The Best Clarinet Fingerings for F# and Eb

ClarinetMike after an orchestra concert.

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

Below I offer my opinions on two fingerings that I think 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 the clarinetist can solve technical problems in music. As John Wooden said, “Little Things Make Big Things Happen.”

ClarinetMike says, “Think for yourself. Remember the great words of John Wooden, ‘There is no progress without change, but not all change is progress.'”

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 Canada, Italy, Spain, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Louisiana, and Texas. In July, he will again return to Vipiteno, Italy as Clarinet Artist Faculty in Residence at the international Orfeo Music Festival 2019. 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. Dr. Dean has given more than 500 clinics, master classes and performances at high schools, universities, conferences and other venues. For 11 years he was a clarinetist with the Paducah Symphony and he's also performed with the Southwest Symphony, Nevada Symphony, Abilene Philharmonic, Southeast Chamber Players, Red Mesa Trio, and Duo 35. His articles appear in journals such as Southwestern Musician, WINDPLAYER, NACWPI Journal and The Bandmasters' Review. As "ClarinetMike," he writes for his widely-viewed ClarinetMike Blog, the Internet’s #1 clarinet blog read in 150 countries on 6 continents: clarinetmike.wordpress.com. After a successful 25 years of teaching clarinet at the university level, he relocated to his native Texas 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, and Bob Ackerman. 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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9 Responses to The Best Clarinet Fingerings for F# and Eb

  1. Roger Purcell says:

    I know that we have had this discussion before, but in reference to your suggested fingerings for F# and Eb, which you believe should be taught, I still feel there is a contradiction of logic. Whilst I agree with your argument for ‘flipping’, for F to F#, thus avoiding side F#, chromatically, and this being a crucial technique, you then argue for side D#, which involves the use of both hands, rather than the LH, fork fingering, which would keep the passage, all left. Why involve the use of the RH index finger, which you, yourself describe as a ‘trill’ key? I could understand your argument about thick fingers finding the LH fingering awkward, if you were referring to an Eb clarinet, but this problem is rarely an issue, on Bb. Incidentally, though I have said I agree about the F# , if a chromatic passage were to be repeated, as in the ‘flight of the bumblebee’ , the side F# , would almost become the only option, as it would be much more difficult, technically, to repeat the chromatic passage by flipping.

    Try trilling from D to Eb rapidly, finishing on Eb and repeat this several times.Side for trill, of course, but much better to finish on the LH Eb, allowing better control. Then try, similarly, trilling from F to Gb, finishing on Eb. Again, much better to finish, with LH Eb, than playing from the side Gb , and finishing with side Eb.That would be harder still! You could, of course, argue that you are referring to beginner students, but I would still have to disagree, regarding the neglect of the LH Eb.

    If you still prefer your own fingering suggestions, that’s your prerogative, but I have written a technique book, highly recommended by Jack Brymer, and have spent 56 years of my life, giving great consideration, to such techniques. Ultimately, we all have our own thoughts, and should not adopt a dogmatic approach, where options are available.

    Please try my suggested exercises, and then reply, having done so, with your considered response.You may find that you agree?

    All best wishes, Roger ( Purcell )

  2. Robert Larm says:

    I strongly disagree with your suggestion to use the 1st side key instead of the LH sliver key for the Eb/Bb. In rapid chromatic scale passages using the front fingering is invaluable and every single teacher that I studied with used it for almost all situations. There are some cases where there are exceptions to this rule and I would play it as you teach it. So I am coming from the perspective of teachers who worked with Marcellus, Hasty, Gulick, Bates, Portnoy, Gigliotti, Shifrin, Blayman, DeKant, Yeh,Combs, etc.

  3. Greg says:

    For F sharp I use the side trill keys when ascending and left index finger descending. For me it depends on the note prior to the F sharp.

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