Topic: Fingering Charts / Codings

I submit the following link to my custom -designed controversial revolutionary fingering system.

Please feel free to discuss the format (the actual fingerings will be subject to variation as we all know). I am happy to host debate on the Education Forum and am posting here to invite discussion from those generally interested in fingerings.

I have found it quite adaptable to Contrabassoon having found the Biggers book fingering charts almost indecipherable.

Please note this diagram is ony used to refer the player to the instrument layout and translate ASCII codes onto the instrument. I find pictures of every fingering to be as oblique as xxx ooo etc

Neville Forsythe

Last edited by NevilleForsythe (2008-10-01 13:57:00)

Neville Forsythe
Christchurch New Zealand
Bassoonist / Teacher / Conductor

Re: Fingering Charts / Codings

I see what you are doing there, and it makes logical sense.  I do think it can be confusing, especially with the multiple thumb keys on the left hand especially, as the "c" is typically referred to as the "a key" and the "d" is the "c key" and the "e" is typically the "d key"... it's just off by enough to be confusing.

I can see people forgetting which one on the right pinky is "4a" and "4b" unless they already associate those keys like a more experienced player does.

Also, how do you compensate for the sometimes different placement of the 1a and 2a keys?  Specifically offset keys and the left hand Eb trill, or high F key (for my bassoon I'd have a "2b" key as well).  I personally find pictoral representattions (like what you have done here, actually) to be the best, although not the most convenient to write.

Take for instance your C# fingering description using your system.  There is nothing indicated on the right hand, and I know that because I know what this fingering is.  But could it not be possible, especially in more complicated fingerings or for younger players to try to put 123 down on the right hand if they misinterpret the fingering?  What happens if the fingering is all right hand keys?  I can't think of one, but maybe there's a multiphonic or something... anyway, I think you need to develop a way to indicate both hands at all times.  Like in the traditional ASCII representation there is the OOO | OOO clearly denoting both hands.

Just some thoughts.  For the record, I find the traditional ASCII representation to be totally horrible and confusing as well.

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: Fingering Charts / Codings

Thanks for the feed-back - let's have lot's more!

The challenge is really to have experienced "dyed-in-the-wool" players and teachers get over their conservative attitudes and see the advantage to the new generation of players.

In answer to your questions:

If it is clearly stated that the nomenclature is for "labelling" only then the confusion doesn't exist unless a teacher introduces it by talking about the Bb key or the high C key.

I debated with a graduate student at length over the use of 4a and 4b etc, and again when applying the same reasoning as above, found that as labels it was more consistent to call the geographically closest key for the pinky key, "4" and its alternatives "4a" (G#) and "4b" (F#) in turn. Again think of the beginner who knows no difference and is quite accepting of the labels without confusion or prejudice.

In the case of your own bassoon's keywork, adapt the chart to include such extras as 2b (which would be the third "position" for the 2nd finger).

For the possible confusion where the right hand has no keys, I would be happy enough if people agreed that the string should start with "L"     and follow with "R" before each hand respectively.(Note: this chart is still in development and I even added a minor alteration when writing my example fingerings by separating the hands with a colon:    thus C# would be rendered as    LAab 123 :        or LThAab 123 RThØ ØØØ

I personally don't  feel the implications of showing null signs is attractive - when do you stop using them - why use them at all when the principle behind the system is to only show positive actions - i.e. the fingers are always off the instrument (by default) and a fingering only indicates fingers "on".  This is also part of my strategy to be intuitive and "human based" rather than "instrument based". i.e. use the named finger(s) 1-4 to cover the hole or press the appropriate (finger designated) key - a choice of between one and nine (LTh) but normally just two.  As in L1 or 1a;    R4 or 4a or 4b;

It also matters not, that some finger are on holes L1 L2 L3 L4(Eb or more correctly D#) R1 R2 while others are on keys R3(G) R4(F). 

All this is fine with me - I just hope to make life easier for the next generaton of bassoonists - maybe the old guard will need to make an effort.

Finally remember the chart is intended to be referred to note by note over a period of time under the guidance of a teacher. (e.g. I teach the formula (say for Bb) and also explain that the fingering consists of low A being raised to A# by the RTh key (which most bassoonists incorrectly call the Bb key).

