Writing Fingerings in Orchestral Parts

October 11, 2019, 12:39 PM · When you have a stand partner, what do you do with fingerings?

1. Write them in the sheet music. It helps with the more difficult passages.

2. Outside player writes them on top of the note, inside player writes them on the bottom of the note.

3. You don't write in fingerings at all. It's rude to your stand partner who finds it distracting with his/her own fingerings. Instead, you practice those passages to remember your own fingerings.

4. Other. Do share! =)

Replies (28)

October 11, 2019, 12:45 PM · As a start, I used to be #1 in my younger years, now I'm #3, and I'm thinking about being more practical and doing #2 and seeing how that goes.
October 11, 2019, 1:15 PM · #2
October 11, 2019, 1:16 PM · #2 is correct.
October 11, 2019, 2:01 PM · #2 is typical however Nathan cole told a story of how writing in fingerings wasn’t allowed while in Chicago symphony.
October 11, 2019, 2:48 PM · #2. Chicago is a weird exception; I don't know if there are any other professional symphonies that have a custom of not writing fingerings into the part.

Now, note that it's vastly unprofessional to write in a number over every note (which I've sometimes seen in freeway philharmonic parts, and certainly in community orchestra parts).

As a concertmaster, I will sometimes write in a handful of fingerings into the parts for distribution. Those are generally exclusively for when I want a particular fingering for sound reasons that's not easily conveyed by just a "sul G" or the like, or when I'm supplying an efficient fingering for a difficult passage.

Edited: October 11, 2019, 3:25 PM · My teacher said that she was associate CM of a professional chamber group (defunct after the recession) and the CM would not allow her to write any fingerings on the part--above or below. She said that he liked to spontaneously decide his fingerings and felt that any existing marks on the page constrained him. I don't think it was the group's policy to forbid marking fingerings, though.

I don't remember the "above or below" rule though. Perhaps I was rude to my stand partners for years by writing fingerings anywhere I wanted. Or maybe I have just forgotten that I used to conform to that rule.

October 11, 2019, 4:07 PM · My personal use of penciling in fingerings is minimal because I prefer to be aware of my position, key signature and "attitude" to be used (Yes, i'm one of those Doflein trained violinists). However, when I persist in making the same mistake I will write on the page.

When I played with the community orchestra I shared a stand with other player and they tended to put in a lot of fingerings as well as other visual aids.

Recently I watched the Two-Set video on this particular topic and almost fell out of the chair laughing - a compilation of the many stand partners I've had over the years.

As a music librarian for a youth orchestra... I have a large box of erasers and big jar of white-out.

Edited: October 11, 2019, 4:22 PM · #2 unless there isn't enough room. Also, stick to the minimum amount of fingerings necessary.

I'm a stickler for #2 with community orchestra stand partners because, as a violist with very small hands, I am using different fingerings from them at least 50% of the time.

October 11, 2019, 4:28 PM · I do somewhere between 2 and 3.
October 11, 2019, 8:03 PM · I play viola in three orchestras. In each case I am on the inside of the first stand, which I like because I can hear quite well from there. On the other hand, in each case I am also the more experienced player by substantial margin. So, I suggest fingerings, wait for a positive response, and write my fingerings on top of the staff. If the response is meh, then I write them below.
Edited: October 11, 2019, 10:00 PM · #2 is the rule I go with.

I am the associate CM of my community orchestra. To give our CM maximum flexibility, I write in my necessary fingering only during dress rehearsal, right before the concert.

Edited: October 12, 2019, 1:51 AM · #2
However the amount of information I add to my parts depends on the music. For example we are currently working on Shostakovich op.110 and the 2nd movement has lots of enharmonic equivalent and accidentals.so I added fingerings on every each one of those notes.I also added numbers on silence intervals or repetitive measures with similar notes.
October 12, 2019, 7:14 AM · I normally rub out ALL fingerings in the part.
If there's a "key" fingering - such as you HAVE to hit a 2 on this to make it playable, I'd put it in in agreement with my desk partner.
As an aside, I've sometimes come across (usually hire parts) with a number on EVERY note. I've heard of painting by numbers - but PLAYING by numbers! I don't know how anybody can play from such a part.
October 12, 2019, 11:24 AM · I agree with Malcolm, and use exactly the same methodology. Another reason is that my fingering won't always coincide with my desk partner's, doubtless due to my tendency to use idiosyncratic fingering on occasion - obviously as long as it works easily. I blame my previous life as a cellist!
Edited: October 12, 2019, 1:11 PM · As a violinist - #4. I usually try to agree with my stand partner about fingerings, and no matter if I'm sitting in or out, if we ever should disagree, I'll leave the "above the note" position to her. This is because, we try to avoid writing fingerings out as far as possible, and in the trickier parts I tend to rely on what she proposes since she's by far the more experienced player. Only if I'm feeling uncomfortable, I'll add my own variation below.

As a violist, it's definitely #2. There are so many possible combinations of hands + violas that it often seems impossible to find a generally acceptable version. My stand partner has huge violist's hands, but for whatever reason uses a tiny muffled viola with 35,8 cm vibrating string / somewhere < 39 cm back length. With my tiny tiny paws and a 37,5 cm VSL / 42,2 cm BL instrument I'm not sure if we could ever agree on fingerings!

