Any Engravers here?

Here’s a question that has bugged me for most of my career… I’ve asked keyboard players but for the most part they have all given me different answers…

When a triplet (or any kind of tuplet really) contains fingerings that collide with the tuplet, is it a) preferable to flip the tuplet number or b) just have them collide?

Anybody know?
Example A.png
Example B.PNG

Gould doesn’t address it explicitly, but she does seem very pragmatic about positioning. That is, do what is clear. I strongly believe the tuplet numeral should be flipped. Very confusing to see it next to the fingerings.

Hey Dan! I knew I could count on you… :smiley: Yes, I have Gould too and she doesn’t address it… Maybe I should send her an email… I have some piano scores that have them combined, but as a “not great keyboard sight reader” I have always found it confusing.

This issue came up in the Facebook group Music Engraving Tips. The consensus was that the fingering should be moved and the triplet should stay in its proper place.

“Never displace the notation to make room for an annotation, like fingering. Just move the fingering.” –Darcy James Argue

Ah! So you’re proposing an Example C! To me, as I said not a great sight-reader, it looks odd, because one is more inclined to look for the tuplet number either above or below, whereas the fingerings tend to be (most of the time) below for the left hand and above for the right hand. See in the example…
Example C.PNG
Suddenly finding them in a different area one could easily miss them…

i think the brackets in ‘a’ are odd.
‘b’ would distract me.
‘c’ is ok, but if you look at the Schirmer edition of Beethoven’s Sonata 2, first movement, it is opposite;
when LH beam is down, fingering on bottom, ‘3’ on top

Just wondering, do you really need these fingerings? If I had to play this, I wouldn’t bother wasting time on deciphering them – especially not, if I was sight-reading it.

As fkretlow said, the best solution is delete the unnecessary markings.

Unless this is the first bar of the triplets, do you really need the triplet numbers at all? You are allowed to assume that players have a bit of common sense, or you can write “sim.” somewhere.

From a keyboard player’s point of view, unless a beginner is going to play this (which doesn’t seem likely, given the number of accidentals in a single bar and inconsistent notation of A#-Bb, and B-Cb across the two staves) you don’t need to specify fingerings that are obvious.

I would take Beethoven as a role model for piano fingering over any modern textbook. He only wrote about 20 fingering marks in his entire piano output, but every one of them is important and tells you something that is not obvious about how he wanted the passage played. For example when he fingers repeated two-octave leaps with the left hand “3 3” not “5 1”, that means something!

If you really want to include everything, I would probably flip the tuplet numbers but remove the brackets. The “rules” about tuplet brackets are often more pedantic than common sense requires.

I hate fingerings when sight-reading material. I tend to play the written fingering without thinking and it’s often daft.

While many of us prefer fewer fingering indications, there are too many times they need to be there, and complete: pedagogical pieces/etudes, works for students, etc. I’m certain I could suss out that the triplets are ongoing if the “3” was removed, but I don’t think my students could (well, depends on the student…). So, the OP’s question is a really good one. I agree that the notation has to be the clearest, and editorial/annotative markings come second. In the Example C, I would like to see the first fingering indication - “5” closer to the note-head.

I had resisted mentioning that I thought the fingerings were unneeded since the OP’s question was more of a “how would I do it” and not a “should I do it”.

Yes. Only add fingerings if
a) you are writing for a beginner or
b) they are astute

In my opinion each of the examples can be done well. If your triplet and fingering fonts are sufficiently different and properly spaced apart, they could coexist. I prefer option C myself, as I like my fingerings to be as close to the noteheads they affect as possible, rather than at the far end of the stem. My eyes go to the pitches and comprehend the rhythm in a broader / more generic sense, so putting the important number next to the notehead is more useful for me. I don’t find the brackets offensive at all; what I find odd is when there is a back and forth between them being used and not. On 8th notes that are beamed together, either use them, or don’t. I think mixing their use is a bigger issue than the numbers being on the same side. I think it ultimately falls to the engraver to make a prudent choice.

