Have you seen your favorite sax player remain close to the keys even at a fast tempo? He may lift his fingers a few times, but throughout, he kept them near the keys.

Raising your fingers too high can limit your ability to play quickly. But if you can keep your fingers close to the keys, your speed will increase when you play the saxophone. In this post, we’ll go over some tips and tricks to help with your saxophone fingering.

The Secret to Playing Faster

As you play the saxophone, take notice of where your fingers are as they move. Do they mostly rest on or near the keys? If you’re unsure, try to take a video of yourself when playing the sax.

Why Does It Matter?

Knowing your finger and hand position will let you understand where you need to refine your fingering. Imagine you’re a golf player. Whenever you swing the club, you may be making many unnecessary movements that can affect your ability to perform well in the game.

It’s the same thing when you handle the sax. Don’t make things harder for yourself by moving your hands in an efficient way. This begins by keeping your fingers near to the keys at all times.

The Correct Saxophone Fingering Position

Before you tackle any free alto sax fingering chart, make sure you have the correct saxophone fingering position, as it can impact your overall performance. Even if you can read a saxophone fingering chart with ease, having good finger technique is more important to ensure you develop good playing habits from the start.

Have you been playing a fingering chart for some time but without a solid finger technique? Now’s the time to improve.

1. Get Used to the Correct Position

It’s important to rest your fingertips comfortably on the key pearls. Your little fingers should rest on the G-sharp and E-flat key, while your thumb is on the thumb rest with the tip positioned over the edge (ready to press the octave key). Also, place your right thumb under the thumb hook at a position that lets your fingers rest comfortably on the key pearls.

Make sure that your fingers aren’t straight but are curved and relaxed. You want to be able to push the keys straight down and NOT at an angle. Once you play palm keys, your fingers shouldn’t come off the instrument. When you feel that the palm keys are too far, you can add palm key risers to fit more closely.

Before moving on to your saxophone fingering chart to play a note, remember to stand straight with good posture. Keep your hands, neck, shoulders, and wrists relaxed to release tension in your body. Commit to memory the feeling of saxophone fingering with this relaxed hand position and good posture.

2. Practice Long Tones

To develop a good habit of playing with the right fingering position:

  • Maintain the position while playing one note at a time. 
  • Practice long tones so you can work on getting a good sound, embouchure, and intonation. 
  • Don’t forget to add a fingering position to the list of fundamentals to focus on while you practice long tones.

Note: When playing notes that involve many switches on fingering, be careful not to squeeze the keys tightly. This is a common mistake that can mess up the rhythm and makes techniques sloppy.

3. Extend To Other Notes

Once you get the hang of the right fingering position playing long tones, you can move to other notes. Take whatever you’re practicing on (arpeggios, scales, etc2) and apply the same focus of perfect hand position for each note.

The key here is to start slow. This way, you can play clearly and get a solid rhythm. Speeding up your lessons will only make your performance even lousier. It’s important to practice with keen attention to detail. It takes longer to correct bad habits that developed over time than to address them in the first place by practicing good technique.

Try to make it a habit of playing your saxophone at a slower tempo where you can perform with no mistakes. It should be slow enough that you can think of other things, like playing the right notes and maintaining the right fingering position. By the time you’re ready to go fast, your notes should be automatic that you don’t have to think, and you’re brain is free to ponder on other things like making music.

Follow the 80–20 Rule

When you practice, about 80 percent of the time, you should play your saxophone at a comfortable tempo wherein you master everything and concentrate on the different aspects of fingering. For the other 20 percent, you should be practicing the same thing, BUT the goal is to reach the ideal tempo. 

Meaning, 80 percent of the time, you’re not worrying about the notes so that you can think about other saxophone fundamentals to sound good. In doing so, you’re actively improving all aspects of playing saxophone while establishing good habits that you’ll be taking with you once you speed things up. After you’re able to play something at a goal tempo, clearly and with no mistakes, then you don’t have to spend plenty of time practicing it.

Take the three tips above to heart. It may be satisfying to hear yourself play something that sounds good and you’re familiar with. However, if you spend all of your practice time to sound good, you won’t progress much.

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