Things I Should've Practiced But Didn't: Finger Fumbles

by Paula Corley

“What note is that?”

“How do you finger that note?” 

“Wait…is that the same note as A flat?”


Are you hearing these questions from your students? Back-to-school performances and auditions often put young clarinetists in panic mode. When students realize that allowing their clarinet to remain idle all summer was not the best idea, they will desperately try to “cram" for the test or performance. Unfortunately, students may not understand that the underlying skills needed for successful performance are best developed outside the repertoire itself.


Mastering the fingering system on clarinet can be frustrating. Students should master most of the clarinet range by the end of the first year if they are physically mature enough to handle the instrument, have access to a daily class or private lessons, and are willing to practice regularly.


It may be helpful to explain how the clarinet works acoustically for the student to completely understand the fingering system. Simply put, when the register key is added the note name changes. This is because the clarinet is a closed cylinder rather than a cone. As such, it skips the second harmonic in the harmonic series and goes to the third harmonic, a 12th ( octave + 5th) above the fundamental when the register key is pressed. This is different than flute, oboe and saxophone that shift up an octave to the 2nd harmonic.

In this exercise emphasize the following:

  • New note name, not new fingering.
  • No changes in air or embouchure between registers.
  • Good hand position – fingers relaxed and hovering above the keys. Pay attention to pinkie fingers in the home position (F/C right hand and E/B left hand).
  • Start with notes that allow holding/hand position stability (C/G or B Flat/F). Work down first

(adding fingers) and then up (removing fingers).


Connecting the chalumeau register to the clarion is tricky and will require time, patience, and deliberate practice. Work on control of regular and alternate fingerings. Young students will often allow fingers to “crunch together” - up and out of position – in this region of the instrument. Consequently, students will suddenly grab for third line B from B Flat. “Pinkie Finger Gymnastics” is a good exercise for reminding students where the pinkies should remain most of the time.


Check out the accompanying podcast for this article at



Download the sheet below!

Things I Should Have Practiced this Summer (but didn't) Student Practice Sheet from Paula Corley 

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