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Saxophone Fingerings | Ultimate Guide

27th April 2020

We all know the basic fingerings on Saxophone, BUT do you know all the alternatives? And how about all the high notes? And ideas for getting those C#’s in tune? Check out our ultimate guide with accompanying video…

We’ve set out some of the main alternatives below, alongside the timestamp in the video [eg 04:15] for each fingering. So, perhaps watch through the video in full, and/or use the guides below as ‘bookmarks’ to find the help you need quickly.

All About the B’s!

The Bb has two ‘main’ fingerings, firstly using the ‘Bis key’ (button Bb) and secondly the ‘Side Bb’. The ‘Bis key’ [00:50] is probably the one to use in any music where Bb is in the key signature as you can leave it on the majority of the time. The ‘Side Bb’ [01:48] is activated with the normal A fingering, plus the ‘Side Bb’. It’s very useful when going from a Bb to a B. Often best used with a lot of chromatic movement.

F# Alternative

By using the ‘auxiliary F# key’ [03:00] with your fourth finger you can just play a normal F and add the aux F# key. It’s great for any quick chromatic passages.

Palm Keys & Top F#

The Palm Keys [04:10] help you get from the high D through to a high F, and then onto the high F#, the highest standard note on the Saxophone (there are higher notes through other fingerings in the altissimo range). There are a couple of ways up to these notes from High D to High F [04:10], and onto High F# [04:36].

There is also a way to play High F using the ‘Front F Key’ [04:57]. If you don’t have a Top F# key (some vintage Saxes don’t) there is also another way to get there: Just add the the ‘Side Bb’ key when fingering a normal ‘Front F’ [05:54].

Side C Key

Just above the ‘Side Bb’ key is the ‘Side C’ key [06:50]. If you play your normal B then add that key it just pushes it up to a C. It’s really useful if you’re trilling from a B to a C rather than flapping your fingers around!

C# Tuning

A lot of Saxophones suffer from difficult intonation on the ‘Open C#s’ [07:40]. Due to the nature of the tube and all the keys being open it’s the hardest leap to control. The middle one tends to be flat, and the upper tends to be sharp.

So, on the middle C# one solution is to press the ‘G key’ and the ‘Octave key’ together to sharpen it slightly [08:16]. This opens the ‘wrong’ octave key and vents it to bring the pitch up.

With the upper C# you can add some of the right hand keys to flatten the pitch [09:56]. Often the first or first and second will be enough to flatten it. Using both of these options (middle and upper alternatives) will bring your C#’s much closer together.

Crossing The Break…Gently!

This is difficult patch of the instrument. As you go from C or C# to the D over the break there can be a tonal change. So, one option is to play the D over the break by using the ‘Eb palm key’ on its own [11:08]. It gives quite a soft, gentle D over the break.

Now you’ve got a nice D, you can get a D# by using just the ‘F palm key’ on its own [12:20]. And you can get the E by keeping the ‘F palm key’ on and using the ‘E key’ + ‘Top F# key’ with your right hand [12.38].

A Word of Warning…

Getting used to some of these alternative fingerings can take some time. At first, some of them may feel un-natural and you will want to revert to your old ways which you’re doing the best you can with. However, with some practice you will find that these alternatives (used at the right time) will vastly improve your speed and fluidity…Good Luck!

More About Alastair Penman

Hailed as a “pioneering instrumentalist and writer” and praised for his “surpassingly beautiful music” and “undoubtedly brilliant mind”, British saxophonist Alastair Penman is a dynamic and versatile performer and composer, presenting contemporary music in new and exciting ways. Having earned masters’ degrees in both Information and Computer Engineering (University of Cambridge) and Saxophone Performance (Royal Northern College of Music), Alastair has a strong interest in the fusion of live saxophone performance with electronic effects, backings, and enhancements to create often previously undiscovered sound-worlds. 

Although classically trained, Alastair enjoys exploring many musical worlds; such influences can be heard in his compositions and performances, which often transcend genre definition.

As an educator Alastair teaches saxophone at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and has been a guest tutor for the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Great Britain and Benslow Music.  Alastair’s YouTube Channel, Saxophone Resources, has received over 1.25 million views.

Alastair also has limited availability for 1-2-1 online Sax lessons. Just get in touch via his website for more info.

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