Technically Speaking: Fork keys

At some point, you may have looked at your clarinet and wondered, “what’s that key for?”

I know I did, and I was not afraid to explore my instrument (you shouldn’t be either).

I think the keys on the clarinet that are most neglected by young clarinetists are the “fork” keys. IMG_0457

You may have heard them called other things, like the “sliver” keys or even “banana” keys. (If you still have no idea what I’m talking about, the photo here should be of some help).

Whatever you call them, I’d like to make sure you understand when using these keys is best. I will call them the fork keys.

LH = Left Hand

RH = Right Hand

So, what are they for?

Short answer: alternate fingerings for smoother technique.

The top joint (LH) fork key plays D#/Eb in the chalumeau register when added to D fingering (just above middle C) and A#/Bb in the upper clarion register when added to A (just below high “thumb” C).

The bottom joint (RH) fork key plays low B-natural (just below middle C) or clarion F# (staff line 5) when added to the Bb or F fingering, respectively.  This key is of extreme technical importance. In the altissimo, this fork key should always be used for the high D#/Eb.

Using the fork keys is an alternative to an otherwise awkward fingering. The point of them is to help you make your technical passages cleaner and “blurp” free.

First, know that whenever you have a chromatic passage, the fork keys should be used. No exceptions!


Examples of when to use the fork keys:

Use fork on BOTH Bs.
Chromatic. Use LH fork.
Chromatic. Use LH fork for best technique.








Important: These examples are all in the key of G or D, meaning that they have F# in the key signature. All unmarked F’s are F# in the examples!

Chromatic. Use RH fork.



In this case, use the fork fingering for the 2nd note (F#), but not for the 4th note (also F#), as it would make moving to D cleanly very difficult if not impossible.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Optional use of fork keys



In these examples, you could choose to use the fork keys, or not. The best rule to go by here is use what makes the technique cleanest, or use what sounds best.

The 3rd note is F#

I find that on my clarinet, F# with the fork key has a better tone than the standard F#, so I opt to use it when practical. I use the LH (upper joint) fork key when it makes more technical sense.        The Left Hand fork key is mostly optional. It is most practical in fast passages and in chromatic scales.


Avoiding the fork keys

Sometimes it is completely impractical to use a fork key.  Take look at these examples.


It would make absolutely no technical sense at all to even attempt using the fork keys in this passage. Don’t even try.



As you can see, it would not work to go from F# fork fingering down to the B without making a huge mess.  The standard fingering, indicated by the circle above the note, is just fine. (If you still struggle with the technique, you may find that using the ring finger on the third hole (flute F#) works better.)

Again, don’t bother trying the forked fingering for that D#.



IMG_0440This is a special case here. Notice the markings. “FK” meaning fork for the F# (as indicated in the key signature that you can’t see), and the circle again meaning the standard fingering. You just cannot get to D# cleanly if your fingers are not on the holes.
This is another example of where you could try that third finger F# if it works better for you.

You may have figured out by now that the LH fork is more optional than the RH fork. ALWAYS avoid the “flippy finger technique” when possible in the RH; it is almost never clean.

Hopefully, you get the point. If not, feel free to ask questions or comment on how thoroughly confused you are now.  If you are not sure about using a fork key in a particular passage, just try it out!

As always, practice with patience and perseverance.


Remember to leave comments and questions below!






4 thoughts on “Technically Speaking: Fork keys

  1. This is an awesome site for people that play instruments or who what to learn about music. I have a friend and I know that her daughter would love this site. She is in the band and already plays several instruments. The mother was excited because she stated that she was looking for something like this. Her name is Christy I hope you here from her soon.

  2. Erica,

    I have played clarinet all my life and am working on the Flight of The Bumblebee arranged by Albert O. Davis in Concert C for Band. That sets up chromatics through the throat tones that I have rarely engaged. I have always used the right hand fork, but rarely the left hand fork as it always has seemed a little clumsy.

    My clarinet man, John Colbert, who attended Curtis and play professionally for years, told me to use the left hand fork on descending chromatics: in the Key of D: (Gn, F#,E#,En, D#, En, D#, En, C). (n= natural). The right trill keys ascending. This is new to me but I believe it works better. Thoughts?

    1. As far as those fingerings are concerned, what you described is very logical and may indeed help with the flow. I honestly have never tackled the Bumblebee!

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