Fingering when playing in orchestra

March 4, 2012 at 05:32 PM · The problem is that the person I'm playing with usually has weird fingering, and sometime I want to play it differently.

Do orchestra players always have to agree on fingering? at least with the person you're playing with? If you can't agree then better not put down any fingering because the other person will have hard time trying to read the music with different fingering, right?

Replies (28)

March 4, 2012 at 06:13 PM · I've never automatically copied someone else's fingerings...

I imagine it's up to you.

March 4, 2012 at 06:15 PM · Not a violinist myself, so please bear with me if I'm imagining things.

In my orchestra the violin sections are sometimes instructed which string to play on, depending on the tone color the conductor wants (in order to avoid an open E, for example), but not what fingering to use. People have differently sized hands and different reaches.

I've been told that the standard (or a standard) procedure is for the outside player to write his/her fingerings above the music and the inside player to write theirs underneath.

When I look around the orchestra, I see that string sections generally use pretty much the same fingerings within each section, but not all the time.

March 4, 2012 at 06:58 PM · "Does everyone choose their fingering or copy it from the section leader?"

In my experience, it was usually an individual matter -- a few exceptions, though. As a student, late teens to age 21, I played in the CSO's training school. Most of the music we used was CSO property, and as I recall, we couldn't mark it. We could photo pages for individual practice purposes and were free to mark the photocopies.

I will reaffirm the above comment on different hand sizes and reaching ability. One size -- or fingering in this case -- definitely doesn't fit all.

One notable exception I can think of for tone and expression purposes -- though I don't doubt some fingering variations even here -- occurs early in the first movement of Sibelius 2. It's 17 measures before B -- I'm looking at a vintage Breitkopf & Härtel score. Violins alone play the first 10 measures of the phrase. Two measures before violas, cellos, and basses re-enter, the fiddles have a leap from low B to G, one minor sixth above.

The score slurs the two notes. Though not marked sul G in the score -- at least the one I'm reading from -- this is traditionally the way players execute the phrase. It's been a while since I played the piece; but I recall going from 2 in first position to 3 in fifth position. I clearly remember that my desk partner did the same.

The quick-slide effect when staying on one string -- not to mention the more robust G tone -- adds to the emotional and dramatic tension here. If you went from 2 on B to 3 on G sul D, staying in first position, I'm sure the music director would object. The sound with this fingering -- plus the string-crossing -- is quite anemic in comparison.

Hope this helps.

March 4, 2012 at 07:34 PM · Greetings,

one cannot use the same fingerings as others, as stated above.

If it is necessray to pur a few fingerings in then the right hand player puts them above the line and the left below.



March 4, 2012 at 07:47 PM · What Steven said.

We're playing the Sibelius 2nd using the same edition you have and it has been penciled in "sul G."

March 4, 2012 at 08:04 PM · Thanks least now I know there's a 'rule'...:D

March 4, 2012 at 11:56 PM · Fingering certainly needs less to be uniform than bowing, but I guess one should not be the only person in his or her section playing a note on an open string. But if you shift in a slightly different place or feel more comfortable with your fourth finger on D sharp instead of your third, who's to know?

When I was a kid I played in the local community symphony orchestra (now called the Southern Great Lakes Symphony). Fortunately my section leader (the concertmaster) was also my teacher. So yes I followed his fingerings and bowings. Except for Scheherazade, of course! :)

March 5, 2012 at 01:17 AM · It's kind of silly to use others' fingerings. If one has teeny hand and the other is a 6'2" guy with huge hands, clearly a stretch fingering isn't going to work for the teeny hand.

March 5, 2012 at 01:49 AM · One of my hates is when we get parts that have obviously been used by a youth orchestra somewhere with a fingering on every note. You've heard of painting by numbers - this must be the musical equivalent. Seriously, I don't know how anyone can play from a part like that. I spend a fortune on rubbers (erasers for our American friends).

The only fingerings I put in are the key ones where (a) it's tricky and (b) if you miss this way into it, you've had it! Apart from that, I play the notes and it might be a different fingering every time.

If you DO need fingerings, and your desk partner needs different ones, Steven's right - the convention is rh player above, lh player below.

March 5, 2012 at 02:08 AM · Another exception is when the conductor specifically wants or doesn't want portamento. The Mahler symphonies, specifically the first movement of the fourth, has lots of slides marked.

Malcolm, those parts usually have bowings marked for every stinkin' not, too.

March 5, 2012 at 02:47 AM · I don't think I ever really put fingerings in orchestral parts, although I do put critically important ones in solo and chamber music parts.

In orchestra I would often use unconventional (strange to some) fingerings. In boring pieces its good to use very hard fingering to help one stay awake.

Being very lazy and easily bored I would often not put bowings in either, but just change bow when other people did. But desk partners usually obliged and put some bowings in. Often orchestral playing is more like having a desk job with all the writings in and rubbings out. ("Rubbers" are entirely different outside the UK, and are called erasors, but I shouldn't really go into that ...)