Similarly the RTh F# key does actually raise F to F# but equally flattens G to Gb, whereas the middle F# is only achieved by flattening G to Gb (with R4b on my chart).

It is a minefield but I try to keep it consistent, simple and above all player based not instrument based.

Keep up the debate - I wish this chart to be as user friendly and unambiguous to young /new players as possible.

All of my students are given a copy at their first lesson - you can even roll the sheet of paper into a tube and presto you have the basic key layout of the bassoon with thumbs on one side and fingers on the other. I accompany it with a fingering chart for every basic fingering for the full range. I even reworked the diagrams of the Biggers Contra bassoon book but have not got around to rendering my own diagram yet.

As to copyright - I am happy for the whole bassoon study fraternity to use, modify or copy the principle but forbid commercial publication for profit of this system without appropriate granting of publishing rights. THe IDRS may disseminate it on the same understanding. Please acknowledge my ownership of the copyright in any act of "not for profit" dissemination.

Sincerely Neville Forsythe

Neville Forsythe
Christchurch New Zealand
Bassoonist / Teacher / Conductor

Re: Fingering Charts / Codings

The idea of coding bassoon fingerings in ascii format has been around for decades. Perhaps the earliest version of ascii encoding of bassoon fingerings is found on page 36 of Gerald Corey's "How to Make the French Bassoon `Work,'" Journal of the International Double Reed Society 1 (May 1973).

In the mid 1990s I coded the Bassoon Fingering Companion into ascii. At that time dialup modems were common and any sort of graphic file took a long time to download. You can see my discussion on:

There are several wonderful sites for bassoon (and other double reed) fingerings that now provide pictoral representations. They are not as comprehensive as the Bassoon Family Fingering Companion but much more easy to read.

See  my index for double reed fingerings at:


Terry Ewell
Professor Bassoon, Towson University
Former President, IDRS
Former Principal Bassoon Hong Kong Philharmonic, Wheeling Symphony


Re: Fingering Charts / Codings

Thanks for the links - I feel that I am on a different path with my representation of the layout of the bassoon and that the ascii aspect is incidental, but nonetheless is also "improved" for both writing and memorising of fingerings.
The 1994 system still requires 3 to 4 lines of text vis: 

e eb   Eb Db  c#   Bb   F#
  x   x   x   |  x  x  x  F Ab
d c a c# wlock Bb E F# Ab
Bb B C D 

It also includes the clumsy "wlock" and still does not incorporate as unambiguously the information for which finger operates which key(s) in any single pattern. (Note: The "wlock" is a very misleading description - most of the time it is simply a "register key" albeit operating inversely i.e. you have to normally keep it closed until its effect is required, in which case you release or simply don't close it. I actually refer to it a the "bocal key" but its label on my chart is simply "LTha").

Bb key does not make "B" flat - it makes "A" sharp. F sharp key will sometimes make "F" sharp but if you leave off your right pinky then it makes "G" flat!  Low Eb never makes "E" flat - it makes "D" sharp!  Obtusely C#is correctly named.
Does it matter? I'm operating L4 and L4A respectively.

It matters nothing that I'm closing "low D, wlock and C# key" when playing middle C# (LThAab 123). 

xxx l ooo                                     LThAab123

(Try to render a 3 or 4 line ascii using this forum word processor - you can only do it at the left margin).

ascii in 1994 was mainly intended for typewriters - computer word processors especially email based ones are diabolical for re-formatting your intentions!

My plea is for the revision of the coding of fingerings to produce a "hand-based" not "instrument-based" system which can be expressed in a single line of ascii.

This would reduce the information to a maximum of 10 pieces of information. Often fewer would be required (my system does not show digits not in use) and our favourite but often misleading labels would disappear.

I hope members keep the debate going - but please don't retreat back into your 1994 comfortable holes.

I have added a chart of fingerings based on the hands to my first post (see above).


Last edited by NevilleForsythe (2007-04-11 06:48:41)

Neville Forsythe
Christchurch New Zealand
Bassoonist / Teacher / Conductor

Re: Fingering Charts / Codings

Just a short alert to say I've posted the fingerings to go with my diagram. scroll above to see the previous (amended) post.


Last edited by NevilleForsythe (2006-11-22 03:47:56)

Neville Forsythe
Christchurch New Zealand
Bassoonist / Teacher / Conductor