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

by Paula Corley

Date Posted: August 23, 2017

Not registered? Create account
Forgot Password?
Or continue with

“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


Download the sheet below!

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

Paula Circle

About the Author

Paula Corley is the Education Advisor for Buffet Crampon North America. She has 33+ years of teaching experience from middle school to university level. Most recently Paula served as the clarinet instructor at Texas Lutheran University where she hosted ‘clariNETWORKS’ – a very popular annual event for clarinetists of all ages and band directors. She is also a chamber music judge for Music for All's National Chamber Music Festival and served as the Pedagogy Chair for the International Clarinet Association from 2018-2020. Most know her as the ‘mayor’ of Clarinet City, a teaching website for all ages and stages of clarinet playing.

Originally from Mississippi, Paula grew up without access to clarinet lessons which sparked a lifelong interest in research for developing players. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University (BME) where she was named Alumnus of the Year in 2012-13 and Southern Methodist University (MM) where she worked with the legendary Howard Dunn. Paula taught in Plano, Texas ISD for many years before moving to Asheville, NC where she served as principal clarinet in the Asheville Lyric Opera and on the faculty at Mars Hill University (NC).

Author of So You Want to Play the Clarinet and The Break (Southern/Hal Leonard), Paula has performed and presented at music conferences throughout the US since 1998. She is a performing artist and clinician for Vandoren and for Buffet Crampon and her articles have appeared in THE CLARINET, Vandoren WAVE, The Texas Bandmasters Review, and The Instrumentalist. A new series of her arrangements for clarinet can be found at Hal Leonard. She also has two recorded works for clarinet: Unfamiliar Territory by Michael Markowski and Road Trip for clarinet quintet by Clifton Jones. Visit

Subscribe to the We Are Vandoren E-newsletter (WAVE) to receive 4 weekly articles for Performers, Students, and Educators

First name:
Last name:
Search Loading...