Faà di Bruno, Giovanni Matteo [Horatio, Orazio] 83

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Fingerboard (i)

(Fr. touche; Ger. Griffbrett; It. tastiera). The part of a string instrument over which the strings are stretched and against which the fingers of the player’s hand press down the strings. The shape of the individual fingerboard is dictated by the characteristics of the instrument concerned. In bowed string instruments, such as members of the violin and viol families and the viola d’amore, the fingerboard is generally made of a strip of ebony glued to the upper surface of the neck and rounded throughout its surface to allow the bow to touch each string separately. Fingerboards of this sort extend from the pegbox end of the instrument well beyond the neck, over and above the belly, towards the bridge, the total length depending on how high the range of the instrument is to be. In the mid-18th century, for instance, a good violinist needed a fingerboard about 20 cm long in order to stay on the fingerboard and play up to the 7th position. By way of contrast, the modern violin fingerboard averages 27 cm in length. (For illustration and further information on the violin fingerboard see Violin, §I, 2, figs.1 and 4.)

Similarly, the width of the fingerboard depends on the size of the instrument and the number of strings involved. The fingerboard of a bass viol with six strings must therefore be considerably wider than that of a violin. Fingerboards are generally narrower at the pegbox end than at the bridge end, a typical fingerboard of a modern violin measuring 2·5 cm at the narrow end and 4·5 cm at the other.

Frets are used on fingerboards in instruments of the viol family but not in those of the violin family or in the viola d’amore. In plucked string instruments, frets are also the rule – for example, on citterns, lutes, guitars and ukuleles – but their fingerboards are flat, not rounded, to suit the flat bellies of the instruments and their flat, low bridges (although some modern steel-strung acoustic or electric guitars have fingerboards with a slight camber).

In some cases (for example, citterns), the fingerboard may project over and above the belly (as with viols and violins); but in others, as in lutes and guitars, the flat strip of fingerboard continues directly onto the belly, or the fingerboard may be recessed into the neck so that fingerboard and neck form one continuous plane. Sometimes the fingerboards of plucked instruments, especially old guitars, are ornamented with designs of various sorts, occasionally executed with special decorative materials like mother-of-pearl. In certain neckless instruments, like zithers, the fingerboard is glued along the side or bottom of the instrument.

See also articles on individual instruments.


Fingerboard (ii)

(Fr. ruban; Ger. Bandmanual). A pitch control device, also known as a linear or ribbon Controller, used in some monophonic electronic instruments. Typically a horizontally mounted ribbon of non-conductive material insulates the performer from a resistance ribbon below it; beneath it a bar or wire carries an electrical current. When the fingerboard is depressed it brings the resistance ribbon into contact with the wire; different positions produce different frequencies in an oscillator. Sometimes a pressure-sensitive layer below the ribbon, such as a mercury-filled tube in the trautonium, permits further control over attack. In addition to glissandos, produced by sliding the finger along the ribbon, the performer can play discrete pitches by using a normal finger technique. When there is no parallel keyboard, some form of pitch-orientating device is employed, such as a dummy keyboard or markers for selected pitches. An equivalent of the ribbon is used in the Ondes martenot; a horizontal wire controls a variable capacitance by means of a ring into which the performer's index finger is inserted.


Finger cymbals.

Small Cymbals played in pairs, one on the thumb and the other on either the index or middle finger. They have been known since antiquity (see Crotales) and are still used, chiefly by dancers, in the Islamic world (zil). In orchestral usage they should not be confused with Jingles.


This article deals with the history of fingering systems for musical instruments and with the notation used to indicate them to the player. Unless otherwise stated the numbering of the digits of each hand follows modern practice: for keyboard instruments, 1 = thumb, 2 = index finger, 3 = middle finger, 4 = annular, 5 = little finger; for bowed string instruments, 0 = open (i.e. unstopped) string, 1 = index finger, 2 = middle finger, 3 = annular, 4 = little finger. Fingering is not normally shown in music for wind instruments, while music for plucked string instruments (lute, vihuela, guitar, harp etc.) employs fingering techniques that are either embodied in the notation or outside the scope of this article.

I. Keyboard fingering

II. Bowed strings

III. Wind instruments



I. Keyboard fingering

1. To 1750.

2. Since 1750.



Fingering, §I: Keyboard fingering.

1. To 1750.

The oldest known fingering rules for fast notes, summarized in ex.1, are from a manuscript of Hans Buchner’s Fundament Buch, dated 1551 (some 13 years after his death). It would appear from these examples that he reserved 3 for weak notes. However, the manuscript also gives the fingering for an entire piece, and here 3 takes all the notes which have a mordent, and various minims weak or strong, but is generally reserved for weak crotchets, quavers and semiquavers. In exx.2 and 3, the actual duration of the first bass note (which completes a phrase) has to match the crotchet or quaver in the middle voice. If various other minims are not also to be truncated drastically, the hand must perform some rather novel gymnastics (fig.1). Probably the semiquavers in ex.4 would be played with the back of the fingers facing left and the tips touching the keys as shown in fig.2. Only a player quite at home with manoeuvres of this kind can hope to distinguish between interesting fingerings and the mistake in ex.2, where the c was overlooked and the c' fingered accordingly. The proper emendation is to play the octave with 5 and 1, like all the other octaves; but b is still played with 3, as in the next bar.

