Saxophone - Lesson 8

  1. Objective
  2. C Fingerings
  3. Bb Fingerings
  4. F# Fingerings
  5. Chromatic scale - There's Always a Way
  6. Major scale in all Keys
  7. The Auxiliary high F key
  8. Tone Practice - When You're not there
  9. Practice Material

    Practice Studio

Lesson : Intro | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | ??

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SAX 8.1 - Objective

Good fingering on the saxophone has two objectives :

  1. smooth transitions from one note to the next

  2. achieving the desired tone quality

These two objectives can usually be achieved simultaneously, but not always.

In a given musical situation a side key C, for example, may be the better choice for smooth fingering, but for tone consideration the middle finger C is preferred. You must make a decision which of the two objectives is more important in that particular situation.

I recommend that you learn and practise the fingering rules in this lesson to achieve a smooth technique.
At the same time always be aware of the second objective, tone quality, and depart from a fingering rule when you judge that desirable.

André Ameller has written a marvellous selection of expressive etudes which I highly recommend to you.

They utilise the different fingerings (and tone qualities) for the same note in a musical context.

The Diagram on the right shows the key terminology used in this Course. Left hand keys are shown in purple, right hand keys in green (octave key not shown).


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SAX 8.2 - C Fingerings

There are two fingerings for middle (and high) C.

  1. middle finger C (mC) : left hand A key only

  2. side key C (sC) : left hand B key with right hand side C

The middle C has a more open tone quality.
The side key C is used to play smoothly from C to B or vice versa.

There is one basic fingering rule for the C.

Fingering Rule 1
When C is next to a B : use side key C, otherwise use middle finger C


The following exercise is good practice to obtain a very smooth action between B, C and D.

Audio 8.1 : Alto - Tenor


Play this exercise slowly and evenly, all slurred.
Make sure to play the side C correctly by rotating the wrist. This depresses the side key C with the side of the hand near the knuckle of the index finger (Lesson 2).

Practise also the C Fingering Exercise and the major scales of C and G using side key C.

Always be aware of the tone quality implication.
In slower passages where both C fingerings occur it is generally best to use one fingering for the C only to maintain uniform tone quality.

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SAX 8.3 - Bb Fingerings

There are four different fingerings for middle (and high) Bb.

  1. side key Bb (sBb) : left hand B and A with right hand side Bb

  2. button key Bb (bis) : left index finger straddles the B and the bis key

  3. B-F Bb : left hand B with right hand F

  4. B-E Bb : left hand B with right hand E

The first two are the most important Bb fingerings.
There are two basic fingering rules for the Bb.

Fingering Rule 2
When there is a Bb in the key signature : keep left index finger straddled over the bis key. (except for the key of Gb)

Fingering Rule 3
When Bb is next to C : use sBb and mC.


For example when playing a song or study in the key of F, keep your left index finger continuously straddled over the B and bis keys. This does not affect any other notes. Use the bis key for all Bbs, unless the Bb is next to a C. In this case use the side Bb (but keep the left index finger straddled over the bis key even then.)

The fingerings No.3 and No.4 for Bb are mainly used for arpeggios (broken chords) and for the keys of Gb and B where both the Cb (or B) and Bb (or A#) are in the major scale.

Very fast passages
In very fast scale passages which contain the Bb and C it is possible to use the bis key for the Bb and the side key C and bis key for the C. But beware : this C fingering produces on most instruments a very flat C, so do not use it for anything else but fast runs.

Practise the fingering Rule 2 and 3 combination on the major scales of F, Bb, Eb, Ab and Db. Also practice the Bb fingering Exercise.

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SAX 8.4 - F# Fingerings

There are two fingerings for low (and middle) F#.

  1. middle finger F# (mF#) : left hand B A G keys with right hand E key

  2. side key F# (sF#) : left hand B A G keys with right hand F and side F#

The middle finger F# is most commonly used.
There is one basic fingering rule for the F#.

