The Best Clarinet Fingerings for F# and Eb

ClarinetMike teaching a clarinet master class at the University of Michigan in February 2020.

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.’”

About ClarinetMike

American Clarinetist Michael Dean “ClarinetMike” 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.” Dr. Dean’s career is headlined by appearances at Carnegie Hall, ClarinetFest, NACWPI, Royal Northern College of Music, and Eastman School of Music, with recent recitals and master classes in Italy, Spain, Canada, Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, Iowa, Louisiana, and Texas. He recently returned for a fourth summer to the beautiful Italian Alps of Vipiteno, Italy as Clarinet Artist Faculty in Residence at the international Orfeo Music Festival. He is featured on 6 commercial CD’s including his soon-to-be-released new CD, Postcards from Silver Lake. He is also prominent on New Media, such as YouTube. He was clarinetist with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra for 11 years and he’s also performed with the Southwest Symphony, Nevada Symphony, Abilene Philharmonic, Southeast Chamber Players, Red Mesa Trio, and Duo 35. He has given more than 500 master classes, clinics and performances at universities, conservatories, conferences, festivals, high schools, junior high schools, and a diverse array of venues. As “ClarinetMike,” he writes for his noted and widely-read ClarinetMike Blog – viewed in 150 countries on 6 continents, clarinetmike.wordpress.com. His blog is the #1 clarinet blog on the Internet according to Google Search and a recent ranking on Feedspot. His articles also appear in professional journals such as the Southwestern Musician, The Bandmasters’ Review, WINDPLAYER, and NACWPI Journal. He is a past president and former officer on the National Board of the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors (NACWPI). After a successful 20 years of teaching clarinet at the university level, he relocated to his native Texas due to family concerns. He is currently an active clarinet and woodwind performer, teacher, clinician, blogger, and consultant based in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Michael Dean studied clarinet performance at Texas Tech University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Colorado at Boulder, and University of Texas at Arlington. His teachers include Robert Walzel, Phil Aaholm, Carol Jessup, Bob Ackerman, and Jess Youngblood. He is a BG France Performing Artist and his professional website is clarinetmike.com. Mike and his family live in Hurst, Texas. His family’s new Golden Retriever, Nimbus, is a relative of Andy.
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4 Responses to The Best Clarinet Fingerings for F# and Eb

  1. Roger Purcell says:

    I totally agree with all you have said with regard to F#. However, I still don’t believe that you give LH Eb/Bb the credit it deserves. Rarely (if ever) in my 40 plus years of teaching, have I had a student, of any age, unable to use this fingering because of their hand size, or width of fingers.Though, this may be something which you, yourself find troublesome? I use them both fingerings in equal measure. Therefore, I feel qualified in recommending the use of both. As I have previously pointed out – when trilling from Eb to F, where surrounding notation allows, the LH fingering is the obvious choice. Refer to my study, previously provided, which could not be performed easily, using the RH fingering. Also, many professional players use this option in chromatic passages, as it allows for better co-ordination, at speed, and doesn’t require an abrupt hand change. I think the clarinettist, to whom you refer, was Robert Marcellus? A great player, of course, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that because he wanted the said hole blocking, that he would have advised everyone to do so.That would be ridiculous! Of course, it is the job of a teacher to advise but, where there are options (which virtuoso players differ on) there should be no dogma. In my view, a student should be allowed to choose the best method for themself, provided it is not detrimental to their improvement.

  2. ClarinetMike says:

    Great to hear from you! Thanks for the comment! The clarinetist I referred to is Daniel Bonade.

  3. Roger Purcell says:

    Thanks for the clarification on the player. Another great one! Of course, my comments still stand. I think we are both passionate about our ichosen instrument and discussion and differing observations are both interesting and healthy. All best wishes.

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