Aspirational vs. Practical

This post discusses the various factors to consider when choosing fingerings for a musical passage, emphasizing the negotiation between current skills, the instrument's characteristics, and desired skills for the future.

With David Allen Moore · Los Angeles, CA

Choosing an appropriate fingering for a passage is a process of negotiation. Oddly enough, it is the negotiation between your “current” self, your instrument/setup, and your “future” self. There are the skills we have, the skills we’d like to acquire, the limitations/issues with our current gear, etc. It can be challenging to find the ven diagram that satisfies all of these potentially competing needs. Many of the concerns are interrelated making the whole process a bit more delicately nuanced. These factors can include (but are not limited to):

  • Intonation
  • Musical Design
  • Instrumental Considerations
  • Technical/Physical Bias
  • Skill Set
  • Time for Preparation
  • Personal Taste

Intonation

Any fingering is only as good as your ability to play it in tune. Other considerations are rendered moot if it’s OOT (Out Of Tune).

Musical Design

When possible, it is nice to consider treating thematic material in a similar fashion. For example, you may want a fingering in Bach where the bass note is always on the same string. Coloring musical sequences with the same balance of string changes can also yield satisfying results. Fingerings should complement musical intention and facilitate phrasing choices.

Instrumental Considerations

You may have a wolf tone on your bass on a particular note that makes certain fingerings impractical. See your local luthier, or change your fingering.

Technical/Physical Bias

Some players prefer starting a passage with a string crossing. Others will choose to shift on one string. If it sounds good, it IS good.

Skill Set

A passage may benefit from a fingering that uses the thumb below the octave. If this tool is not in your toolbox, the excerpt is not there to teach it to you. The excerpt is there to expose you to the tools and techniques you will need to acquire to perform successfully.

Time for Preparation

The amount of time available to prepare a performance will determine whether or not it is practical to incorporate new skills into preparation or if it is better to stick with more seasoned approaches.

Personal Taste

This has considerable overlap with “Technical/Physical Bias”, but has more to do with sound and aesthetic than kinesthetics.

Multiple Mozart Madness

The first excerpt from the fourth movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 lends itself particularly well to exploring multiple options. The first bar of the excerpt is especially challenging, and I have included music with 9 different approaches to the opening of the passage. Experiment with all of them, and see which ones feel more comfortable to the “current” you, which ones may be a fresh and appealing approach, and which ones may not be a good option for you based on the criteria above.

When we only have one way of playing a passage we can become desensitized to idiosyncrasies and short comings in our approach, and executing the same music with different strategies can help clear away the musical cobwebs and alert us to the areas that need the most attention.

Notes: This is NOT intended to be played straight through. The presence of “Madness” in the title is just an affinity for alteration. Each example is separated by a double bar line.

Check out more Fractal Friday writings here.


About the Author

David Allen Moore, 4th Chair Bass of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2000, was previously a member of the Houston Symphony. He is an internationally sought-after Guest Principal and has performed with the Helsinki and Israel Philharmonic.

Moore is the author of Fractal Fingering, a required text at notable universities. He joined the USC Thornton School of Music’s full-time faculty in 2010 while maintaining his position in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also teaches at Domaine Forget in Canada and DiscoverDoubleBass.com. His students hold positions in orchestras globally.

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