October 12, 2019, 10:17 PM · I don't think the "reaching consensus with standpartner" method is a great idea; what if your hands are different sizes? I have large hands and can make use of extensions that my standpartner with her much smaller hands finds unworkable.

That's why it's so important to follow the convention of outside player's fingerings on the top, inside player's on the bottom. It eliminates confusion AND the need to agree on fingerings.

October 12, 2019, 11:16 PM · The problem with that is it's difficult for the inside player to see the printed note and quickly associate the number underneath with that note.This becomes irksome especially when the written note is on a leger line.The outside player has no problem with their written-in fingering being right near the note but the inside player has to look down to see their corresponding fingerings underneath.
I just encountered this problem last week with my stand partner politely asking me to not put in so many fingerings so she could read the notes easier.We have been stand partners for 34 seasons so I will do my best to mend my ways and cooperate better.
October 13, 2019, 12:28 AM · Mary Ellen, I'm sure that in real life you're absolutely right. In this specific case things seem to work okay, and it's not often that I need specific fingerings.
And at my level of playing, I have to work pretty hard anyway to have my scores under the belt when rehearsals start. I neither should rely on my sight reading nor my faking skills...
October 13, 2019, 9:13 AM · I agree with Mary Ellen. The professional convention is the top/bottom one, and the expectation that you'll write in the minimum fingerings necessary. There's no great reason to not use that convention in community and youth orchestras also.

I do agree that the "under the note" convention is less convenient for the inside player, but it's something you can get used to. Furthermore, professional musicians read ahead to a much greater extent, probably making it easier to deal with under-the-note convention, but it's good for all players to learn to glance a little ahead anyway.

October 13, 2019, 10:58 AM · BEWARE of this if you are ever called on to play as a "ringer" in an orchestra concert. This happened to me in 1996 when I was called to sit as CM in my previous orchestra some 450 miles from my new home (the current CM's daughter was getting married and she and most of the violinists were gone). The troublesome piece was Tschaikowsky's "1812 Overture," which I had not played before. All we had was the outdoor dress rehearsal in the morning and then the Pops concert around dusk. We played from the asst. CM's part with marked fingerings that totally threw me because they were totally different than I had done (or would ever do) when I ran through it a few times earlier back at home. So even if you don't mark fingerings, their presence can be upsetting - to put it mildly.

But to give the evening some credit, they had gotten the local Navy folks to provide a cannon (and crew) - YES a real artillery piece (looked like about 75mm and they came in at the right places - that was really something! You can't do that indoors!

October 13, 2019, 11:42 AM · Professional conventions? What if you're playing in a non-auditioning community orchestra? Then I think whatever you and your stand partner decide among yourselves ought to be acceptable. A lot of times the piece is one page, or two pages with an easy turn in the middle. In that case you can have two entire copies of the part on your stand, with different fingerings.
Edited: October 13, 2019, 8:23 PM · I agree with those who believe all of us should follow professional conventions.

In my community orchestra, we use music of the outside player. I would take a picture of my CM’s latest bowing and fingering after each rehearsal with my cell phone. At home, I write in my fingering (if different ones are needed) on my own part. My fingering normally wouldn’t be on my CM’s part until dress rehearsal.

October 13, 2019, 3:56 PM · As a side note; I make a current copy of my part available via Dropbox , after each rehearsal. But I also try not to change bowings after the initial handout of the music.
Edited: October 13, 2019, 4:56 PM · Lydia both players not putting in fingerings is also something you get used to.I was Associate CM three seasons ago and the CM and I agreed to no fingerings in the parts.It was a memory challenge for a week or so but it is something you get used to.Yes professional musicians do read ahead but it is agravating to ignore the outside players fingerings and look down to your own.
Great topic...
October 13, 2019, 4:34 PM · I disagree with those who aren't writing in fingerings until the last minute - a lot of the fingerings I write in are to counteract my stand partner's fingerings (generic stand partner) - if I see fingerings in the music, my impulse is to play them. Writing them in early in the process (even if they get changed later) lets me put in my own so as not to be distracted.
October 13, 2019, 5:11 PM · The big danger of fingerings is - you tend to play them.
I often don't play a passage in the same position twice.
I've lost count of the number of times I select a position - and then play the fingering that's there. Actual wrong notes!
I'm more likely to use a generic "restez" for stay up there.
October 13, 2019, 8:20 PM · It seems to me that a lot of variations of #2 are related to interesting dynamics between stand-partners, which is a topic for another discussion.
October 13, 2019, 11:01 PM · I've never tried to coordinate a stand partner's fingerings.

The reality of playing orchestras, at least for the experienced is that
1. the fingerings of well-trained and experienced orchestra players tend to converge, especially with string choices. When everyone is on the g string, don't be the one clueless person in first position on the D string.
2. experienced musicians often have their fingerings, at least from the standard repertoire, memorized.
One should really not be writing in fingering for Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky symphonies or concerti or overtures.

Learn them well from the start so that you don't have to slave away each time you see them. When practicing, make a point of memorizing complex passages.


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