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Part of my question about how I'm fingering this fugue is based on what I call "contraction" fingering. For example, with this passage...

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...where I normally can finger it 1543 2432 1321 2. But I could also play it by "contracting" the fingering where the idea is in five-finger position a third would normally be played every other finger like 2 4, but I reposition the hand for the continuous descending line, 5 "contracts" closer to 2, taking the place where 4 would normally be.

That example may not be the best to use, because 1543 2432 1321 2 is the obvious fingering, but it just illustrates the point about "contracted" fingering. I use contraction in real scores usually when there is a fairly long ascending/descending line and a thumb cross under won't work, or to avoid the thumb on a black key.

I've been trying to train myself for sight reading to see overall descending or ascending passages and use this kind of "contraction" or "expansion" fingering to execute the passages without running out of fingers or just getting my finger tied up in knots. So far it seems to help. Even if I don't execute the best fingering in a sight reading, if I get the general choice of contraction or expansion to match the line with whatever fingers I can manage in the moment, the performance goes smoother.

Below is a little fugue where I tried to apply this contraction fingering, I wrote out the fingering only for the short final half...

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...especially in the last three measures, in the right hand, there are several stepwise ascents that I play contracting 3 5 to accommodate the overall long descent of the line. Toward the final cadence I do not absolutely need to do all of those contractions. The final three notes of the top line could be played 4 3 4. But I tried practicing the contraction 4 3 5 for the sake of making the contraction motion a natural habit.

Does it seem like a bad idea to apply contraction fingering literally through to the very end?

Are there other fingerings that seem bad? Both hands play a lot of two notes at once, and my small hand can comfortably reach only an octave, so some of the turns and scale runs while holding a long note in the same hand are tricky for me to play.

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  • What strikes me most is how much I avoid using 5 and would usually prefer 4 3 2 1 instead of 5 4 3 2. Feb 20 at 23:38
  • In your initial example of "contraction fingering", I wouldn't use that fingering to begin with. I'd use 1-5-4-3 2-4-3-2 1-3-2-1 2, which requires fewer hand shifts, and makes for a more comfortable arrival on the final F#. For my sight-reading, the less often I have to move my hand, the better.
    – Aaron
    Feb 20 at 23:46
  • @aaron. I would use that fingering too for the initial example. Maybe it was not the best example, because it only really requires the position change for the final F#. But there are times when playing real scores where I need to do something like that when the line keeps descending. Feb 21 at 0:48
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    An important thing to keep in mind about fingering (similarly to "hand management" - sorry, I don't know the English term) is that there's no absolute best. Each one of us has different hands: bone length, finger position, proportions between finger bones, tendon elasticity, etc. While it's true that some level of adapting can be achieved through practice, it's mostly about your physical "limits", experience, body awareness, and, last but not east, effectiveness based on purpose. Does it work for you? Have you tried alternatives long enough to understand if they have limits based on the » Feb 21 at 3:42
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    @KelvinSherlock, it's just something I came up with off the top of my head. Turns out it wasn't the best example regarding the fingering question. Feb 22 at 16:38

2 Answers 2

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First, the idea to keep the hand, by expansion or contraction, as close to "neutral" as possible (i.e., five-finger position) is a very solid principle to go by. One wants to be as comfortable and relaxed as possible (allowing for exceptions when necessary), and this usually means the hand's natural, relaxed position, which in turn usually means five-finger position or something close to it.

My definition of "fundamental fingering problem": likely to cause injury. So, at that level, your fingering is just fine.

The next level would be allows for musical execution. This is more individual, but again everything seems okay.

Then we get to allows for efficient execution. This is even more individual, but there's nothing that, "as your teacher", I would object to.

My one suggestion, then, is that, four measures before the end, I would take some of the lower right-hand notes with my left hand. I find it makes the surrounding fingering easier and more straightforward.

In general, I am very, very liberal with finger switches, especially when sight-reading, and especially with counterpoint. This is not something that is planned out, and I try to minimize them when creating my "real" fingering for the piece.

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  • This is really helpful. I appreciate the level break down. Also, your comment about counterpoint really resonates as I work on this set of fugues (Muffat's 72 Versets.) I'm finding the scale and chord patterns so common in Haydn, Mozart, etc. don't help much for these fugues. Every little fugue presents me fingering dilemmas! Feb 22 at 16:42
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No, there is no fundamental problem with doing this. It might not be the best fingering in any situation, but it allows for fast uncomplicated playing of sequenced runs. Not employing the thumb means you have less problem with landing on black keys.

But you should keep in mind that this will most likely also lead to an accent shift: If you played the top example with 1-5-4-3-2-4-3-2-1-3-2-1-(2) you’d probably accent the beat: (1>-5-4-3)-(2>-4-3-2)-(1>-3-2-1)-(2->). With your fingering your are grouping this in runs, which means you are most likely going to play 1-(5>-4-3-2)-(5>-4-3-2)-(5>-4-3-2). So instead of emphasizing the line G-A-G-F♯ you are going to emphasize with an accent shifted by one 16th D-C-B.

Of course one can then practice against this, but still the point remains that certain types of fingerings will work better for certain type of phrasings and articulations.

I think you should use your fingering when it feels good, but not force yourself to use a fingering that might not work so well.

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  • But what about the fingering for the fugue? That is my main concern. Feb 21 at 14:09

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