A ricercar by Christian Erbach is preserved with fingerings in a Bavarian manuscript of the 1620s. Once again, 3 has mostly weak quavers and semiquavers (ex.5), and here also one finds certain fingerings which even a fairly thorough German tutor might not explain (as in ex.6, where the 4 on d' entails a cadential rubato and a relatively deliberate articulation). A very high wrist can facilitate some of the fingerings, such as 5/4 for certain harmonic 3rds in the right hand (ex.7) and even for some harmonic 4ths.

In Elias Ammerbach’s two sets of fingered exercises (1571, 1583), 3 is used on weak or strong notes indifferently (exx.89), and the left thumb is applied to the last note of certain groups (ex.910) even if it may be a chromatic note. (The right thumb is not explicitly called for in any German Renaissance source.) Ammerbach fingered most groups independently of each other, and often the same finger has the last note of one group and the first of the next. Perhaps the weak note should be played with merely a finger motion but the following strong note with a hand motion as well. Ammerbach may well have used a moderately low wrist as infig.3.

In these exercises and in Erbach’s ricercar, to slur all those notes which can most readily be slurred would often make a very silly, ‘hiccuping’ effect (ex.11), so the phrasing is best achieved by shadings of articulation and tempo in a patina of marginal detachments. This is probably what the early tutors meant by terms like ‘legato’ and ‘smooth’.

Our only 16th-century Italian source of information, part i (1593) of Girolamo Diruta’s Il transilvano, prescribes that the wrist be ‘a bit high’ (‘alquanto alto’) to keep the hand and arm level. Diruta dwelt upon the importance of a quiet hand, relaxed as if caressing a child, except that in dances one might instead strike the keys, ‘harpsichord-style’. He said the arm should guide the hand, and the fingers should be ‘alquanto inarcate’, which has been rendered by various translators as ‘slightly’, ‘somewhat’ or ‘rather’ curved.

Diruta was the disciple of a renowned virtuoso, Claudio Merulo, yet it is hard to extract a clear picture of contemporary practice from his book. He finds that in right-hand passages moving away from the body, 2 (with no notes to play) tends to become straight and still (‘sforzato’), that the thumb also grows stiff under the hand, and that 5 rather draws in. He reports that many organists had accustomed the hand to these defects, to the detriment of their playing, but he does not say whether they were well-known performers or nonentities. He reserves 3 for ‘bad notes’ (‘note cattive’), but all the later Italian writers, including Banchieri in 1608, give the strong notes to 3 or are indifferent to the matter. Diruta reports that for scales the left hand should descend (2)3232 … even though ‘many eminent men’ preferred to descend with 4, and that either hand should move towards the body (4)3232 … even though many eminent men preferred to ascend with 1 and 2 in the left hand. He says bad notes which leap should be played with 3, adding that they can be played with 1 or 5 if the leap is larger than a fifth; but as none of his examples is fingered it is not clear whether a bad note before a large leap should ever be played with 3, nor whether a bad note after a leap might ever be played with 1 or 5.

According to Diruta, diminutions must be played ‘cleanly, that is, not pressing a key down before the finger is lifted from the previous one, moving up and down at the same time’; however, his examples of diminutions include 7ths for which 2–5 would be the smoothest fingering not unmistakably contrary to his rules.

One reason why modern players have trouble with these fingerings is that in bringing the right hand to the keyboard they habitually lead with the thumb rather than with the index finger. The early fingerings oblige the player to orientate the right hand with some finger other than the thumb. Ex.12 may show that this way of approaching the keyboard remained in currency during the 17th and early 18th centuries, as did the use, in appropriate circumstances, of the same finger for two successive notes in a tune (ex.13 and 38–9). Where one hand had to take two parts this was a very familiar technique throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries (ex.14). Some tutors implied that each kind of harmonic interval or chord was always to be played with the same fingers no matter what the context. Such rules may have been over-simplified, but this aspect of the technique was at any rate simpler than a Romantic organist could conceive.

We have no 16th-century Spanish music with fingerings, but the rules given in four treatises and prefaces (Bermudo, 1555; Venegas de Henestrosa, 1557; Santa María, 1565; H. de Cabezon, 1578) show that scales were taken with various fingerings. Bermudo prescribed 4321 4321 and 1234 1234. Cabezon, in his edition of the music by his blind brother Antonio, recommends to beginners: right hand up 343434, and down 323232; left hand up 4321 4321, but down 1234 3434. A preference for paired fingering away from the body is evident also in Venegas de Henestrosa’s advice (again for beginners) that the left hand go up 4321 321, but down 1234 3434, and the right hand go down 4321 3 … (or perhaps it might start with 5), but up 3434 (once 4 has been reached after starting from 1 or perhaps 2 or 3). Santa María’s suggestions were the most elaborate; but for all fingerings alike he said that the hand should point towards the keys to be played next and the finger which has just played should be lifted before the next one plays. So if the thumb followed 4 in a scale away from the body, the hand was turned outwards and the thumb would approach its key as 4 was just releasing its hold.

The English may have been the first to use 5 at the end of right-hand runs (ex.15). This was corollary to taking strong notes with 3 – a persistent habit (ex.16) which was, however, occasionally resisted to avoid a shift within a three-note span (ex.17). The left thumb was most often used instead of 3 in ascending scales (ex.18). Repeated notes would normally be taken with changing fingers (ex.19). (In the 18th century they were still usually played in this way, as in ex.20, and only sometimes with the same finger as in ex.21).

