How Do I Increase My Fingerwork Speed?

How can I increase the speed of my fingerwork? I find that
whenever I try to, my fingers either become stiff and unresponsive
or the passage comes out unevenly. Help!

I find this a very interesting and stimulating question and may be
here for a day or so in answering it.

There seems to be a difference in the way you express your “speed
of fingering” and my perception of the problem, which is always
one of control, and never speed.

Speed is not the goal, but will come with the gaining of control,
always something for which we strive. When you say that your
fingers become stiff and/or unresponsive, it is my feeling that
it is a matter of going “straight to the speed”, rather than the
control of the speed.

The way to control (and speed) is paved with very slow steps.
Practising very slowly and rhythmically is the way to control.
One of the things that clarinetists and other wind
instrumentalists repeat over and over again are passages that
seem to express achievement of speed. The sound, however is
always blurred and “not even” as you yourself have said. Any
passage marked for speed must be played slowly and with
discernment. Listen always carefully to each note. You cannot
hear each note if you are playing fast. Try it.

No, you cannot. One must practise slowly and evenly … evenly?
Yes, and the way to that “evenness” is through listening and
feeling not only motions that are “down-motions” of the fingers,
but “up-motions” as well, and the rhythms of each. Do NOT go to
the end and blare out the passage as fast as you can play it.
It will not sound well until it is under control when played

F. Gillet, one of the great oboists and first in Boston for many
years, had the greatest control of any player. Remember, it was
he who first performed Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel, Bartok
Concerto for Orchestra, even Peter and The Wolf.

Mr. Gillet, as he was always called, was a teacher of mine at the
New England Conservatory in solfedge and in chamber music. He
was fabulous and could analyze any and every technical problem in
a split second. He would look at my fingers as I played and he
would say, “hold this finger back”, or “emphasize this note”. It
always solved the problem, for he could hear and see the fingers
sliding around as if on ice.

Attending a Boston Symphony Performance of Daphnes and Chloe one
Friday afternoon, I heard him practising that incredibly fast and
repeated opening so slowly as to be impossible to conceive. Each
note so slowly, so perfectly even right up until the other
members came on stage for the performance. He was READY and the
almost hypnotically slow practise tempo immediately prior to the
performance was what did it. I have emulated this technic all of
my playing life with almost 100 percent success. You do not
practise fast. Simply DON’T.

What you do is practise intelligently by practising slowly and
listening to each note. If you’ve a problem going from here to
there, you practise only that for a few minutes. Take your time.
Don’t let the sound go or the up motions. Disallow by repetition,
any uneven sound that you hear, and, as I have said many times
in these articles: Listen, Listen, Listen.

You will improve by playing slowly, with your best sound and your
best legato. These “fast” passages will begin to go by as you
have heard others play them. Allowing your fingers to become
tense by high speed attempts only help to blur and confuse the

This will serve as a beginning. A second step to the attainment
of control and of speed is the study of what transpires within
the throat of a clarinetist during the correct performance of a
very rapid passage. Look for this on subsequent pages. For now
though, I hope that the above will assist you in your goals.

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