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I am currently learning the Fugue of Bach's "Toccata in E-minor BWV914". My question is if I should play the first bar with the 5th finger or not. Meaning starting with "545 3423 1". I feel more relaxed when I start the subject with "434 2423 1", but perhaps it is better to play it with the 5th finger, since maybe later I have no other choice. Obviously I also want to play it at speed and not slowly, so what do you suggest?

I know that the 5th finger fingering will get easier over time, but the question is not about the bar itself but rather if I could play the whole piece with this fingering or if it would be exhausting. Thank you for your answers.

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It's very easy to recommend fingering for a certain part but that's only half the story. I'd go for the 545 3423 1 as all of that falls under my hand, but there's no reason at all that your hand will do the same!

That works for me on the premise that when my hand is resting on the notes involved, each note has a finger ready. Of course it needs that thumb (1) on the low E, and that's where it goes. All other fingers for the first part of the bar feel fine doing that.

That said, it's been said a few times here - the only person who can say which fingers work best is the person who's playing. And that will, unsurprisingly, vary according to the individual anatomy of each person's hand. And working out what's best for that individual is up to - that individual !

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  • Thank you for your answer. Yes I thought so too, that it fits perfectly under the hand and it also trains the 5-4 trill. However when the subject is repeated the second time in bar 5, if I use the 5th finger, the position becomes a little akeward since you start on F# (Then E..) So I wonder if I should keep this fingering there too. I somehow do not like the idea of using different fingerings for the same subject (just transposed somewhere else). What would you suggest, to stick with 1 fingering for the subject or to change it depending on the location of the piano? – Matriz Nov 30 '19 at 12:47
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    @Matriz: I don't know why you'd necessarily want to keep the exact same fingering for the subject no matter what its transposition. If the subject were a major scale, there are many different sets of standard fingerings for the major scale based on where it is transposed to, and I wouldn't expect to finger the major scale the same way for all of them. There's an argument for consistency when it makes sense, but when interchanging black keys and white keys, adaptation is often necessary. – Athanasius Dec 2 '19 at 16:02
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I recommend starting with the left hand (12132435). It's more natural as the theme evolves, since the next voice enters with the right hand.

Hope this helps!

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  • Thank you for the comment, I will try it. – Matriz Dec 2 '19 at 14:21
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Why are you even playing this with the right hand? The right hand part doesn't start until 4 bars later.

There is no option about playing similar passages with the left hand at least half dozen times later in the fugue, so there is no good reason to "cheat" at the start. If your left hand isn't a fluent as your right, practice till it is.

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  • Bach obviously didn't consider that, or he'd have written it out for the l.h. – Tim Dec 1 '19 at 10:27
  • I didn't consider to play this with the left hand at all. I will try it. Is this some kind of traditional rule to only use one hand for a voice? It's my first fugue from Bach, I only played suites by him. But when the 3rd voice comes in, I play the upper 2 also with the right hand...? – Matriz Dec 2 '19 at 14:20
  • @Matriz - as it's written, using te treble clef, it's indicated that it 's intended fro r.h.playing. Although there's nothing wrong with doing what you feel works best - no-one listening will know the difference. – Tim Dec 2 '19 at 16:05
  • @Tim: staff location is not a reliable indication of what hand to use in Bach. When the second voice enters in this fugue, it is also notated on the treble staff, but it's nearly impossible to try to play both voices in the right hand at that point. So, the choice is to be consistent and begin this (alto) voice with the left hand or to start with the right and then switch at some point near the entrance of the second voice. I don't think there's a clear argument for one or the other aside from personal preference, but the score doesn't "indicate r.h. playing." – Athanasius Dec 2 '19 at 16:14
  • @Tim: a minor other point, but I'd also note that I'd be quite surprised if this was originally notated in treble clef. Most likely, it would have used soprano clef, as was the standard for the keyboard upper staff at the time. – Athanasius Dec 2 '19 at 16:17
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Using the fingering you mentioned that starts with the pinky is ok. It definitely allows you to play that whole section without having to do any hand adjustments, which is usually something to strive for when working out fingering.

However, one downside to starting on the 5 in this example is that since it’s the beginning of a phrase (in fact, the beginning of the piece), you want to start nice and strong, even though it’s on the offbeat. The pinky is one of the weakest fingers and very difficult to accent notes with.

I personally would finger it 323 1323 1, but that’s personal preference. With fingering, you need to keep in mind several things. Limiting the amount of hand movement is one, but phrasing and articulation need to be considered as well. If you feel you can get the right accent and phrasing by using the 5, go for it!

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