The secret to improving finger technique — Part 1: finger movement exercises.

As we age we tend to lose our finger mobility and dexterity.  I was not a particularly good technician, even in my prime. After a 50-year layoff, I was pretty hopeless. This two part series is about what I did to improve my finger technique enormously over the last year. Part 1 discusses finger movement exercises.

The first thing I want to point out is that I don't have any medical issues with my hands (other than normal aging). For more about medical conditions (some treatable) that can affect finger dexterity, check this article.

I'm going to focus on two common finger technique problems:
  • Fingers don't want to move independently, particularly ring fingers and pinkies.
  • "Flying Fingers" (fingers too far from the keys).

Exercises you can do without the clarinet 

These two exercises will strengthen your ring and pinkie fingers, and improve finger coordination.

Thumper. Place your hands on a table with wrists and finger tips touching the table. Raise fingers one at a time, trying to raise pinkie and ring finger just as high as third and index fingers. The video demonstrates the exercise for one hand. It's best to do it with both hands at once, coordinating the finger movements.

Praying Mantis.  Hold your hands in a prayer position, with wrists and finger tips touching. Raise and lower the fingers, bringing the tips together exactly. This one sort of reminds me of a sobriety test.

Exercises with the clarinet

If you have a flying finger problem, you can't do better than Paul Jeanjean's Vade-Mecum Du Clarinettiste.  His trick for managing the flying fingers is to anchor a pinkie on a harmless key while raising the other fingers. Here's a demonstration

Vade-Mecum Exercise Fragment

This book is also good for training your fingers to come down smoothly over the keys, with no inadvertent "grace notes" between the right ones. Start practicing SLOWLY. If the fingers drag or fly, repeat the passage until you can do it smoothly. Then you can pick up the tempo. It takes time, but "All [good] things come to those who wait."

Where to get the book:

Finger Training Gadgets 

Classical Fingers is a shield that mounts over the clarinet and prevents your fingers from going too high. Web site: I like this device a lot on my R13, but I couldn't use it with my old E11 -- the connecting bands interfered with my bridge key.