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I am a pianist trying to learn organ and since there’s no funds for lessons I am reading old organ instruction books and came across one from Schneider in the public domain in London published 1875 that has weird signs of “+” for scale fingerings but this plus sign doesn’t mean a sharp or altered note as in figured bass and I can’t understand what it means although I think it is a sign notated in old clavier scores, also. It’s like my mind has left me with this... Is anyone able to help me out here?

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From memory (many decades ago!) the + indicated use of thumb. Index finger was 1, middle 2, and so on.

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In old advertisments for piano music (and particularly piano methods) you will see a choice of 'English fingering' and 'Continental fingering'. English used X for the thumb.

Note the emphasis on 'Easy'. Vain promises of instant gratification are nothing new!

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  • I think you have this backwards. "Continental fingering" means the 12345 system which is now (as far as I know) standard everywhere. "English fingering" is the +1234 system (+ for thumb, and fingers 1 to 4) which had pretty much disappeared except for "old scores" when I started piano lessons in 1950-something. – Brian Chandler Oct 17 '17 at 13:27
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Tim is right. I had the same experience with old baroque guitar sheet music too where the "+" marked the thumb for the right or left hand.

  • Using the thumb on the fretting hand, for classical guitar playing? Plucking hand is usually marked 'p' (pulgar) for thumb. – Tim Oct 17 '17 at 10:07
  • Yes indeed. Some years ago I found some teaching material from Matthäus Waissel "Lautenbuch, darinn von der Tabulatur und Applikation der Lauten gründlicher und voller Unterricht" from about 1592. He liked putting his thumb on the lowest (lute) string in some cases and marked this with an "x". I play my ukulele this way, too. – Eirik Fesker Oct 17 '17 at 11:18
  • Surprising. I'd have thought he'd have been ex-communicated, or burnt at the stake at least for that in those days ! – Tim Oct 17 '17 at 11:23
  • @Tim a lute isn't a guitar. Some baroque lutes had as many as 12 courses of strings, and most of them were pairs of strings like a 12 string guitar, so there were actually 24 strings! You need all the digits you can use, on a fretboard that big. – user19146 Oct 17 '17 at 15:22

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