A number of mid- to late 17th-century English manuscripts contain fingered music, but to assign a date to these fingerings would be so problematical that no-one has distinguished much between ‘early’ and ‘late’ techniques among the virginalists.

In north Germanic fingerings of the first half of the 17th century, 3 tends to take weak notes in the left hand but strong in the right (ex.22), with occasional exceptions for three-note spans (ex.23) or various other contingencies (as in ex.24). In view of this, and of the contrary earlier traditions for the role of 3 in paired fingerings, we might expect to find many later examples of indifference, and we do (ex.25).

During the first half of the 18th century the main trend was to add new technical devices without rejecting the old ones, so the fingerings were rather unsystematic and dependent upon the immediate musical context. Given a suitable occasion, 4, 3 or even 2 might cross beyond 5 (ex.26); 5 might cross over 1 (ex.27) or under 3 (ex.28); 2 and 4 might cross past each other (exx.29 and 31); the thumb might take a chromatic note (ex.30) or might not (ex.31), and scales might be rendered by an elaborate choreography of both hands (ex.32). It was in this context of nimble permutations that the old Spanish unpaired scale fingerings apparently began to be taken up outside Iberia in the 1720s: in Rameau’s Traité de l’harmonie (1722, for slow bass notes as in ex.33), in a contemporary manuscript of Handel’s G major Ciacona (ex.34), in Della Ciaia’s Sonate, op.4 (?1727), and no doubt elsewhere. Various tutors from 1730 onwards prescribed them (ex.35), and Hartung in 1749 referred to 3434 and 3232 as ‘that impoverished fingering’.

The effect of these developments upon articulation is not entirely clear. In 1735 Mattheson stated that a teacher should tell his pupil ‘never to apply the next finger until he has lifted the previous one’. Marpurg in 1755 said that while slurring and staccato were usually indicated by signs in the music, the ordinary procedure, namely to lift the finger from the preceding key very quickly just before touching the following note, was never indicated because it was always presupposed. Dom Bédos in 1778 dwelt upon the necessity of little silences at the end of each note on any keyboard instrument, without which the music would be like an inarticulate series of vowels without consonants. Czerny in praising Beethoven’s legato referred to Mozart’s ‘chopped-up and clipped-off playing’. On the other hand, Duphly told Lord Fitzwilliam, some time after 1754, that in le jeu françois ‘one must not quit one key until after having taken another’. How then should one interpret Forkel’s statement (1802) that J.S. Bach – whom he never heard play – had found a ‘middle path’ between too much legato and too much staccato, and so achieved ‘the highest degree of clarity (‘Deutlichkeit’) in the playing of single notes as in the pronunciation of single words’?

Some earlier French sources are of interest in this regard. In 1665 Nivers, discussing distinction and coulement, said it was very appealing to ‘mark all the notes distinctly, and to slur (‘couler’) some of them’ as a singer would do. For instance, in a diminution or roulade of consecutive notes, one should raise the fingers ‘soon and not very high’, whereas for ports de voix and the like as in ex.36, one should still distinguish the notes but ‘not raise the fingers so promptly: this manner is between distinction and confusion’. His illustrations of descending scales are shown in ex.25; for ascending scales he prescribed: right hand (1)23 4343 4; left hand (4)32 12121.

In a rubric to his ‘Démonstration des cadences’ (1688) Raison said that the port de voix should be executed with an overlapping legato; Saint-Lambert concurred in 1702, and Rameau in 1724 (ex.37). Some of the ornaments in Raison’s table are fingered (ex.38), and with this guide one can tell how nearly every note in certain ornament-laden passages in his music was to be taken (ex.39). This French playing was as distinctive as the melodic style which it served.

Saint-Lambert (1702, 1707) said the fingers should be curved to reach no further than the thumb, and advocated as quiet a hand as possible; his exact meaning can be seen by comparing ex.40 with ex.41. He proposed that to slur an arpeggiation be taken to mean that each note be held through to the end as in ex.42, and Dandrieu adopted this proposal in 1713 (as in ex.43). Saint-Lambert also suggested that for a run of quick notes towards the body, the customary right-hand fingering, 3232, which he himself had prescribed, was less convenient than the use, by the right hand, of corresponding left-hand fingering, 2121; this idea seems to have been ignored.

In his influential L’art de toucher le clavecin (1716) François Couperin said that the old-fashioned use of for successive 3rds could not render them legato (‘n’auoit nulle liaison’); his playing of 3rds is illustrated in ex.44. Sometimes Couperin used finger-substitutions (ex.45) – ‘too often and without need’ according to C.P.E. Bach (1753). Couperin’s scale fingerings (ex.46) imply an anacrusis leading into each beat, like the other exercises in the same set (ex.47), but he often phrased within the beat as in ex.31 (or also ex.13b). His attitude to technical drills was equivocal; he had his pupils practise not only the agréments but also brief, progressive ‘évolutions des doigts’ (ex.47), and one of his pupils even learnt to trill in parallel 3rds with one hand, but Couperin would not give himself ‘la torture’ to master such trills to his own satisfaction.

Rameau in 1724 said that ‘the raising of one finger and the touching of another should be executed at the same moment’. He prescribed that ex.48 be played over and over ‘with equality of movement’, thus anticipating the 19th-century conception of the five-finger exercise as a thing of beauty.

