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Saxophone Tips | Playing Fast

21st April 2020

As part of our #CreateInspireSupport series we’re delighted to offer this video from Alastair Penman.

There are reasons why playing fast is slightly harder on Sax than Clarinet or Flute for example. In this video and blog Alastair discusses why and offers some tips for you to overcome any issues with speed.

We all know regular practice is a great thing to improve your tone and dexterity. But as Alastair points out, there are specific things you can do to help improve the rapidity of your fingering. Let’s focus in on some of these tips:

Finger Position

Keeping your fingers closer to the keywork will make a big difference. Why not record yourself playing on video and watch how your fingers are normally positioned. We’ll bet you’re surprised by the results! Often there is scope to improve your finger positioning and it will make a big difference.

Why not try using a small bit of blu-tac on your keys to help you become more aware of errant fingers.

De-Constructing the Music

We recently released a blog about managing difficult passages of music that may be good to reference here as well. In our video here though, Alastair sets out a few approaches to help de-construct the notation and break it into smaller groups to practice with. Why not check out the tips and examples of repertoire below:

Slow It Down:

  • Try playing the passage at 1/2 speed and play it through slowly and evenly
  • Keep to the reduced tempo using a metronome
  • It’s important to keep your fingers relaxed
  • Slowly increase the speed, being careful not to introduce tension in the fingers
‘Devils Brew’ – no.36 from ’36 More Modern Studies’ by James Rae

Practice In Groups:

Alastair walks through some examples of breaking up the passage into smaller group patterns. The idea here being to teach your fingers the patterns and joining up each of them so it flows under your fingers at any tempo and any rhythm.

Once you’ve managed it in simple groups, why not kick it up into more complex groups of 4, 5, 6 and so on…

GROUPS OF 3: ‘Devils Brew’ – no.36 from ‘36 More Modern Studies‘ by James Rae
GROUPS OF 4: ‘Devils Brew’ – no.36 from ‘36 More Modern Studies‘ by James Rae
GROUPS OF 5: ‘Devils Brew’ – no.36 from ‘36 More Modern Studies‘ by James Rae

Alter The Style

Specifically it can be good to attempt it with swing quavers for example. Both standard and reversed as Alastair shows in the video (06:28). It’s all just helping the patterns fit under the fingers from all angles.


More About Alastair

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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