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 and used by beginning (and all) clarinetists.
First space F#/Gb. Beginners are often taught to play this note in a chromatic scale with thumb and the 2 bottom right side (trill) keys. I strongly suggest that teachers teach the standard fingering of left hand index finger instead. Students should 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” well 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. 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, students should be taught to use the normal fingering of thumb and 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 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.
ClarinetMike says, “As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, ‘Little Things Make Big Things Happen.’”