March 5, 2012 at 04:54 AM · My stand partners can never play so...

March 5, 2012 at 05:44 AM · thanks for the suggestions, putting the different fingering above and below seems like what I should try next time.

March 5, 2012 at 08:07 AM · I colour-code mine; they sell colour leads for mechanical pencils. I'm red, my stand partner's blue. As I have huge hands (10ths in 1st pos? No prolem! Suck on that, Niccolo) and she has teeny tiny hands, I stretch up to 2nd position while she has to shift up. Or she hates 2nd positions and I have no problems with it.

I only write in the messy parts, though. There was a particularly nasty part in Mozart's Requiem where it felt like I was playing Moto Perpetuo. That part looked like it got beaten up...

March 5, 2012 at 09:53 AM · I always ask my stand neighbor and when he is ok with it, I mark my fingerings very small so they don't distract too much. Nothing is more wierd than having lots of ugly big marks in your music.

I think everyone has to practice his fingerings in the orchestra parts so there is no excuse being confused by other marks in it. If you know your part you know your fingerings. Orchestral music is mostly that simple, that you can get a lot from it by heart. And if its not simple you get it into your head and fingers while practicing and rehearsing. At least thats my experience. After all that you know what you are going to play and what fingering to use. No excuse if you neighbor is confused by your fingerings. He should have practiced better.

March 5, 2012 at 01:10 PM · In school orchestras, at times everyone is expected to use the same fingerings, or given a choice of a couple ways to finger. This lets (time-hungry) public-school teachers include more technique and teach HOW to plan effective and expressive fingerings,not just settle for the easiest or most obvious ways that kids without exentsive background may choose on their own. Sue

March 5, 2012 at 06:54 PM · yeah this seems to be something you need to work out with your neighbor early on, my orchestra only has 6 rehearsals before concert and we get the music on first rehearsal. so I probably should have the fingering by 3rd rehearsal at the latest. but on last concert my partner just put the fingering right before the concert, which I'm sure helped her but confused me quite a bit :)

March 5, 2012 at 10:15 PM · Just a thought...

I hate when i find my part with lots of fingerings, especially when there are fingered notes in a row...

March 6, 2012 at 03:42 AM · Non-violinist, Bruce, has it right. In a professional orchestra, the concertmaster, subject to the conductor's approval, might indicate which string to play on here and there, and whether or not to make a portamento, etc. Within those constraints, there can be a lot of leeway. Usually in a pro orchestra we try to keep fingerings to a minmum. You never know where you might get rotated next time. Even in an amateur orchestra, I'd avoid color-coding and other permanent or semi-permanent markings in parts not your own.

March 6, 2012 at 06:24 AM · I generally make it a point to memorize my fingerings. This can help in many situations, such as poor stage lighting (glare on some types of paper can render pencil markings invisible). Most importantly, I feel I've really learned the part.

March 6, 2012 at 09:56 AM · Good posts from Rafael and Scott. I rarely put fingersings in parts, and generally I think it dangerous to put a fingering over nearly every note.

Apart from and as well as orchestral parts, I also find it best just to put in a fingering at a key point, such as a shift or an extention, to remind me. Whenever I have put in several fingerings in a bar say, my two brain cells get very confused, and I end up rubbing most of it out. (I should have said erased!!)

March 6, 2012 at 01:54 PM · Ummm...I was just going to say something intelligent - I think. But I just saw a lovely photo of Anne Akiko Myers to the right of my last post, and my own remaining brain cells got...

What was I saying?

March 6, 2012 at 02:01 PM · Perhaps one should never mention fingerings and a beautiful woman in the same sentence? (Oh dear, I've just done that ...)

March 7, 2012 at 04:29 AM · put your fingerings on the bottom.

March 7, 2012 at 06:32 PM · Whose bottom?

Careful how you answer that....

March 7, 2012 at 06:33 PM · By the way, Reynard -- in the midst of all this levity -- just want to mention that MCCO sounded GREAT on Saturday night. I can't believe how much you accomplish with only six rehearsals!!

March 8, 2012 at 12:02 AM · Heaven preserve us from people who practice orchestral parts! At least, those who practice orchestral parts as they would a concerto. One orchestra I was in, we had a girl who was very conscientous and took the parts home every night and practiced them. Unfortunately, she came in the next day and played them exactly as she'd practiced. Which maybe wasn't the way the conductor and leader wanted it!

I'm agreeing with Peter far too often - yes, in a lot of pieces I probably change the fingering every time - as he says, it alleviates the boredom. Reminds me of another story - one session, my desk partner and I were bored so turned the music upside down on the stand. I don't think we'd been spotted, but the conductor was looking at the firsts when he said "Give us a light" (i.e. start recording). We didn't dare turn it back with him looking at us, and so we had to play the piece with the music still upside down! Certainly made us concentrate.

March 8, 2012 at 09:12 PM · It's always dangerous to agree with anything I say!!

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