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Fingering For Little Hands


Malcolm Farr
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Rather than risking hijacking MusingMuso's thread "Pedalling for Little People", I thought I'd raise a loosely related issue as a new thread. It is this:

 

Although (unlike what MM says of himself) I am reasonably tall, I do have smallish feet (a blessing, I think, for pedalling) and certainly quite small hands with short, stubby fingers (a positive curse, albeit that they are quite lithe). Because of this, I have sometimes taken to rewriting manual passages so that, where I am physically unable to play what is written, I can at least make (what I hope is) a passable impression of it. Some passages in eg. Franck and Liszt, who were noted for their large hand-spans, and wrote for them, would otherwise be quite impossible for me.

 

Do any others have such difficulties? What solution do you adopt - omitting notes altogether where these can't be managed, or fudging as I do?

 

Rgds,

MJF

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I am almost tempted to repeat, verbatim, my remarks under the pedalling thread ! For the time being, though, my one golden rule bears repeating (in fact, it is Roger Fisher's golden rule) ; if it is secure and gives musical results, then it is good fingering.

 

I am lucky in that I naturally have a broad stretch, and I accept this is an advantage.

 

I recently attended, and played in, an excellent masterclass by Jos van der Kooy in which he talked, amongst other things, about stretches in Franck.

 

He took the view that, often in music, composers wrote octaves or big stretches simply so that the voice-leading on paper was technically correct. This did not necessarily mean that you had to play every note in performance.

 

I have sometimes found lateral solutions to fingering problems.

 

In Franck, particularly, I have sometimes found it helpful to play a note on a higher or lower manual by thumbing down, or playing up with a free index finger. At the moment I am playing the Pastorale which has some difficult left hand work with big stretches on the last two pages. This can be achieved by playing the right hand tune on the lower manual, and picking up the odd note on the higher manual with a free right hand finger. (I also use this technique to cover awkward moments in the first three pages of the Piece Heroique).

 

When I looked at the texture more closely, though, I realised that the two manuals (Positif and Recit) are actually coupled at that point, so that high note in the left hand is already being sounded by the right hand on the Positif. Is it really necessary, then, to duplicate it with your left hand ?

 

Jos van der Kooy also reminded us that Franck was more than happy to re - write difficult passages for his students with small hands, so I do not think we need to be too precious about the sanctity of the composer's score.

 

I understand how early music fingering works, but I am bound to say that it is lost on me in practice. I blithely use the Czerny method with the thumb going under in Bach and earlier music, which for me is the easiest way to make it work as music.

 

Having said that, I increasingly use finger crossing to give myself an 'extra finger' for example, crossing 4 over 5 or 3 over 2 in order to keep a run going.

 

In the same way, you can give yourself an 'extra finger' by playing a note with the base of your thumb, and then levering your thumb up to play the next note (particularly if it is a black note). I remember seeing some exercises on just this technique in David Sanger's tutor.

 

Sometimes, you also need to think whether it is better to shift hand position and start again, rather than try to keep a legato line by putting the thumb under. Particularly in fast music, no - one notices the fractional break in the line and, in fact, the greater drive and security is what the listener hears instead.

 

I find fingering an increasingly fascinating subject as I develop as a musician (sad, I know), and I hope these thoughts may be helpful. I am waiting for the postman to deliver Roger Fisher's 'Masterclass'. I imagine it will be full of excellent advice on fingering as I have been strongly influenced by Roger's thoughts on this subject. Having met Roger on many occasions, I know that he also has quite small hands, so I am sure that his advice will be the result of real experience.

 

M

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I remember somebody pointing me to this solution:

John Pike Mander

There's also

one from the same people :blink:

Sorry, not much to add on fingering

Thanks for the thoughts on pedalling though. I bought Sanger and AMT for my youngest and thought I was doing it all wrong!

Ian

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I am almost tempted to repeat, verbatim, my remarks under the pedalling thread ! For the time being, though, my one golden rule bears repeating (in fact, it is Roger Fisher's golden rule) ; if it is secure and gives musical results, then it is good fingering.

 

I am lucky in that I naturally have a broad stretch, and I accept this is an advantage.

 

I recently attended, and played in, an excellent masterclass by Jos van der Kooy in which he talked, amongst other things, about stretches in Franck.

 

He took the view that, often in music, composers wrote octaves or big stretches simply so that the voice-leading on paper was technically correct. This did not necessarily mean that you had to play every note in performance.

 

I have sometimes found lateral solutions to fingering problems.

 

In Franck, particularly, I have sometimes found it helpful to play a note on a higher or lower manual by thumbing down, or playing up with a free index finger. At the moment I am playing the Pastorale which has some difficult left hand work with big stretches on the last two pages. This can be achieved by playing the right hand tune on the lower manual, and picking up the odd note on the higher manual with a free right hand finger. (I also use this technique to cover awkward moments in the first three pages of the Piece Heroique).

 

When I looked at the texture more closely, though, I realised that the two manuals (Positif and Recit) are actually coupled at that point, so that high note in the left hand is already being sounded by the right hand on the Positif. Is it really necessary, then, to duplicate it with your left hand ?

 

Jos van der Kooy also reminded us that Franck was more than happy to re - write difficult passages for his students with small hands, so I do not think we need to be too precious about the sanctity of the composer's score.

 

I understand how early music fingering works, but I am bound to say that it is lost on me in practice. I blithely use the Czerny method with the thumb going under in Bach and earlier music, which for me is the easiest way to make it work as music.

 

Having said that, I increasingly use finger crossing to give myself an 'extra finger' for example, crossing 4 over 5 or 3 over 2 in order to keep a run going.

 

In the same way, you can give yourself an 'extra finger' by playing a note with the base of your thumb, and then levering your thumb up to play the next note (particularly if it is a black note). I remember seeing some exercises on just this technique in David Sanger's tutor.

 

Sometimes, you also need to think whether it is better to shift hand position and start again, rather than try to keep a legato line by putting the thumb under. Particularly in fast music, no - one notices the fractional break in the line and, in fact, the greater drive and security is what the listener hears instead.

 

I find fingering an increasingly fascinating subject as I develop as a musician (sad, I know), and I hope these thoughts may be helpful. I am waiting for the postman to deliver Roger Fisher's 'Masterclass'. I imagine it will be full of excellent advice on fingering as I have been strongly influenced by Roger's thoughts on this subject. Having met Roger on many occasions, I know that he also has quite small hands, so I am sure that his advice will be the result of real experience.

 

M

 

 

=========================

 

 

An interesting reply; especially since mention is made of Jos van der Kooy, who knows about these things.

 

My own hands are adequate enough, but not spectacularly so, and I do run into problems from time to time.

 

One problem I ran into in the days when I could actually play it, was the wonderful and seldom played "Pastrole" by Ducasse, which actually isn't as difficult as it looks or sounds. However, there is one bit in this very pianistic work where the stretches required are enormous, and I often wondered if it wasn't written that way for exactly the reason that MAB mentions.....voice leading nicety.

 

I think this MUST be the case, because what I did was re-write the offending bar, (in which this awful stretch appears), similar to the ones preceding it, and when listening to it played that way, it sounds not the slightest bit different. No-one but an absolute scholar on the look-out for this sort of thing, would ever know.

 

I think the lesson is to try and work around an obstacle in a musical way, and if it isn't possible, leave it to others.

 

It's what I feel about a lot of French music, because there are many others who are more comfortable with it physically than myself, and I thus concentrate on what is possible rather than what is not fully possible.

 

MM

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