4-2-3-1 fingerings

Posted In: How To Play

  • Spectator
    allegra on #197440


    I’ve come across in studies and occasionally pieces repeated patterns that are various chord inversions usually within an octave, that have fingerings printed as 4-2-3-1. (e.g., E-C-G-topE, or similar).  My natural instinct would have been to play them 3-1-3-1, which is a million times easier, louder, and smoother sounding, but I am sure that those are the suggested fingerings for a good reason, so I am persisting with it, though find it quite hard with small hands and some weak fingers!

    So I’m wondering what the advantages of the 4-2-3-1 fingering is and why/when you would choose that in a piece. I’m guessing that because it is a repeated pattern, it helps keep your hand in vaguely the right position for playing it again quickly.  Is that right, or are there other/more advantages?

    There are a few patterns where I can’t reach the chord that way, so after several bars of a chord shape where I can, there will be something where there’s a stretch of, say, a fifth between fourth and third fingers – like G-E-D-G, and I have to go back to 3-1-3-1 or 3-1-2-1 depending on the exact notes. At the moment, those bars always sound better than the ones where I’m trying hard to do the recommended fingering.  I realise that recommended fingering is just that, recommended, and doesn’t need to be followed religiously, but given that this pattern comes up frequently, and that there are studies devoted to it, I’m fairly sure that it’s been marked for a good reason and that I should try as far as possible to learn to do it.  So I don’t want to give up too soon.

    Kristina Finch on #197441

    My feeling on this is that it is always best to listen to your body.  As you said, you have small hands, so it makes sense that you might have to adapt some things.  My hands are also on the smaller side, and I am always adapting fingerings to suit my own needs. For the most part, the fingerings put into music, especially at a more advanced level, are suggestions of what has worked for ONE harpist… the one who edited the edition or composed the piece.

    Maybe I am wrong, and I welcome anyone to correct me here… but if the 3-1 sounds better and is easier on your hand I say go for it, and try to consider printed fingerings more as helpful guides that can be adapted to your own needs.

    Tacye on #197442

    I would make a distinction between pieces, where usually I want the music to take priority, and studies which I am often playing to improve a technical issue.  There seems little point in playing a study and avoiding the very technical issue it was written for.  Though some things just won’t work for some people, such as really huge chords and tiny hands – do you have a teacher to advise on if you should persevere?

    4231 is an exercise for 42  31 as chords, which I find can be a useful choice more often than 4231 itself.  That crossed fingering, but downwards, is what I chose in the end for Balulalow (Ceremony of Carols), though I did take a while going back and forth between fingerings to settle on it.  At that point I was grateful for doing the hard exercises earlier.

    allegra on #197443

    Thank you both – yes that’s exactly what I was thinking regarding the studies etc (and to be honest, the simple pieces I have are often written kind of for the purposes of studies/teaching I think) – I don’t want to miss out on an important technical skill that would be useful later, if that’s what it’s written for.  I’m not having lessons right now, but it’s on my list of things to ask when I do.  But at the same time, I can see the practical advantages in a piece of just adapting to what is comfortable for small hands!  I was just wondering what the underlying reasons for practising the 4231 fingering were, so that I knew whether to persevere – it sounds like it probably would be worth it, if it helps for chords later.  My fingers need to get stronger, so this is probably good for me.

    Tacye on #197445

    I make a distinction between awkward-uncomfortable and painful/damaging-uncomfortable.  Many techniques are awkward to start, but it shouldn’t be painful.

    allegra on #197457

    I don’t think it’s actually painful, no.  Just doesn’t sound very smooth, loud or clean – lots of buzzing on replacement, because my hands are quite small and don’t quite stay open at the right chord shape easily, and because some of my fingers aren’t all that strong and sort of ‘slide’ off the string at that stretched angle, rather than a good strong movement.  But hopefully those will improve eventually, with a lot more practice!

    Gretchen Cover on #197461

    Allegra, you would be better served as a beginner to work on 123, 321, 1234, 4321, and the other basic finger patterns before you start thinking about the more complicated ones. It’s the old crawl before you walk.  You may want to watch tutorials on YouTube about basic harp technique.  Hannah White has some excellent videos and so does Josh Layne although I am not sure how many are for beginners.  You could check out his wesite http://www.joshlayne.com.

    balfour-knight on #197477

    Good answers, all!  Sylvia Woods has a new book out about harp fingerings.  I have not seen it yet, but someone may have reviewed it.

    balfour-knight on #197478

    The book is called Harp Fingering Fundamentals, and it is well-reviewed on Sylvia’s website.  (Sylvia Woods Harp Center) Hope this helps.

    Have a great day, all of you!


    Loonatik on #197538

    Depends on the piece you play and what you want to achieve.  The 4231 fingering can end up being very useful. So you’d want to be able to do it.

    If you play pieces where you see such broken chord progressions in a repeated pattern, 4231 is the way to do it, as it has the advantage of placing all fingers in advance and you get to move chord by chord, which minimizes the risk of inaccuracies… especially if it’s to be played at a fast(er) tempo.


    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #198313

    4231 fingerings are very important to master. It helps make the fingers even in strength and tone, and is necessary in many musical passages. It allows you to place all four fingers at one time, and grouping notes together by placing is part of phrasing. Notes played with the thumb tend to assume more importance, so 4231 equalizes the notes in a group, where 3131 would split them into pairs. Buzzing happens by placing not all at the same time, or by hitting adjacent strings, which won’t happen if you refine your position and press against the lower strings with the backs of your fingers. Learn the pattern, there are many more to come after you master it.

    Biagio on #198329

    One reason that has not been mentioned: you may wish to finger damp one or several strings while keeping your hand in the same position.  This is much more common on a wire strung harp (fingers 4 3 and 2 remain in one place and 1 moves around) but I can envision applications on the more usual gut or nylon instrument.


    carl-swanson on #198330

    One way to play a fingering like this is to place in sequence, meaning that you place only one finger at a time ahead of the one that is playing. So for the fingering you are talking about, you start with only 4 and 2 on the strings. Play 4, and at exactly the same time as you play 2, you place 3. At exactly the same time as you play 3, you place 1.  Placing in sequence is an advanced technique, and is used to avoid buzzes, or to avoid stopping the sound on a string that has just been played.  It is NOT a sloppy way of placing, but is in fact a very precise way of placing.

Viewing 13 posts - 1 through 13 (of 13 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.