Accuracy Tip: Watch Your Fingers

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Over the years one thing I have noticed in watching students is that a percentage of missed notes have to do with how your fingers move, or more precisely how they don’t quite move at the same time as each other. In a follow up comment to the recent article on glissandos I noted that

In my own case, to perform a gliss from for example an F at the top of the staff to a high B-flat I would roll my fingers 3-2-1 from the T0 fingering for the F to a T1 for the top note, a variation on the suggestion from Berv.

So while this rolling action can be used to advantage in making a glissando or rip, it is also something to be very aware of as a potential problem.

In slow passage work I know what my tendency is, and I suspect it is common out there. My fingers tend to roll very slightly in order 3-2-1. So for example if I am going to a 2-3 fingering the third finger tends to go down slightly before the second finger. If it is to the fingering 1-2 my second finger tends to go down slightly earlier than the first. My perception is that it is more likely to be noted in the 2-3 combination than the 1-2 combination.

Then in many passages you also have the thumb valve to throw as well. Let’s say you have to go from 0 to T2-3. When taken quickly probably the fingers will all hit at about the same time but taken slowly there is a real good chance that they won’t, and even if it does not cause a full blown chip that roll of the fingers will translate into something audible, especially if it is a slur.

There are several things you can do to improve this issue.

One is to improve the ergonomics of your instrument. This may involve switching over to use a strap or flipper instead of the pinky ring (this will free up the third finger) and adjusting your horn with valve extensions (finger pads or “dimes” for example, or even modifications to the thumb valve). Make it easier for your fingers to arrive in a neutral position; make it easier for your fingers to be in that classic, rounded position when playing.

The other main tactic would be to use your fingers better. In The Brass Gym by Pilafian and Sheridan we find this very related suggestion about confident fingers.

Confident fingers – in order to avoid rough slurs, use marcato fingers in legato music. Armando Ghitalla described it as “pounding the valves.”

Taking a phrase such as this one (simple etudes in keys with a lot of flats or sharps work well for this purpose) I have found it helpful to alternately watch my fingers directly, watch them in a mirror, and then close my eyes and feel the motion.

It is possible to get the fingers to coordinate perfectly but it may be more of a challenge than you anticipated it to be. In my own case lately while I am tempted to play on several different horns I have restricted myself a bit with the goal of really gearing my finger action around one horn. I think it is paying off, and in any case finger action is a good topic for any player at any level to consider.

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