Developing Light Finger Habits for Woodwind Players

© 2002 by Larry R. Naylor All rights reserved

Ideally, you should be able to play all the way down to the bottom notes on your instrument without having to squeeze the keys closed. If you develop light fingering habits, your facility will greatly improve and your instrument will stay in fine adjustment longer. Especially with saxophones and flutes, heavy finger pressure will bend the keys and your instrument will cease to work properly. If you have to have your instrument frequently repaired, something is very wrong. Have the causes of the problems analyzed and fixed.


The only way that you can learn to use light fingering is if your instrument is in fine adjustment and set-up for light finger pressure. If you have to squeeze the keys in order for your instrument to play, it is telling you that it is in trouble and needs work. The longer you put off repairs, the more expensive they will be.

Once your instrument is in fine adjustment so that it is possible to play with light finger pressure, follow this procedure—it works for young folks to old beat-up professionals, so you can do it too!

1. Use this procedure for about 5 minutes a day before you do your regular practicing.

2. Use a scale that is so simple that you do not have to even think about it—C or F major, or chromatics.

3. Do not concentrate on anything other than your fingers and the muscles in your forearms. Do not think about breathing, posture, or embouchure. Do not even think about wrong notes—it does not matter for now.

4. Start playing at the top of the first register. Left hand C or B will do fine. Realize that the bottom register is most affected by leaks. If the instrument is tight, all notes should respond easily.

5. Play down to the bottom note on your instrument using slow quarter notes.

6. As you slowly play down the instrument, concentrate only on the muscles in the forearms that you use for each finger. Use just enough pressure to close each key and do not squeeze after closing the keys. Be conscious of this light feel and concentrate.

7. Once you reach the bottom note, play a slow ascending scale.

8. As you lift each finger, raise it only enough for the key to fully open and no higher (ring keys on clarinets and vented keys on oboes are exceptions. Raise your fingers high enough for each note to properly vent).

9. Continue playing scales that use all of your fingers for 5 minutes, then practice as you normally would.

I find that anyone who applies this method will noticeably improve his or her finger technique in about two weeks. This method also helps to eliminate "fly away" finger habits. As you improve your finger control and pressure, you will notice that your playing will become more fluid and faster. You will also eliminate "hammering" the keys, which will minimize bent keys as a repair problem. Why not become a better musician and save some money on repair bills at the same time? This method can also be used to fix other problems with, for example, embouchure, tonguing, and breath support.

If you experience any discomfort, pain, or stiffness in your hands, forearms, arms, or back, find a good deep tissue massage therapist as soon as possible. It is very important to fix muscular problems when they occur.


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