According to Forkel, the preliminary exercises which J.S. Bach gave to his pupils were cut from exactly the same musical cloth as the two-part inventions and the little preludes in Friedemann’s notebook. Bach’s pupils also had to practise, early on, all the ornaments in both hands – but apparently not scales, a considerable point of difference between his teaching and that of his son, Emanuel. Nor did Emanuel say of his father’s technique, as the standard English translation of the Versuch would have it, ‘I shall expound it here’; but rather, ‘I take it here as a basis’ (‘so lege ich solche hier zum Grunde’). Whatever the exact relation, the chapter on fingering merits a closer reading than the many infidelities of the translation allow.

Emanuel said that the thumb, which his father had promoted to the rank of ‘principal finger’, keeps the other fingers flexible because they must bend every time it presses in next to one or another of them. He said the fingers should generally be curved anyway (without saying how much), and the forearm should be a little lower than the keyboard. He gave a wealth of alternative scale fingerings (as in exx.49 and 53). Most of them fit his general rule that in moving away from the body the thumb should take a note directly after one or more chromatic notes, and moving towards the body should take a note just before one or more chromatic notes: thus for the left hand ascending in A major, he considered 21 321 432 ‘in most cases more useful’ than 54321 321. (The latter, however, answers better to the rule which Kirnberger in 1781 attributed to J.S. Bach: that in most cases the thumb is placed before or after the leading note.) Such paired fingerings as Emanuel admitted, mainly 4343 and 2121, normally entailed, he said, the same technique that passing 3 or 4 over the thumb did: the longer finger crosses (‘wegklettert’) while the other ‘still hovers over the key which it had depressed’. He declares that in scales with few or no accidentals, 4343 or 2121 would sometimes produce the smoothest effect, because without any chromatic notes the thumb has less ease to cross under. Fast thirds were to be taken mostly by one pair of fingers, but not slow ones; broken chords should sometimes be fingered differently from their unbroken counterparts (ex.50), because ‘clarity is always produced primarily by an even touch’; the fingering of ex.51a was to be used also for the analogous minor triads on C, C, F, G, G, B and B; and that of ex.51b for the major triads on D, E, E, A, A, B and B. Ex.51 suggests that even though the thumb was now the ‘Haupt-Finger’ the others could still do without it more often than one might suppose.

The fingers were numbered in various different ways from the 16th century to the 19th; Table 1 shows most of them:

Fingering, §I: Keyboard fingering.

2. Since 1750.

The paired fingerings that had prevailed in pre-1750 tutors posed a considerable problem to teachers of C.P.E. Bach’s generation. The older method had become such an established part of keyboard performance that they were reluctant to discard it entirely. Daniel Gottlob Türk, writing in 1789 when the modern manner had almost completely superseded the old, recalled that Friedemann Bach could play, with only two fingers (3 and 4), ‘certain runs straight off and with astonishing velocity’. The initial criticisms of this manner arose not from the difficulty of passing a long finger over a short but rather from the apparent exclusion of 1 and 5. In Die Kunst das Clavier zu spielen (1750) F.W. Marpurg stressed that each finger was equally important, and ridiculed older techniques with the derisory comment that a singer might similarly hope to improve his performance by removing part of his tongue or some of his teeth. Marpurg therefore suggested the following fingerings for the right-hand major scales (beginning on the tonic and ascending one octave):

These, and their corresponding versions for the left hand and for all the minor scales, approximate very closely to modern methods. Marpurg also asked that the same fingering should, wherever possible, be maintained for each octave, both ascending and descending.

In view of his progressive approach it is perhaps surprising that Marpurg also retained many features from earlier keyboard technique. In many circumstances he considered crossing the fingers to be ‘more comfortable’ and readily advocated the right-hand fingerings shown in ex.52, provided they were used ‘without stiffness or distortion of the fingers’. M.J.F. Wiedeburg in Der sich selbst informirende Clavier-spieler (1765) mentioned that the left hand employed the passing of the thumb more freely than the right. The position at the keyboard described in various tutors of the period may have been partly responsible for this discrepancy. Marpurg, like Couperin, asked that the body, while adjacent to the middle of the keyboard, should be turned slightly to the right, with the knees apart and the right foot turned outwards. This enabled the little finger of the left hand and the thumb of the right to be held well towards the front end of the black keys, and clearly simplified the execution of the method preferred by Bach. The avoidance of the thumb when playing in keys with few sharps and flats was also governed by the comparatively short distance from the end of the black key to the end of the white on instruments of that period.

