The Clarinet “Law of Minimal Motion”

With so many options for clarinet fingerings, there are certain rules we follow when determining which one to use depending on the passage.

You can read the 4 Rules to Choosing the Best Clarinet Fingering here.

The 4th rule however – The Law of Minimal Motion – is more of a philosophy and appears over and over in different ways. Students will get better at determining how to use this philosophy to improve their technique the more you explain it and insist that they consider it.

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There are times when the Law of Minimal Motion is black and white. For example, if you have a C below the staff next to a  B natural and then to an A you would obviously use the middle B. So you would move a total of 2 fingers. You would add finger 5 and then add finger 4. If you chose to use the chromatic fingering – (some call it the sliver key or forked fingering – I call it the banana key) – you would be moving 4 fingers. You would add finger 4 plus banana and then add finger 5 and lift banana. So it is obvious that you use the most efficient fingering (2 fingers instead of 4). Most kids see this easily.


Let’s take a more subjective example. Let’s look at the right hand Low E/Middle B key.  The standard way to finger 3rd line B is the two home pinky keys. I call this regular B.  The alternate fingering for B is the key I call “BottomBottom” because it’s the bottom key on the bottom layer. When you play standard B you use 2 pinkies and 2 hands.  (You can play it with just left, but when using the standard fingering, you should put down both.)  When you use right hand B BottomBottom it is just the right finger. So one finger, one hand. 

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So let’s look at the pattern such as a G arpeggio – Open G, 3rd line B, 4th line D, above the staff G and back down.

Here are the 2 options for B-D-G-D-B:

If you use Regular B – Total movement – 28 finger movements/8 hand movements
Open G-B – add 9 fingers/2 hands
B-D – lift 2 fingers/2 hands
D-G – lift 3 fingers
G-D – add 3 fingers
D-B – add 2 fingers/2 hands
B-D – lift 9 fingers/2 hands
(unless you’re going to repeat and then you can leave the right hand down.  That’s a whole different discussion.)

If you use RH BottomBottom B – Total movement – 24 finger movements/6 hand movements
Open G-B – add 8 fingers/2 hand
B-D – lift 1 finger/1 hand
D-G – lift 3 fingers
G-D – add 3 fingers
D-B – add 1 finger/1 hand
B-D – lift 8 fingers/2 hands


Saving 4 finger movements and 2 hand movements may not seem like a lot, but this is just on 5 notes. Think of a piece of music with 1,000 notes. It can really add up.  And if you’re looking at very fast tempos, those motions can make a huge difference.

There are many other fingers that are similar to BottomBottom B where it is not the standard, yet is often better. Students may be initially be resistant to including to them when they play. But if you are insistent, they will become more familiar with them and be a much better player for it.

One way explain it to them is taking the most efficient route on a road trip. If you’re going from Texas to North Dakota, you wouldn’t go through Kentucky if you were trying to be fast. Even if you grew up in Kentucky and you were really familiar with it and you knew all the roads. If you’re trying to be fast and efficient, you would take the shortest route – straight north.  Same thing with fingerings. Even if you know one well, you need to learn the new ones so you can be more efficient and have faster technique.

I hope this article and the 4 Rules to Choosing the Best Clarinet Fingering help give you some basic insight into clarinet technique. There are many fingerings that are deserving of their own posts and I plan to write some of those specifics over the next year or so. Please check back often to see what new articles have been posted.

If you would like a PDF download of the 4 Rules to Choosing the Best Clarinet Fingering (simplified version) that is perfect to hand out to students and post in your classroom, you will get it FREE when you subscribe to our newsletter.  Our weekly newsletter has links to our most current and popular posts.  Click here for your free  4 Rules To The Best Clarinet Fingering Handout

A 1999 music education graduate of WTAMU, Tamarie Sayger held band director positions in Plano and Odessa, TX for 5 years. As a private clarinet instructor in Texas for 16 years, she has taught hundreds of students from grade 6-12 in classes, sectionals, and individual lessons. She has presented at district in-services and co-presented at the Texas Bandmasters Association convention. Her website,, provides resources for clarinet teachers around the country. Mrs. Sayger is also a core contributor for, primarily on the subjects of clarinet and private lessons. Her podcast, Crossing The Break, can be found on iTunes.

Related Reading:
4 Clarinet Hacks – Better Clarinets in 30 Seconds
Beginning Band Jeopardy
Music Mentors Can Make a Difference
What is Band Director Workshop?

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