Re: the discussion of fingerings, I’d only add them if it was necessary (or didactic, as already mentioned). I only add fingerings in my editions if it is utterly difficult to parse or unintuitive (or, like the Beethoven example, I’d want a specific articulation; and even then, if the pattern is repeated, I only do it once or twice at the beginning). That way the moments that are important to pay attention to are easy to spot and the fingerings are not ignored, as they will be otherwise. I’ll also add, as a master’s degree-trained organist (performance), I find it vexing when editions are riddled with fingerings, which get in the way when I want to add my own (that are invariably different than those the editor placed there). They get in the way and make it harder to notice my own. My 2¢. Now, I’ve been known, once or twice, to put one of my favorite pieces into Dorico and add all my fingerings so it looked nice and pretty. So maybe you’re doing that too. Either way, feel free to ignore me lol.

So many interesting comments, many of which warrant a separate thread! I thank you all and will try to address your comments below:

Well that’s interesting question. For the most part yes, since this particular draft is meant for me and I have no keyboard training, so I need them.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have used a draft of something I was actually composing last night to illustrate my question. The pieces play different keys on each hand and at the same time and I hadn’t settled on what was the best notation yet (G#/Ab minor over Eb/D# minor). For the most part I use these three rules of thumb about when notating finger:

  • When there’s only one possible way of playing the fragment and the hand might not be in that position


  • As you suggest, when the fingering tells you that something special is happening next therefore you’ll need the hand in a specific position


  • When there’s a thumb pass that is not obvious e.g. 1-4

Again, I am no expert in keyboard technique and I would never publish anything without sending it to a professional pianist first for approval/suggestions. In this example:


which is actually completed I think I followed your suggestion i.e. there are few fingerings until the ascending line in the last four bars, because as you suggest “it says something”, more to the point: that is if you don’t play these particular fingerings you will run out of fingers to play the top notes…

Yes, I would never write fingerings for a professional, these are etudes (which will be revised by a pro before publishing) and the fingerings are meant for me…

That’s a very good point, I also drifted into this very interesting conversation on fingerings, but the post was merely meant to address the positioning of fingering and tuplet numbers. And also yes, of course I would place the number closer to the notehead, this was just a draft I was working on last night… :wink:

Well put, the problem is when you have a beginner that’s also a veteran :mrgreen: ! e.g. a composer that’s been using the piano as a tool for 25 years, but has no technique or fingering discipline… What’s it called the three finger technique? Chicken feet technique? But at the same time able to play complex polyrhythms… It’s a tricky one to balance!

All very interesting thoughts, for the most part I avoid putting fingerings if there’s more than one way of doing it. I only include them if I think that if the player does not use a very specific group they will run out of fingers for the next passage…

Also as a composer I’m very sensitive about the performer lifting their hand to change position, leaving an undesired gap between notes where it shouldn’t… I find that by putting a fingering in is better than putting the text “don’t you dare lift your hand here:mrgreen:

This is interesting… Perhaps a slur marking would be a better thing to add? If not you’ll definitely want to specify that the fingerings are explicitly intended and not editorial. I ignore almost any fingering placed into a published score unless they are sparse and it is clear that they are intended for a specific reason. The tricky thing, especially if you are not a trained pianist in the classical sense (as you indicated) is that a good keyboardist can likely achieve the affect you want with their own fingerings anyway, as long as they know that you don’t want a break there. A slur and a little asterisk with a footnote might be a better alternative. The famous example is Dupré’s edition of Bach’s organ works. Without getting into the weeds, there was definitely a different aesthetic that was striven for; that aside, I can tell you right now that Dupré’s large hands definitely felt comfortable with things mine don’t. Similarly, I was giving a lesson just this morning to a student and I was quite comfortable with a fingering that he was not (our hands are very different sizes). It’s a really slippery slope. I realize that I’m making these suggestions without actually knowing the context of the music so take them with a grain of salt. At any rate, I definitely respect your discretion and prerogative as a composer; you know your music a heckofa lot better than I do! :laughing: Cheers!

Yes that is an even better point, hands are different and certain fingerings will not work for everyone… It is best left to a professional or an consummate educator not the composer! Unless of course, like other have pointed out, it is to specifically say octave jump 5-5 or you better hit this with 2 otherwise you won’t be able to reach that high pitch with anything but 5… Etc.

The slur is a tricky one, even with a footnote attached, because to me it implies a phrasing element, a certain type of attack and flow that might not be what is really intended. Fun conversation anyway, you gotta love the complexities of music!