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I actually don't believe this to be the case, but what I'd like to do is explore in what specific situations there can be more than one best fingering for a given piece.

One thing is for sure, as piano pieces progress over the grades from beginner to concert level, the number of possible fingerings for a piece expands exponentially like possible moves in a chess game.

Another sure factor here is accounting for larger or smaller hands. I would say that most of the time, larger hands generally allow for more elegant fingering choices, for example broken chords involving 10ths in the left hand.

My piano teacher growing up had such small hands she could not even play octaves, and had to get very creative to make certain repertoire choices work.

So anyhow, I would like to set all this aside, and assume for the sake of discussion a fairly advanced piece, for which a player with fairly large hands that can comfortable reach a 10th or 11th, wants to lay out an ideal fingering for. In this scenario, would anyone disagree that there would only be one best fingering possible? Or are there other factors I'm not thinking of?

I'm often reminded of this question that has been on my mind for many years, for one reason more than any other - some of the best editions like Henle are well regarded for their thoughtful indication of key fingering choices where appropriate (along with beautiful typesetting, etc.). When exactly (and only) the key finger numbers are indicated in the score, the notes for which there are no finger numbers indicated are usually what would logically follow from the last indicated finger number, or are somehow obvious. Can it be taken then that a pianist should try and determine the ideal fingering from the start, and try to never change their fingering a little while into learning the piece?

Perhaps it's clear now from this explanation why the topic is so interesting to me. I was a piano teacher for about 10 years, long enough to put my fair share of students through recitals at all levels. If I had to pick the number one reason why my students made mistakes in the recital, it would be because they had learned a wrong note or chord before a lesson, and although it was corrected in the lesson, they still somehow remembered it from before the correction and played it the same wrong way under pressure. If I had to pick the number two reason, it would be due to bad fingering choices made before the lesson. In the recital the previous fingering would also return, leading to more of a stumble, than a wrong note or chord.

Thanks to anyone who can offer some insight on this topic!

Last edited by kcoul058; 09/06/21 09:32 PM.
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Fingering preferences (and necessities) can change for a given individual person -- from one decade to the next according to changes in the person's physicality (like, for example, my 4th and 5th fingers get a little further apart with each next year grin ....which necessitates changes in fingering), or from one week to the next according to whether we've gained or lost weight, or eaten more salt or less salt, which can change how our fingers can or can't easily fit on those parts of the white notes that sit between black notes.

And, besides all that, fingering preferences and necessities can change (and for me, constantly do change) according to what tempo I'm doing for a passage or piece.
Or dynamics.
Or phrasing.

Or, according to how high a priority it seems to be, as we go along in working on a piece .....how high a priority it is to make the fingerings in the two hands coordinate with each other.
Like, sometimes it helps to make sure the thumbs play at the same time in the two hands; or, that the 'hand shifts' occur at the same time; or other stuff like that -- perhaps at the expense of making the fingering in one of the hands be something other than the most obvious or convenient one.

Or, similarly, how high a priority you decide it is to keep the same fingering for things that occur in different keys in the same piece, as opposed to using fingerings that are the most obvious or convenient for each key.

All of those are individual choices, choices which can be different for everybody and even different for a given person at different times.

Cliff's Notes: Of course there isn't just one right fingering. thumb

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In order to dispute the claim "there is only one best fingering", one need only demonstrate that there are more than one equally good fingerings.

For LH C major scale you could do either

5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 . . .

or

4 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 . . .

In both cases you have the thumb pivots 1-3 and 1-4 on white keys. So for all intents and purposes those two fingerings are equally good, i.e. there is no best fingering.


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Originally Posted by cygnusdei
In order to dispute the claim "there is only one best fingering", one need only demonstrate that there are more than one equally good fingerings.

For LH C major scale you could do either

5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 . . .

or

4 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 . . .

In both cases you have the thumb pivots 1-3 and 1-4 on white keys. So for all intents and purposes those two fingerings are equally good, i.e. there is no best fingering.
Why do you think 1-3 and 1-4 are equal? 1-3 is easier to do.

And Brendel wrote good two paragraphs why playing RH C scale 1234123 is better than 1231234.

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Originally Posted by MarkC
Cliff's Notes: Of course there isn't just one right fingering. thumb
Yes!

I have to object to the OP’s suggestion that large hands allow for more elegant fingering solutions. My smaller fingers allow me to fit between the black keys quite easily, sometimes facilitating more elegant fingering. My concert pianist teacher, with his huge hands and narrow fingers, is sometimes surprised by my fingering solutions which are easy for me but clumsy for him simply because my fingers are slimmer and shorter. I even tend to gravitate toward more “fingery”pieces because they fit my hand well. Also, while larger stretches can be challenging, my fingers don’t have to be curled to avoid hitting the fall board.

Also, unique to me, is the fact that my pinkies are short so I often substitute my 4th finger because it is longer and stronger.

In my experience, fingering configurations may need to be changed when a piece is brought up to tempo or to facilitate expression, but once a fingering is determined to be the most efficient, it is important to force yourself to never, ever play it the old way again. IMO, your students’ fingering errors are the result of inconsistent fingering, which is a recital death trap!


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Given that every human being who ever has lived has had the exact same size hands, why would more than one fingering ever be needed?

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Why do you think 1-3 and 1-4 are equal?
Do I? Read my post again.