While the crossing of fingers persisted in some tutors until the end of the 18th century, there is clear evidence that the technique gradually became less widespread. In the fourth edition of Die Kunst das Clavier zu spielen (1762) Marpurg revised some of his own earlier such fingerings on the grounds that they were two awkward and uncomfortable. The growing tendency to restrict the crossing of fingers to 3 and 4 may be noticed also in Georg Friedrich Wolf’s Kurzer aber deutlicher Unterricht im Klavierspielen (1783) and Türk’s Clavierschule (1789). It is apparent that by that time the older manner was retained in many sources for its historical interest rather than its practical value. Yet J.H. Knecht in his Vollständige Orgelschule für Anfänger und Geübtere (1795) remarked that many players had not grasped the true necessity of using the thumb and little finger and that the earlier troublesome manner still persisted. As a consequence perhaps of their continuing devotion to the clavichord and their preference for the light touch of the Viennese piano, German keyboard players adhered to the old scale fingerings longer than their French, Italian and English contemporaries. Niccolo Pasquali, in The Art of Fingering the Harpsichord (?1760), said that in passages of more than five consecutive notes ‘a proper manner of shifting the hand higher or lower’ could be derived only ‘from the right management of the thumb’. His treatise gained wide circulation and popularity, and within a very short time most English teachers, like Robert Broderip in his Plain and Easy Instructions for Young Performers on the Piano-forte or Harpsichord (c1788), agreed that the long fingers should ‘never be turned over or under each other’. The preference for the ‘thumbs-under’ technique in England was also reflected in John Casper Heck’s The Art of Fingering (c1766). On the title-page Heck acknowledged his indebtedness to the ‘celebrated C.P.E. Bach of Berlin’, and in many practical examples he closely followed Bach’s methods. He did, however, omit all paired fingerings from his scale exercises.

The elimination of older fingering methods was hindered by some degree of inconsistency regarding the use of the thumb. In his suggestions for the right-hand scale of D minor, for example (ex.53), C.P.E. Bach had allowed the thumb to be passed after either 4 or 3, and expressed a preference for the former. The main point at issue seems to have been the use of 5, which was evidently employed less readily than the thumb. Despite his rule that 5 should be held ‘in reserve in stepwise passages, and used only at the beginning or when a run happens to terminate with it’, Bach usually preferred the methods that excluded that finger entirely. Also, his rule that in scale passages the thumb should be used after one or more black keys had resulted in some curious left-hand fingerings, e.g. in the scale of A major (see ex.53), where the ‘most useful’ method is given directly below the notes).

Few teachers were directly influenced, however, by this aspect of Bach’s Versuch, and when J.C.F. Rellstab published his Anleitung für Clavierspieler, den Gebrauch der Bachschen Fingersetzung, die Manieren und den Vortrag betreffend (1790), he took the opportunity of correcting the weakness in this aspect of Bach’s method. He treated the rule appertaining to the use of the thumb as a general observation, and revised the fingerings accordingly. In the case of the A major scale (ex.53) he dismissed the ‘unnatural’ fingering preferred by Bach in favour of the second method, and in this way took a further vital step towards establishing the scale fingerings that have persisted until the present day as the basis of a clean and reliable keyboard technique. The transition to modern scale fingerings was completed at the turn of the century, when Milchmeyer, Adam, Dussek, Clementi, A.E. Müller and other teachers writing specifically for the piano finally discarded the older methods. The new principles of fingering were dealt with in several early 19th-century tutors, including those by Guthmann, Jean Jousse, Czerny and Charles Neate.

Since methods of fingering are, of course, closely allied to differing styles of keyboard compositions, it is only natural that more complex figurations of 19th-century piano music should have been accompanied by a more resourceful approach to problems of fingering. Yet the rules established during the latter part of the 18th century remained a firm basis for all subsequent developments. Czerny in his Complete Theoretical and Practical Pianoforte School op.500 (1839) advocated that, except in special circumstances (such as those obtaining in Chopin’s Etude in A minor op.10 no.2), the long fingers should never be crossed over or under each other; the thumb is the sole pivot of the hand, and unnecessary changes of hand position should be avoided. The same finger should not normally be employed on two or more consecutive keys; this is permissible, however, between phrases, when rests intervene, in staccato passages, or when sliding a finger from a black to a white key. The thumb and little finger should not be placed on black keys in scalic passages, and only out of necessity in other figurations. He also advocated that when the same note is repeated several times the fingers should be alternated, and conversely that to maintain a legato style it is often expedient to change fingers on a note without sounding it again. In sequential passages, the same fingering should, if possible, be repeated to secure a perfect equality of execution; contraction of the hand is frequently essential. Arpeggio figurations, he said, are generally fingered according to the octave span between the thumbs and little fingers, the choice of intermediate fingers being governed by the natural fall of the hand in this extended position. The fingering for passages in 3rds and 6ths should relate to the articulation prescribed by the composer (ex.54). Finally, Czerny recommended the glissando for fast unison, 3rd, 6th or octave passages lying solely on the white keys, a technique that had already been accepted in late 18th-century schools of keyboard playing.

With the exception of the glissando and such devices as Czerny’s of striking one key with two fingers simultaneously, the rules given by early 19th-century teachers were intended primarily to secure a quiet and steady hand position. It was generally agreed that the action of the fingers should be entirely independent of the hands and arms and that the latter should merely serve to convey the fingers laterally from one part of the keyboard to another. The more expansive keyboard style of the mid-19th century, however, required greater freedom and encouraged players to supplement their technique with movement other than simply that of the fingers. Ex.55 shows that this was the case for Chopin, of whom Niecks reported: ‘With one and the same finger he took often two consecutive keys (and this not only in gliding down from a black to the next white key), without the least interruption of the sequence being noticeable. The passing over each other of the longer fingers without the aid of the thumb … he freely made use of, and not only in passages where the thumb stationary on a key made this unavoidably necessary.

