The Philosophy of Fingering

Many moons have passed since I was last on speaking terms with film composers, so I was unable to ask John Williams if he was aware that his Imperial March for the latest Star Wars movie uses one of those Ethiopian scales I wrote about in a past post.

StarWars

Its semitone structure, if we take the tonic as G, is { 3 4 1 3 1 }. You would probably call this a defective harmonic minor. But if you start from the E-flat, you get { 3 1 3 4 1 } which looks a lot more like a major triad with approach (leading) notes. Considering the opening bar consists of an E-flat major triad, that’s a valid observation.

Some thirty years since I began designing logical piano keyboards and writing about them, I was recently privileged to receive a real one on loan, the majestically conceived Lippens keyboard. The Jankó equivalent of a concert grand in the way it feels, with great onboard sounds.

lippensPer

You can find demonstrations of this keyboard on youTube, including some lessons on fingering. You can visit their website and follow their Facebook page.

Since one of the reasons I gave up piano at an early age was being obliged to practice the 1231234 fingering for the major scale, I was alarmed to discover the same fingering being touted for the Lippens keyboard.

I had always imagined that the isomorphic design of the Jankó, as well as allowing me to use the same chord shapes in all transpositions,  would also allow me complete freedom of thumb undertuck because of the “redundant” extra rows. Specifically, the availability of those two front rows just for the thumb.

Looking at the design of the regular piano, you can see how using a 1231234 fingering avoids twisted thumbs and finger jams. But on a Jankó? Isn’t that what we wanted to get away from? The piano legacy? Scale practice?

Besides, as I mentioned in my post “What boys like“, which also applies to most jazzers I know, none of their favourite tunes actually use a naked major scale. Pink Panther. Simpsons. James Bond. Mission Impossible. Peter Gunn Theme. Hawaii Five-O. Any blues… and now the Star Wars Imperial March.

And what about those be-bop scales, that throw in a chromatic passing note in any one of 5 locations in the major scale. That’s an extra finger that has to come from somewhere!

Well it turns out, you can have freedom of thumb undertuck on one of these keyboards. But freedom is never free. You have to work for it. And the way I found is pretty simple really. It involves practising runs using three fingering cycles: 12, 123 and 1234, so that your thumb can find itself called upon at any degree of the scale. Its called preparedness!

Which brings me to…

The Philosophy of Fingering

Behind all the hours of scale practice lies the Big Unstated Assumption: that it will all someday be useful. It would be ridiculous for me to say that this ain’t so, but I would question it only in terms of ROI (that’s Return On Investment). Could our time be better spent? Not to mention what it does for our motivation.

As I said before, what our budding musician wants to do is play the damn tune! That’s his source of motivation. And each of those tunes he wants to play demands its own fingering solution. The advantage of the Lippens is that the fingering solution doesn’t depend on what key you’re in, and can be easily transposed to any other key once you’ve learnt it.

Playing the damn tune is also what I wanted to do on the Lippens keyboard. And the first tune I wanted to learn was Thelonious Monk’s egregious composition Trinkle Tinkle. While my boy wanted to learn that Star Wars March.

The other aim of scale practice, apart from memorizing the scales, is to train ten differently sized digits to hit those ivories with a constant force to create an even sound. Again, there is no reason this should be incompatible with freedom of thumb undertuck.

Cyclical fingerings can be practised two ways, depending on what we want to achieve. For evenness, we should use the 12 and 1234 cycles in triplet rhythm, and the 123 fingering in rhythmic groups of two or four.

For more accented playing, lay into the thumb (or fourth finger) and switch between the different cycles to put the accent where you want it. This is of course heresy to classical pianists, for whom accentuation should be independent of fingering choices.

But we all know that ain’t necessarily so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About jazzpanflute

jazz panpipe pioneer and designer
This entry was posted in Intuitive Instruments, Musicianship, Scale Practice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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