the top two fingers of left hand with right bottom side (trill) key.  And, as above, I strongly suggest this fingering be used also in the chromatic scale. Again, this fingering is almost always the preferred fingering in actual music. Further, the left hand fork key is very difficult to use if a student’s fingers aren’t slender. FYI, one of my teachers told me a story about a famous clarinetist who disliked the left hand fork key so much he had it taken off the clarinet and its hole plugged up!

I want to restate that I think alternate fingerings should be introduced early and often. The more fingerings a clarinetist knows, the better he/she can solve technical problems in music. As John Wooden said, “Little Things Make Big Things Happen.”

NOTE: As mentioned offhandedly in another post, I eventually will be writing a series of “I DO NOT RECOMMEND” posts on questionable clarinet teaching and performing practices.

About ClarinetMike

American clarinetist MICHAEL DEAN performs and teaches internationally and across the USA to consistent praise such as "world-class clarinetist and pedagogue," "consummate performer," "inspirational," "outstanding teacher," "super," "brilliant performer," and "one of the best clinicians I have ever seen." His career is headlined by appearances at Carnegie Hall, ClarinetFest, NACWPI, Eastman School of Music, and Royal Northern College of Music with recent recitals and master classes in Italy, Spain, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, and Texas. In July, he will return to Vipiteno, Italy as Clarinet Artist Faculty in Residence at Orfeo Music Festival 2018. He is featured on 5 commercial CD's and on New Media, such as YouTube. He is currently preparing another new clarinet CD, Postcards from Silver Lake. He's performed with the Southwest Symphony, Nevada Symphony, Abilene Philharmonic, Southeast Chamber Players, Red Mesa Trio, and Duo 35. He performed for 11 years with the Paducah Symphony. His articles appear in journals such as Southwestern Musician, WINDPLAYER, NACWPI Journal and The Bandmasters' Review. As "ClarinetMike," he writes for his widely-read ClarinetMike Blog, clarinetmike.wordpress.com-viewed in 150 countries on 6 continents. He was recently a tenured Associate Professor of Clarinet for 11 years at Southeast Missouri State University. He returned to his native Texas in 2012 due to family concerns. He is a past president and former National Board officer of the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors (NACWPI). Dr. Michael Dean studied clarinet performance at Texas Tech University, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Texas at Austin and University of Texas at Arlington. His teachers include Robert Walzel, Phil Aaholm, Carol Jessup, Jess Youngblood, Bob Ackerman, and Pam Youngblood. His web page, clarinetmike.com, features video of his teaching and performing as well as information on his CD's and other publications. He is a BG France Performing Artist.
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10 Responses to The Best Clarinet Fingerings for F# and Eb

  1. Roger Purcell says:

    I totally agree with what you have said in relation to the F#. However, having said to avoid side F# in a chromatic passage, you then advocate using side Eb, as opposed to the LH fingering. This, I feel is a contradiction. There is nothing wrong with the the LH fingering for Eb, and it is much better to keep the entire passage to the LH, rather than the unnecessary,sudden use of a right hand fingering, which also requires the coordination of both hands.Of course, the side fingering should also be used regularly, and where appropriate, but all these keys are there for a purpose.In addition,to trill from Eb to F and Bb to C, there is no better way, than the use of the LH fingering, where the music allows this fingering to be applied.Therefore, it is most important to be familiar with its use.
    Roger Purcell.

    • ClarinetMike says:

      Thanks so much for your comment. At the risk of being contrarian, I have come to question the “received wisdom” that keeping everything in the same hand is better.

      • Roger Purcell says:

        That is you prerogative but one must not be dogmatic in their opinions , and clearly we see things differently. Not that I am suggesting that you are,but where there are choices,it is a matter for the individual, having weighed up the options.Unless this key is is in the way for a playerif with large hands, I believe that it is a mistake to remove it, if only because of the trill fingerings I have mentioned. All best, Roger.

      • ClarinetMike says:

        I agree. I put in the part about the person cutting off the key as an attempt at humor

  2. Roger Purcell says:

    PS In relation to the trills , I should qualify my statement by saying that the fingering I mean is holding the LH fingering for Eb or Bb and shaking the bottom 2 side keys (trill keys) RH index. Roger Purcell- author of ‘The Advanced Edition: Clarinet Technique.

  3. Donald Gee says:

    Please also address the third line B-flat/A-sharp. Side key 2 when logically applied, or A-key + register always. This is a point of disagreement locally (oddly enough).

    • ClarinetMike says:

      Thanks for the comment! I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, side key Bb could stick out too much and ruin the evenness of sound in a passage. On the other hand I wear a ring! (Sorry!) On the other hand, side key Bb sounds better! And that is a great thing

    • ClarinetMike says:

      I guess it depends on the passage and your personal preference.

  4. Mark Harrell says:

    Keep it in one hand whenever you can. Two hands is preferable to a flip. Only flip when absolutely necessary. This causes smoother playing and fewer extra notes. This is basic Klose. But what did he know?

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