While earlier teachers had discouraged the use of 1 and 5 on black keys because of the excessive hand movement that this entailed, teachers of the later 19th century recommended that the technique should be employed quite freely. For this reason, Louis Plaidy in his Technische Studien für das Pianofortespiel (1852) invited advanced players to transpose the basic C major finger exercises into other keys, using the same fingering, ‘in order that the hand may become accustomed to an equal and certain touch in different positions’. J. Alsleben, writing in Mendel’s Musikalisches Conversations-Lexikon (1873), even stated that the conventional C major fingering could be applied to all scales, including those starting on a black key, and argued that the passing of the thumb in such circumstances was merely a question of practice. These exceptional methods, however, have never superseded the fundamental techniques of fingering established by earlier masters.

Fingering, §I: Keyboard fingering.


H. Buchner: Fundament Buch (CH-BU F.i.8a); T. Tallis: Felix namque (GB-Lbl Royal 24.d.3); W. Byrd: Fortune (En Panmure 9; Lbl Royal 24.d.3); The Carman’s Whistle (Lbl Add 30486); Qui passe (Lbl Add 30485; Lbl Royal 24.d.3); J. Bull: Miserere (Och 1207; F-Pc rés 1186 bis ii); various preludes (GB-Lbl Add 31403; Lcm 2093; Cu Dd.4.22 8); Fantastic Pavan (F-Pc rés 1185; GB-Cfm 32.G29); Quadran Pavan (F-Pc rés 1185; GB-Lbl Royal 24.d.3); other pavans, almans, galliards, etc. (F-Pc rés 1185; GB-Lbl 36661); O. Gibbons: Preludium (Och 89; HAdolmetsch, II.E.17 no.36; F-Pc rés 1186 bis ii); Fantasia (GB-Och 378; F-Pc rés 1186 bis ii); Whoop, do me no Harm, Good Man (GB-Och 431; F-Pc rés 1186 bis ii); The Woods so Wild (GB-Lbl Add 36661); The Italian Ground (Lbl Add 36661); J.P. Sweelinck: Fantasias and Toccatas (D-BDS Lynar A1; ed. G. Leonhardt, 1968); R. Mesangeau: Allemande (DK-Kk Kgl Saml 376, 2); anon.: 5 preludes, 7 voluntaries, etc. (GB-Lcm 2093; ed. M. Boxall, 1980); T. Tomkins: Prelude, Galliard, etc. (F-Pc rés 1122); For Edward, etc. (GB-Ob mus sch c.93); G.G. Nivers: Livre d’orgue (Paris, 1665/R; ed. C. Vervoitte, 1862 and N. Dufourcq, 1963); anon.: Praelude oder Applicatio der rechten und linken Hand (D-LÜr kn 149); A. Raison: Livre d’orgue (Paris, 1688/R; ed. A. Guilmant, 1899 and N. Dufourcq, 1962); D. Croner: Applicaturae (RO-BRm 808); J.C. Kittel: 12 Praeamb. durch alle Claves auf Clavichordien und Instrum.: zu gebrauchen (BRm 808); W. Fabricius: Kurtze Praeambula vor Incipienten durch alle Claves (US-Cn Case MS VM 7.F 126); H. Purcell: A Choice Collection of Lessons for the Harpsichord or Spinet (London, 1696); J.-F. Dandrieu: Pieces de clavecin courtes et faciles (Paris, 1713); G.F. Handel: Ciacona, hwv435 (GB-Lbl Add 35177; ed. T. Best, 1979); D. Zipoli and anon.: untitled minuet (Cfm 57); A. Scarlatti: Toccata primo (sic) (Lbl Add 14244; I-Nc 34.6.31); A.B. Della Ciaia: Sonata per cembalo … opera quarta (Rome, ?1727); J.S. Bach: Prelude et Fugetta (sic), bwv870a, (D-Bs P 1089); Applicatio, bwv994, Praeambulum, bwv930, in Clavier-Büchlein for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (US-NH); Canzona, bwv588 (D-Le, 7, part 21; ed. in Faulkner, 1984); M. Corrette: Premier livre de pieces du clavecin (Paris, 1734); C.P.E. Bach: Kurze und leichte Klavierstücke mit veränderten Reprisen und beygefügter Fingersetzung (Berlin, 1766–8); VI sonatine nuove, h292–97, w63b (Hamburg, 1786)

Fingering, §I: Keyboard fingering.



J. Bermudo: El libro llamado declaración de instrumentos musicales (Ossuna, 1555/R)

T. de Santa María: Arte de tañer fantasía (Valladolid, 1565/R; Eng. trans., 1991)

E.M. Ammerbach: Orgel oder Instrument Tablatur (Leipzig, 1571, 2/1583); ed. C. Jacobs (Oxford, 1984)

E.M. Ammerbach: Ein new künstlich Tabulaturbuch (Leipzig, 1575)

A. de Cabezón: Obras de música para tecla, arpa y vihuela, ed. H. de Cabezón (Madrid, 1578; ed. in MME, xxvii–xxiv, 1966)

G. Diruta: Il transilvano dialogo sopra il vero modo di sonar organi, et istromenti da penna, i (Venice, 1593/R); Eng. trans., ed. M.C. Bradshaw and E.J. Soehneln (Henryville, PA, 1984)

A. Banchieri: L’organo suonarino (Venice, 1605, 3/1622); Eng. trans., in D.E. Marcase: Adriano Banchieri: L’organo suonario (diss., Indiana U., 1970)

A. Banchieri: Conclusioni nel suono dell’organo (Bologna, 1609/R, 2/1626 as Armoniche conclusioni nel suono dell’organo; Eng. trans., 1982)

