Putting your best finger forward

Does it matter which? No, but yes.

How often do we find ourselves overruling fingering suggestions so considerately provided by ‘helpful’ editors. It’s comparatively rare for a composer himself to mark fingering, unless for particular technical or interpretation reasons, so I suppose we should be grateful to editors for disfiguring our scores with their own peculiar idiosyncrasies.

Some time ago I took part in a masterclass given by Russian virtuoso Konstantin Scherbakov – undoubtedly the most pragmatic, sensible and inspirational teacher I know (not to mention he plays rather well also). Slavishly I was following Chopin’s own rather odd fingering in a particular passage – all to do with the voicing of the passage – and to tell the truth I was finding it extraordinarily awkward and a bit of a distraction.

KS: Why,Gil, do you use such awkward fingering?
Me: Because Chopin indicates it in the score.
KS: And?
Me: Well, I assume Chopin knows more about fingering than I do!
KS: But do you have Chopin’s hands?
Me: (silent – suitably chastened).

Of course if you happen to have exactly the same shaped hand as an editor (or indeed Chopin), his suggestions may very well suit you. But if not, they likely as not will not suit you at all. So nowadays, with the full authority of Mr Scherbakov behind me, I advise students “do whatever works for you”.

But this post is not about which finger to use, when. It’s about which finger to use ALL the time. Because having made, after much experimentation, a definitive decision, you absolutely need to stick to it – every time. Otherwise how are you going to develop the muscular memory to guarantee the passage at every performance? A huge bonus is that the simple act of forcing yourself to mentally note and memorise which finger goes where also does wonders for memorising the piece in general.

What this means while practising is that however perfectly you just played a passage, if, in the excitement of the moment you used an unplanned fingering, you should consider it as much a mistake to be put right as if you played a wrong note (heaven forbid!)

The corollary, obviously enough, is that you have to be just as continually aware of which finger you use on each note, as you do of which note you have to play. All the time.

Too hard? Well whoever said playing the piano was easy! Is it worth the effort? Depends how much you care about the music.

Gil Jetley (Director)

PS For readers intrigued to know which passage caused me so much grief see Chopin Sonata no 2, Scherzo, beginning of “trio” 

PPS any references to composers and editors as male are made simply because most were and still are – although I am happy to concede with more female composers and editors our scores will soon have far more sensible fingerings