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NEW FINGERINGS?

I am dismayed by the statements in the latest edition of "A Teachers' Guide to the Recorder" distributed by the SRP that:

 

"The standard fingering for B flat (descant) or E flat (treble) has also changed in recent years. The most stable fingering now used is Th1_3_56_, which has not yet reached many tutors."

 

This is total nonsense.

If you are unsure how best to finger a note, look first at the table provided by the maker. A glance at any maker's chart will show that the first choice fingering is based on Th1_3_4_ _ _.

Standards do not change. Behaviour is governed by fashion and whim. Do not delude yourself that the latest fad is a standard. Thank goodness this one has, so far, reached only one tutor book. I hope to keep it that way (following my protest Schott have provided the book with a sticker so that the teacher can cover it up). Unfortunately, its also in the chart provided with 'Easy Winners'.

Neither your recorders nor mine have changed, "in recent years". Stick to the standard fingering and depart from it only when the need is exceptional. Use your own ears and judgement and weigh conflicting opinions in the balance of your own experience. Peter Bowman phoned me and we had a long discussion ending in stalemate... actually, it seems that I won the argument. I've not had any contact with Marion Scott.

If you are a recorder teacher of limited experience consider the following facts (yes, facts!).

  • The proposed new "standard" fingering while just acceptable on a very few descant recorders is useless on most.

  • Standard fingerings ensure that, in the main, all the different makes of recorder in your group have a good chance of playing well together, and that your players will be able to change to better models without having to re-learn any basic technique.

  • If you attempt to teach different fingerings to different players in your group you will end up with nothing but confusion.

  • Whether you like it or not, the recorder is, among other things, a first step towards other wood wind instruments. On all of these the finger for hole 4 is related to B flat, To push a new player towards an out of tune fingering which relates to F sharp in the player's mind would be perverse.

I am well placed, (but not uniquely placed), here in the shop to try the various instruments available. The new fingering is useless on the old model Aulos 205 and bad on the current model. It does work on the Yamaha 302, but bear in mind the need to pull out the head to correct the sharp C sharp and D on current production. Generally, it is very, very sharp on the cheaper models. On the new and highly regarded Mollenhauer Dream model is is totally useless. How anyone can possibly consider it to be a worthy "standard" is beyond my comprehension.

Perhaps in moderation of my opposition to this fingering idea I should say that on the right instrument, in the hands of an accomplished player, it has merit as an alternative. In particular, the right instrument is a treble, or sopranino, where, regardless of the make or model, it is generally well enough in tune to be useful, though I do not like the tone colour of the note produced. I wonder, is its false proposition the product of a body of expertise that has neglected to do some basic research? Size matters in unexpected ways.

Fork fingerings are always liable to give variable results and the notes produced by them frequently benefit from additions and subtractions. The descant G sharp is a good example. Whether you use two, or two and a half, or three fingers of the right hand is a matter of context. In my mind they have a common base and produce notes which are near enough the same for the differences to be disregarded or thought to be of crucial importance. The view one actually takes is governed by the company one plays with. Does the difference between a G sharp and an A flat really matter and can you tell which is which?

I also take issue with the word "stable". Unfortunately, the horse has been stolen and a lot of time will be wasted running round trying to get it back behind a bolted door. Forked notes are always less secure in intonation than those which are not, the descant G for example. Even on an instrument where the proposed fingering works, it does not offer significantly more resistance to pitch variation than the standard fingering. Intonation is the responsibility of the player, adjust your breath and fingering together according to the individual instrument and the dynamic.

To me, stability is about the ability of a note to be played at varying dynamics without the sound breaking up and "burbling". Try playing low G on a treble at different dynamics. You will soon discover that there is a limit beyond which the sound breaks up. Instruments vary and some players set great store by the ability to play bottom G loudly, Does it really matter? A long time ago I took part in a masterclass and was criticised for not playing the "fortissimo" bottom G in a Bruggen study loudly enough. Upon my challenging him to show me how to play it louder, the "master" took my recorder, which I had carefully voiced for purity and sweetness in the top register, and blew a few notes himself. It was a cheap model, but it drew the question, "How does it come to play like this?". My reply of "Because I made it that way." ended the encounter, abruptly. I have never been shown how to play a treble bottom G fortissimo. A master should have known better, and I will not name him here. Subsequently, I have had it suggested to me that the "fortissimo bottom G" is a Frans Bruggen joke. If it is, it is a very good one, for who will dare question such an expert and highly regarded performer? Does the Emperor's new recorder play low G fortissimo? I think not.

Signature, John Everingham

November 2004 revised March 2013

Late foot notes!
March 2008. I should have looked at my copy again before composing the above comments on an fortissimo treble bottom G. There are no dynamic markings at all. And, what's more, the note is G#. (Bar 5 of No.4 of Frans Bruggen's '5 Studies for finger control'.) I rest my case and I have decided not to revise the above comments.
March 2013. Wrong fingering found in chart provided with 'Easy Winners'.
March 2013. Short original last paragraph removed; superfluous now that I have expanded my comments near the top of the page.

 
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