Updated: Mar 25
There is no doubt that a major part of a successful and striking performance depends enormously on the player’s choice of a good fingering The question is, how can we determine what is good fingering? In this blog I will present to you 3 types of fingerings: The ‘good, the ‘lazy’ and the ‘cheating’. By choosing a fingering we must consider and confluence many musical aspects such as: articulation, phrasing, harmony, color and, of course, playability. All of them can be exalted by a musically grounded fingering or just nullified by the choice of a bad one. Let's take the extremely important element of articulation to determine the type of fingering.
Articulation might be the strongest musical tool for creating a striking and exciting performance. The way the notes are tied or separated, defines the punctuation of the musical speech. Articulation highlights one element and puts another in background, it makes music tridimensional, with picks and depths. As a result, a fingering which doesn’t support the articulation can dramatically change the meaning of the musical speech.
"HELP, a thief!!!" or yet "Help a thief!"? My English teacher always repeated to us this example for making clear the importance of the articulation/punctuation in writing and speaking (and in the management of dangerous life scenarios...)
For some odd reason, this topic is still considered as “taboo” for many guitarists. A fingering already satisfies their musical requirements when it enables them to play the right notes, on the right pitch (so to speak). Yet, this is obviously not enough. To play a passage with the right notes doesn't mean necessarily to play it correctly. A clear example of this:
J.S.Bach: Preludio BWV1006 (Urtext):
The handwritten bow under the first 3 notes establishes a clear articulation-punctuation and a fundamental distinction between the first 2 C#'s of this bar: the first has a clear harmonic function as part of the broken A major chord. Moreover, according to the performance practice of that time, being the last note of a tied group, must be played very softly. The melodic element starts therefore from the B, in upbeat, and continues with the C# of the next quadruplet. Thus, the C# is a melodic note. Yet, most of the guitar players choose a ‘lazy’ fingering and play a slur within C#-B, completely misunderstanding the punctuation of this passage.
Nonetheless, removing the slur from this fingering alone (between C#-B) wouldn't be enough to achieve a good punctuation. In order to make a clear separation between the harmony (A-E-C# legato) and the melody (B-C#-E-A-G# etc. staccato) we will take a step further:
I know that many of you will not agree at first but using this fingering one will soon notice that the 'unnecessary' change of position on the first C# produces a natural, short breath within that note and the following. This breath is required by Bach's bow, according to the performance practice of slurred groups at the time. On top of that, this fingering is not difficult at all to perform. Therefore, a “Good” fingering.
As a result of such common mistakes in fingering, I cannot join the choir of enthusiastic comments on some performances of this Preludio. On one hand, they are amazingly fast, but on the other hand they ignore completely the musical speech indicated by Bach (simply imagine a Shakespeare contest where the winner is the actress-actor who is able to declaim the piece at the fastest speed without any care for accent, punctuation and so on). If they knew what an amazing richness of articulation and rhythm this Preludio has, they would have definitely looked for a different fingering! At long last, we have finally arrived at the ‘cheating’ fingering. Let’s observe the notorious 32nds-scale passage from the Ciaccona BWV 1004:
From bar 73 onwards Bach clearly requests to play the scales throughout as staccato. The purpose of it is too create a sudden, almost brutal contrast with the preceding variations, where the presence of legato intensifies gradually until bar 72, where we can see 8 connected notes of 32nd.
The sense of anxiety and 'urgency' of this passage is breathtaking if one plays it according to Bach's instructions.Unfortunately, very often we hear these bars played with random slurs here and there, added just to make the work of the right hand easier and/or help to avoid finger-crossings by changing strings.
Can we consider this a good fingering? Regardless, my answer is: NO.
If we observe the jump D-A on the second beat of bar 74 (red squared) we can draw the conclusion that, in order to avoid the crossings of the fingers of the right hand, we should play the D with the m, which will then pluck all odd notes (with the exception of the first note of each bar, which is played by the thumb). From here we can write backwards and ahead the rest of the fingering, deciding from time to time if an open string must be played as a fretted note, in order to avoid crossings.
The whole passage might not be 100% clean when played throughout staccato at the right speed, but to me it matters more that the rhetorical gesture of urgency strikes powerfully.
When I listen to some 'adjusted' performances of this passage I always get the feeling that I have been cheated. To emphasize, here are 2 recordings on YouTube of what is considered “the most difficult piece of the piano repertoire”- the Study op.63 n.24 by Amadee Mereaux.
The first recording displays the original hand-crossing version:
The second recording, on the contrary, an intentional ‘cheating’ fingering: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9HwqSvjRd8)
Watch it please, the original version (from 00:50) is just hilarious! :D
To conclude: in the case of articulation and punctuation I always tell my students to imagine as if they play the piece for a musician who has never heard it. He has the score of it, but without any articulation/phrasing signs and must be able to write them down. If at the end he managed to do it correctly- you have chosen a ‘good’ fingering (and performed it well).
Well, that was it for today. I would really love to know what you think about this topic! Please, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment session below. Thank you, take care and see you next time!!!
Thousand thanks to my friend Eilon Amir for his invaluable and patient help.