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There was this filmed interview of Glenn Gould, probably around the mid-'60's, where he talked among other things about having at least a dozen different possible interpretations of the 1st movement of the Emperor Concerto, and he demonstrated two of them.....
My teacher wondered, does that mean he uses different fingerings when he plays different interpretations of something, maybe even changes it on the spot during a performance according to how he's viewing the piece?
I thought, of course he does. Besides physical considerations according to differences of tempo, different ideas of articulation would often dictate different fingerings.

P.S. This stuff aside, my teacher thought that the two ways that Gould demonstrated, supposedly showing examples of drastically different interpretations, were exactly the same interpretation, just playing it twice as fast the second time. ha

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Originally Posted by cygnusdei
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Why do you think 1-3 and 1-4 are equal?
Do I? Read my post again.
You wrote that 54321321... and 43214321... are equally good, isn't it?

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by cygnusdei
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Why do you think 1-3 and 1-4 are equal?
Do I? Read my post again.
You wrote that 54321321... and 43214321... are equally good, isn't it?
That's only part of what I wrote. Read again.


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As a piano student, a rather important aspect of how I chose my fingering is my mind. I try to diminish sources of confusion. For example, if a piece starts with a motif with the given fingering 3-1, and later the same motif is repeated with the fingering 4-2 (due to the notes preceding the motif), I will change the first motif into 4-2 as well, even though that might be less comfortable for my fingers. This is just one example, I do these kind of fingering changes a lot.
But maybe your "best fingering" assumes a pianist that never gets confused. wink


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I think the questions posed in this thread as I understand them make little sense. I think there's basically an infinite number of "specific situations there can be more than one best fingering for a given piece". So asking for those is not a reasonable question.

Then later the OP says "So anyhow, I would like to set all this aside, and assume for the sake of discussion a fairly advanced piece, for which a player with fairly large hands that can comfortable reach a 10th or 11th, wants to lay out an ideal fingering for. In this scenario, would anyone disagree that there would only be one best fingering possible?" and this seems to contradict his earlier question I quoted from his post. Not only that, in answer to the OP's question, I think most people would disagree there is only one best fingering.

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An optimal fingering will depend on (a) the hand, (b) what the hand-owner finds intuitive, and (c) the interpretation. There is no single interpretation of any piece. And no two people will find all the same fingerings intuitive (some suggested fingerings seem like tongue-twisters for the hand to me, and some of my preferred fingerings have seemed the same to others I have shown them to), and of course having smaller or larger hands opens up some possibilities and makes other ones impractical.

And then, even within that, there will be tradeoffs and places where the choice is fairly arbitrary.

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As I'm not lacking in unfalse modesty, I can attest that there's only one best fingering for any piece - mine.

Krystian Zimerman, being a little less immodest, always has two different fingerings for every piece he plays.
Which one he uses depends on whether the audience is coughing (and how often and how loud), how many ringtones he hears (and whether they are Tarrega's tune*), how he feels, what he's been eating on the day, the vibes he's getting from the composer etc.

*


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Depends on the piece. If you're playing a Bach fugue with all sorts of overlapping lines, your fingers available are limited once you're holding note(s) down.

We try to avoid using the 2 short fingers (thumb & pinkie) playing black keys if possible unless you have a chord that starts or ends on a black key.

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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
We try to avoid using the 2 short fingers (thumb & pinkie) playing black keys if possible unless you have a chord that starts or ends on a black key.
I and many others are not among the "we".

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For Henle Verlag, since they produce only urtext editions it means they have researched back to the original score if possible and if the composer indicated fingering that is what Henle will use. They will also note it in the score. I have many Henle editions without fingering because many composers did not include it.

In all cases you should be able to develop the fingering that works best for you.

Urtext defined…. In urtext edition of a work of classical music is a printed version intended to reproduce the original intention of the composer as exactly as possible, without any added or changed material. Other kinds of editions distinct from urtext are facsimile and interpretive editions. Henle has scholars doing this research and documenting accordingly. In addition to their incredible print quality, the fact they are Urtext makes them more expensive and rightly so because they are very worth it.

Last edited by Lakeviewsteve; 09/08/21 10:35 AM.

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Originally Posted by cygnusdei
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Originally Posted by cygnusdei
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
Why do you think 1-3 and 1-4 are equal?
Do I? Read my post again.
You wrote that 54321321... and 43214321... are equally good, isn't it?
That's only part of what I wrote. Read again.
If you meant something different you'd better write again.

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
If you meant something different you'd better write again.
I referred to LH C major scale and wrote out the fingerings in standard notation. I'm sorry but I don't think I can use any plainer language.


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Originally Posted by cygnusdei
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
If you meant something different you'd better write again.
I referred to LH C major scale and wrote out the fingerings in standard notation. I'm sorry but I don't think I can use any plainer language.
laugh It seems we still can't understand each other in this simple question. Let's try one last time. You wrote two fingerings:

5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 . . .
4 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 . . .

stating (if I understand you correctly) that they are equally good. The first one of them uses one 1-4 transfer and two 1-3 transfers. The second one uses two 1-4 transfers and one 1-3 transfer. I questioned the equality of these fingerings because 1-3 transfer is easier to do than 1-4 in my opinion, so the fingering requiring two 1-4 transfers is somewhat more difficult.


And if I were Brendel (ha ha), I would also say that even the last parts of these fingerings taken in isolation:
1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1
1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1
are also not equal. I love this puzzle, maybe someone could guess why...

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