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Apologies for the ambiguous title. In my sheet music the fingering number is either below or above the note - is this supposed to indicate which hand to play it with? i.e. above the note for right hand and below the note for left hand? I ask because I can find no source that confirms this, but it is very ambiguous since the hands get close together and when it says 1 it is not at all clear whether to use the right thumb or the left thumb. This is a 4 voice Bach fugue, Henle urtext edition.

  • Almost all the time, the upper staff indicates right hand and the lower staff indicates left hand. If there are three staves for keyboard music then the middle is left hand and the bottom is organ pedals that are played with the feet. – Todd Wilcox Feb 26 '16 at 12:17
  • @ToddWilcox I thought that was true but my previous question proved me wrong music.stackexchange.com/questions/40431/… so I just wanted to clarify – user85798 Feb 26 '16 at 12:27
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    I can see your confusion. I don't like cross staff beaming myself and instead think the clef should be changed if leger lines are to be avoided, but that doesn't help you now. If you don't see cross staff beams then the best assumption is top staff for right hand and bottom staff for left. – Todd Wilcox Feb 26 '16 at 12:47
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    If both hands are playing notes on the same staff, usually the stem directions are up for the RH notes and down for the LH. Fingering is usually above RH notes and below LH notes, but sometimes it has to be put in a different place where there is room for it without disturbing the horizontal position of the notes themselves. The position of the notes, stems, and beams takes priority over the position of the fingering numbers. – user19146 Feb 27 '16 at 2:00
  • @alephzero And how am I to know if the stem directions indicate separate hands or are just to show separate voices? e.g. images.oliverbel.com/1/37dauh6wlt.jpg Is that strange notation that I have not seen before in the second bar to indicate that the second voice is to be played with the right hand? And in the fifth bar, is the right hand only playing the upper staff or does it help out in the lower staff? I cannot tell and the 1 doesn't mean anything when my thumbs are so close. – user85798 Feb 27 '16 at 10:35
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In four part harmony arranged for piano or condensed into two staves, each staff has two voices, where in each of these, one voice is written with stems pointing upwards, and the other voice is written with downward-pointing stems.

I agree that it can be ambiguous sometimes, but in four-part harmony for piano, each hand should play two voices (i.e. from the corresponding stave).

The fingering marks are normally written above the upward-pointing notes or below the downward-pointing notes for the relevant voice.

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