Clarinet Fingerings

I find that one of the bad habits that I help students to overcome from high school is using proper fingerings. This includes chromatic fingerings as well as when to use their left and right pinky fingers. Most high school students don’t have the luxury of being taught by a clarinet player who would know to train them on this important subject. Certainly, using proper fingerings is one of the keys to having a fluid technique.

Most students are able to perform a chromatic scale but few students perform it cleanly at a fast tempo. Part of the problem is that they are not using the sliver keys for fingering low B-natural, F-sharp, low D-sharp, and high B-flat. Additionally, most students can play a chromatic scale ascending much better than descending. I use an exercise called “Old Faithful” to help students practice the chromatic scale with equal attention to ascending and descending passages. It is like the “Old Faithful” geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Students ascend a little at a time, not all at once, like a geyser shooting out of the ground. If performed in sixteenth notes, the anchor pitches of E, G#, and C will always be on the beat. This helps their fingerings to lock into a specific pattern for performing the chromatic scale.[1]

Another fingering issue I encounter regularly is the use of the left and right pinky fingers. Most students always play B-natural and C-sharp with the left pinky, and many don’t even know that you can play those notes on the right hand side. Instead of alternating pinky fingers, students will slide between B and C-sharp on the left. This is sometimes necessary and unavoidable, but should be avoided at all costs because it is slow and cumbersome. Here is the rule for when to use left and right pinky:

If B is next to C, then play B on the left. If B is not next to C, but is approached by leap, then play B on the right.[2]

A relatively new and less-used etude book for clarinet fingerings is Finger Food by Eric Mandat. Eric Mandat is mostly known for his compositions involving extended techniques, but Finger Food is a very tonal and approachable etude book with exercises specifically designed for left hand, right hand, and side key. They are very inventive and fun to play and teach.

Below are my Keynote slides for “Clarinet Fingerings.”

  1. See slide number 5 for “Old Faithful.”  ↩

  2. The same is true for C#. If it is next to B, it should be alternated left and right with B, if C# is by itself, play it on the right-hand side.  ↩