Those pinky keys! Why do they give us so much trouble?
I have some tips for both students and teachers to help remember and/or instruct quickly and efficiently.
First and foremost: STUDENTS, Know what your clarinet sounds like and feels like. Experiment. Just wiggle your pinkies around on the keys and get used to the feel and sound of them.
Let’s start with the right hand pinky stack.
You should notice that this is the view similar to what you would have if you were holding the clarinet in playing position. I’ve numbered the keys for reference purposes.
Key 1: Ab/Eb
Key 2: F/C
Key 3: F#/C#
Key 4: E/B
These are the standard for the key names. If you use enharmonic names, it gets to be a bit confusing, as you end up with G#/D# and Gb/Db. (Please, no!)
One of the quick tricks I use with students is,
“E for end/B for bottom,” which is referring to Key 4, of course.
Another helpful memory trick:
the even number keys (or far-away keys) do not have an accidental (# or b) in the name, whereas the odd number keys (or close keys) do have an accidental in the name. This at least eliminates two of the keys from question.
Teachers may like using a teaching trick I stole from someone else:
Refer to the keys based on location and reference to the human body when the clarinet is in playing position.
Keys 1 & 2 are upstairs
Keys 3 & 4 are downstairs
In reference to the body,
Keys 1 & 3 are Nose
Keys 2 & 4 are Toes
So, in short
Key 1 is upstairs nose
Key 2 is upstairs toes
Key 3 is downstairs nose
Key 4 is downstairs toes
Students can write the abbreviations in their music as indicated on the photo for a quick, easy, pencil and time friendly fingering reference. This reference has been the most successful in my teaching experience.
The Left-Hand Key Stack
Once the right hand key stack is learned, the left one is easy.
First, students should know that unless they have four keys in the stack, they do not have a second Ab/Eb key.
Otherwise, a simple visual/feel check is all that is needed to match up the key functions.
You may already know that when you press the downstairs right hand pinky keys, the left hand “buddy” keys move.
Conversely, the same will happen when the left hand pinky keys are depressed, but you will notice that the right hand F/C (#2, DN) moves with all three left hand keys (it is supposed to).
Pay attention to these simple mechanics of the instrument!
When instructing, Teachers may find it helpful to refer to the keys as indicated in the diagram. Again, the view is similar to what you would experience if you were holding the clarinet in playing position.
I don’t worry about trying to explain any further to my own students. In other words, I don’t verbally connect the LH and RH pinky stacks. If the Students pay attention to the instrument, it will sink in faster.
Also, notice that the key labeled “no buddy” is the C# key, which indeed, stands alone in its duties.
Key 1: Ab/Eb upstairs nose
Key 2: C/F upstairs toes
Key 3: F#/C# downstairs nose
Key 4: E/B downstairs toes
Nose keys: accidentals
Toes keys: natural
E for end/B for bottom
As always, practice with patience and perseverance.
Comments and questions are invited!