F. Correa de Arauxo: Libro … intitulado Facultad organica (Alcalá, 1626; Eng. trans., ed. J.B. Holland, 1989, as Francesco Correa de Arauxo’s ‘Faculdad organica’: a Translation and Study of its Theoretical and Pedagogical Aspects)

J. Nenning [Spiridion]: Nova instructio pro pulsandis organis, spinettis, manuchordiis (Bamberg, 1669–75)

D. Speer: Grund-richtiger … Unterricht der musicalischen Kunst, oder Vielfaches musicalisches Kleeblatt (Ulm, 1697; Eng. trans., 1971)

M. de Saint-Lambert: Les principes du clavecin (Paris, 1702/R; Eng. trans., 1984)

J.B. Samber: Manuductio ad organum (Salzburg, 1704)

F. Gasparini: L’armonico pratico al cimbalo (Venice, 1708/R; Eng. trans., 1963)

F. Couperin: L’art de toucher le clavecin (Paris, 1716, 2/1717; Eng. trans., 1974)

J.-P. Rameau: Traité de l’harmonie reduite à ses principes naturels (Paris, 1722; Eng. trans., 1737); ed. and Eng. trans., P. Gossett (New York, 1971)

J.-P. Rameau: Pieces de clavecin avec une méthode sur la mécanique des doigts (Paris, 1724, rev. 1731 as Pièces de clavecin avec une table pour les agréments)

J.-P. Rameau: Dissertation sur les différentes méthodes d’accompagnement (Paris, 1732)

J. Mattheson: Kleine General-Bass-Schule (Hamburg, 1735/R)

F.A. Maichelbeck: Die auf dem Clavier spielende … Caecilia (Augsburg, 1738)

L.C. Mizler von Kolof: Anfangs-Grunde des General Basses (Leipzig, 1739/R)

M. Corrette: Les amusements du Parnasse, méthode courte et facile pour apprendre à toucher le clavecin (Paris, 1749, enlarged 2/1779)

Hartung [P.C. Humanus]: Musicus theoretico-practicus (Nuremberg, 1749)

Prencourt: Short, Easy & Plaine Rules (GB-Lbl Add 32351)

F.W. Marpurg: Die Kunst das Clavier zu spielen (Berlin, 1750, enlarged 4/1762/R; Fr. trans., Berlin, 1756/R, as Principes du clavecin, 2/1760)

C.P.E. Bach: Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, i (Berlin, 1753/R, 2/1787; Eng. trans., 1949)

F.W. Marpurg: Anleitung zum Clavierspielen (Berlin, 1755, 2/1765/R; Eng. trans., ed. E.L. Hays, 1976, as F.W. Marpurg’s ‘Anleitung zum Clavierspielen’, (Berlin, 1755) and ‘Principes du clavecin’, (Berlin, 1756): Translation and Commentary)

J. Adlung: Anleitung zu der musikalischen Gelahrheit (Erfurt, 1757, 2/1783)

N. Pasquali: The Art of Fingering the Harpsichord (Edinburgh, ?1760)

G.S. Löhlein: Clavier-Schule, i (Leipzig and Züllichau, 1765; 8/1825, ed. C. Czerny; 9/1848, ed. F. Knorr)

M.J.F. Wiedeburg: Der sich selbst informirende Clavier-spieler (Halle and Leipzig, 1765–75)

J.S. Petri: Anleitung zur practischen Musik (Lauban, 1767, 2/1782)

J.P. Kirnberger: Grungsätze des Generalbasses (Berlin, 1781/R)

A.F. Petschke: Versuch eines Unterrichts zum Klavierspielen (Leipzig, 1785)

D.G. Türk: Clavierschule (Leipzig and Halle, 1789, enlarged 2/1802/R; Eng. trans., 1982)

F.S. Sander: Kurze und gründliche Anweisung zur Fingersetzung für Clavierspieler (Breslau, 1791)

J.H. Knecht: Vollständige Orgelschule (Leipzig, 1795–8)

A.E. Müller: Anweisung zum genauen Vortrage der Mozartschen Clavier-Concerte (Leipzig, 1796)

M. Clementi: Introduction to the Art of Playing on the Piano Forte (London, 1801, 11/1826)

J.C. Kittel: Der angehende praktische Organist, i (Erfurt, 1801–8)

other historical texts

L. Venegas de Henestrosa: Libro de cifra nueva (Alcalá, 1557; ed. in MME, ii, 1944)

P. Prelleur: The Harpsichord Illustrated and Improved (London, c1730)

J.-J. Rousseau: Dictionnaire de musique (Geneva, 1768/R; Eng. trans., 1771, 2/1779/R)

J.N. Forkel: ‘Litteratur und Praxis der neuern Musik’, Allgemeine Litteratur der Musik (Leipzig, 1792/R), 326, 331

J.N. Forkel: Über Johann Sebastian Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke (Leipzig, 1802/R; Eng. trans., 1820, 2/1920)

C. Czerny: Erinneringen aus meinem Leben (A-Wgm, 1842); ed. W. Kolneder (Baden-Baden, 1968); Eng. trans., MQ, xlii (1956), 302–17

modern studies


M.L. A.’: ‘Old English Fingering’, MT, xxxvi (1895), 152–5

H. Keller: Die musikalische Artikulation insbesonder bei Joh. Seb. Bach (Stuttgart, 1925; Eng. trans., 1965)

M. Schneider: Die Orgelspieltechnik des frühen 19. Jahrhunderts in Deutschland (Regensburg, 1941)

E. Harich-Schneider: The Harpsichord: an Introduction to Technique, Style and the Historical Sources (Kassel, 1954, 3/1973)

