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On Fingering

November 17, 2013

There is a difficult crossroad to face for the piano improviser with regard to fingering. Much improvisation involves split second decisions about what notes to play. These decisions are often at odds with optimal fingering. As a result, many mistakes or missteps are the result of getting oneself in a ‘bind’ – you have decided to play something but find yourself tangled up with the fingering problems that are presented by the passage you want to play. How to solve? Practice patterns without regard to fingering – i.e. ad hoc fingering? Reliance on standard fingering systems? Both have their issues.

So we are after fluidity / manual dexterity in an improvising environment. One cannot work out fingerings ahead of time as with a composed passage. One reasonable approach seems to be to develop an improvisational scheme that is more long term, less instantaneous. It is said that the greatest bebop players had the entire chorus or the entire solo planned out from the outset of the solo. This author calls this a ‘melodic roadmap’ based on building tension through the course of the solo.

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