fingerings Archives - Heidi Bender

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The blessing of Finger Substitution

One of the first skills I learned when starting organ lessons was finger substitution. If you are not an organist, you may not know what finger substitution is. When I took piano lessons in my childhood, I do not recall ever hearing about finger substitution. And finger substitution was also not a technique needed when I played the clarinet through high school.

What is Finger Substitution?

Finger substitution occurs when depressing a key with one finger, you move another finger onto that key. Then the original finger moves off of the key. This enables the organist to have their hand in position for the next note. This is required sometimes so notes can be played legato (no break between notes).

I learned how to do this by practicing the exercises in the Method of Organ Playing by Harold Gleason. The exercises clearly marked which fingers to use. For example, begin with fingers 1 and 3 and substitute with 2 and 4. Each finger has a number assigned to it. 1 is for the thumb and the pinky finger is number 5.

Finger substitution exercises

Finger substitution exercises

The blessing of Finger Substitution

What? How can finger substitution be blessing? As I have only been playing the organ for about 5 years, I have come to value my ability to substitute my fingers. This my sound silly to accomplished organists or those that learned the organ at an early age. For me, learning to do this and being able to appreciate it is a blessing.

Here’s how:

♦ It’s helped me appreciate that we all have different skills and abilities. While I can play the organ (and substitute my fingers) others can dunk basketballs, cut off their arm to save their life, run marathons, compose music, or help others find a new job. You name it, there is likely someone that can do it! (Herding cats may be an exception.)

♦ I am capable of more than I ever realized (you are too!!). I didn’t run away from the challenge after learning that organ technique is much different than playing the piano. Going into it, I assumed it would be like playing the piano only adding foot pedals.

♦ Something that once felt difficult to accomplish can became easy with persistent practice. At first substituting my fingers (and eventually my feet too!) took a great deal of concentration. Now, I can usually substitute my fingers without thinking about it. If you were to ask me which fingers, I used I may not be able to tell you unless I play it again and look at my fingers. Of course, sometimes I still make it more complicated than it needs to be!

♦ When I’m at my job – I currently work full time as data manager – I may be having a tough time working on that day’s tasks. Sometimes I pause, smile, and remember that I can substitute my fingers. Everyone at work can type on a keyboard but I can substitute my fingers [on a different type of keyboard]!

What have you learned that you consider to be blessing (even if it may sound weird to others)?

January 4, 2014

Making it more complicated than it needs to be – December 2013 Lesson

My hands on the swell manual
My hands on the swell manual

My hands on the swell manual. Is that the best fingering?

I met with Michael at the end of December for my last lesson of 2013. The lesson went well overall. I demonstrated improvement since my previous lesson which was an accomplishment itself. December was a very busy month with concerts and activities to attend. I also had a nasty cold for a week which decreased my practice time.

During the lesson, I was reminded of an important lesson that we can all apply to our lives:

Sometimes we make things more complicated than they need to be!

Prior to my lesson I had spent time working out some new fingerings (which finger will be used for the key corresponding to each note). I thought I was being crafty and thinking it through, exploring all of the options, and making the best choice. My goal was to determine efficient fingerings that would also be comfortable for my hands. Even after deciding the fingerings I thought were best, I still had trouble executing the section.

In playing this section at my lesson, Michael noticed that was having trouble. I tend to hesitate when I’m not confident in the fingerings. Michael watched my fingers. Then he offered an alternate fingering. His way was much easier and less complicated. It was an approach that I had not considered. With enough repetition, I would have eventually made my fingering choice work. But, oh how thankful I am for any easier way!

In our every day lives, we can benefit from input from from others if we are open to it. In this case taking the advice was easy. Michael is my teacher and I pay him to give instruction and guidance. Recognizing when we are complicating things can be a challenge. However, with experience, we can learn our own signals. Like for me, if I continue to struggle with a fingering that is a red flag. Another tactic, is to take a step back and ask yourself, “is there an easier way?” when things feel complicated.

If you are making things more complicated than they need to be, ask others for input. Or check out Marc and Angel’s blog where they share 28 tips to make your life less complicated on their blog. An outside perspective could be the key!