N.W. Powell: Early Keyboard Fingering and its Effect on Articulation (diss., Stanford U., 1954)

L. Schierning: Die Überlieferung der deutschen Orgel- und Klaviermusik aus der ersten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts (Kassel, 1961)

S. Babitz: ‘On Using Early Keyboard Fingering’, Diapason, xl (1969), no.3, pp.15–28; no.4, pp.21–26; no.5, pp.21–24

M. Boxall: English Keyboard Technique up to the Death of Henry Purcell (thesis, U. of London, 1970)

J. Rodgers: Early Keyboard Fingering, ca. 1520–1620 (DMA diss., U. of Oregon, 1971)

H. Ferguson: Keyboard Interpretation from the 14th to the 19th Century (London, 1975)

C. Hogwood: ‘Sources for the Performance of French Keyboard Music’, French Music and the Fitzwilliam, Fitzwilliam Museum, May – June 1975 (Cambridge, 1975), 23–30 [exhibition catalogue]

J. Bamberger: ‘The Musical Significance of Beethoven’s Fingerings in the Piano Sonatas’, Music Forum, iv (1976), 237–80

M. Boxall: ‘Girolamo Diruta’s “Il Transilvano” and the Early Italian Keyboard Tradition’, English Harpsichord Magazine, i/6 (1976), 168–72

D. Fuller: ‘French Harpsichord Playing in the Seventeenth Century: after Le Gallois’, EMc, iv (1976), 22–6

T. Koopman: ‘“My Ladye Nevell’s Booke” and Old Fingering’, English Harpsichord Magazine, ii/1 (1977), 5–10

M. Boxall: ‘New Light on the Early Italian Keyboard Tradition’, English Harpsichord Magazine, ii/3 (1978), 71–2

C.L. Lister: Traditions of Keyboard Technique from 1650 to 1750 (diss., U. of North Carolina, 1979) [incl. facs. of M. Corrette: Les amusements du Parnasse]

M. Boxall: ‘The Harpsichord Master of 1697 and its Relationship to Contemporary Instruction and Playing’, English Harpsichord Magazine, ii/8 (1981), 178–83

P. Le Huray: ‘English Keyboard Fingerings in the 16th and Early 17th Centuries’, Source Materials and the Interpretation of Music: a Memorial Volume for Thurston Dart, ed. I. Bent (London, 1981)

P. Le Huray, ed.: The Fingering of Virginal Music (London, 1981)

B. Sachs and B. Ife, eds.: Anthology of Early Keyboard Methods (Cambridge, 1981)

E. Fadini and others: ‘La tecnica esecutiva degli strumenti a tastiera e del liuto nelle fonte storiche’, Praxis, i (1983), 115–53

E. Kooiman: ‘Eine Quelle zu Bachs Klaviertechnik’, Ars organi, xxxi (1983), 21–6

R. Parkins: ‘Keyboard Fingering in Early Spanish Sources’, EMc, xi (1983), 323–31

J.-C. Zehnder: ‘Organ Articulation in the 17th and 18th Centuries’, American Organist (1983), 27–31

A. Bellasich and E. Fadini: ‘Diteggiatura’, Il clavicembalo: organologia, accordatura, notazione, ed. S. Leschiutta and others (Turin, 1984), 161–225

Q. Faulkner: J.S. Bach’s Keyboard Technique: a Historical Interpretation (St Louis, 1984)

M. Lindley: ‘Keyboard Technique and Articulation’, Bach, Handel and Scarlatti: Tercentenary Essays, ed. P. Williams (Cambridge, 1985), 207–43

E.F. Hiebert: ‘Beethoven’s Fingerings in the Piano Trio in B-flat Major, WoO 39’, Early Keyboard Journal, iv (1985–6), 5–27

J. van Oortmerssen: A Guide to Duo and Trio Playing: Studies in Historical Fingering and Pedalling for the Organ (Sneek, 1986)

J. Brock: Introduction to Organ Playing in 17th- and 18th-Century Style (Greensboro, NC, 1988)

Q. Faulkner: ‘Griepenkerl on J.S. Bach’s Keyboard Technique’, American Organist, xxii (1988), 63–5

M. Lindley: ‘Early English Keyboard Fingerings’, Basler Jb für Musikpraxis, xii (1988), 9–26

S.P. Rosenblum: Performance Practices in Classic Piano Music (Bloomington, IN, 1988)

M. Lindley: ‘Early Fingerings: Some Editing Problems and Some New Readings for J.S. Bach and John Bull’, EMc, xvii (1989), 60–69

M. Lindley and M.Boxall, eds.: Early Keyboard Fingerings (London, 1992)

V. Brookes, ed.: Priscilla Bunbury’s Virginal Book (Albany, CA, 1993)

M. Lindley: Ars Ludendi: Early German Keyboard Fingerings/Frühe deutsche Fingersätze für Orgel- und Klavier-Instrumente (Thelkow, 1993)

M. Lindley: ‘Handelian Keyboard Fingerings’, Göttinger Händel-Beiträge, vi (1996), 194–205


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