Fingering Rule 4
When F# is next to an F : use side key F#
(except when continuing from F# to D or D#)


Always use the fourth finger for the side F# key, never the middle finger or little finger.

The side F# produces very smooth fingering from F to F# or vice versa.
But do not use it in passages such as F--> F# --> D#, where the 4th finger has to move quickly from the side F# key to the D key. (The sequence F#--> F --> D# poses of course no problem. Always use the side F# here.)

Practise Fingering Rule 4 in the major scales of F# and Db, and in the Chromatic scale.

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SAX 8.5 - The Chromatic scale

The Chromatic scale contains all twelve tones of the Western music system. All notes are spaced at semitone intervals.

There is one fingering rule for the Chromatic scale and all chromatic passages in music.

Audio 8.2 : Alto - Tenor


Fingering Rule 5
Use all side key fingerings for the chromatic scale and all chromatic passages.

The song There's Always a Way provides good practice for using correct fingerings for the chromatic scale and also for the Bb.
The bis key fingering for Bb is indicated on the music. Use sidekey Bb and middle finger C everywhere else.

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SAX 8.6 - The Major scale in all Keys

Major scales 1 and Major scales 2 provide correct fingerings for the major scale in all keys. The various fingering rules are applied to these major scales :

  • Rule 1 (C fingering) : major scales of C and G

  • Rules 2 & 3 (Bb fingering) : major scales of F, Bb, Eb, Ab and Db

  • Rule 4 (F# fingering) : major scales of F# and Db

Practise all scales over a two octave range as shown.

Audio 8.3 : Alto - Tenor


  1. Play all notes slurred (this way fingering imperfections will show up immediately).

  2. Play all scales slowly and evenly until the fingerings are smooth and automatic.

  3. Once mastered apply the various articulation patterns in Articulation Exercises 8a to 8e to all scales.

Audio 8.4 : Alto - Tenor


Fingering short cuts.
There are several fingering short cuts you can apply, for example :sax005.gif
  1. When alternating between middle D (or E or F) and middle C (or C#) : keep the right hand fingers down while playing the C (or C#).
    For example in the 3rd bar of
    When You're not there (D - Eb - C - D)

  2. The G# (Ab) key affects the G fingering only, none of the other notes.
    You can therefore keep the G# key depressed over any scale run of the A, E, B, F# and Db major scales.

  3. On most instruments the G# key is also operated by the low C#, low B and low Bb keys.
    You can use any of these keys instead of the G# key.
    This is useful when playing large intervals between Ab and these lower notes.
    You can also use anyone of these keys instead of the G# key for short cut No.2 above (The low C# key will in that case affect the low C and the G, useful for the major scales of B, F# and Db.

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SAX 8.7 - The Auxiliary high F key

The Auxiliary high F key (auxF) is the uppermost key on the saxophone (either round or banana shaped). It is operated by the left index finger.
This key combines two fingerings into one. It closes the B key and simultaneously opens the high F key.

The aux.F key is used for alternative fingering of high E, F and F# (also for altissimo G, see Lesson 10).

  • High E : aux.F, A and G (with octave key)

  • High F : aux.F and A (with octave key)

  • High F# : aux.F and A with sBb (with octave key)


The alternative high F# fingerings is particularly useful on saxophones without a high F# key.

These alternative fingerings are initially more difficult to produce than the standard fingerings that use the side keys.
Voicing skills are required to bring out these notes clearly. This is one example where Overtone practice will quickly develop the required skill.

The position of the tongue is vital in bringing these alternative fingerings to speak. The apex of the tongue must be up and in the front of the mouth : "heeeeeee" (like in the English "he").

Experiment with these alternative fingerings for high E and F while alternating between "heeeee" and "haaaaaa" (as in "hard") tongue positions. The "heeee" will produce the proper note, while the "haaaa" will produce a lower so called 'under tone' (a lower pitched Overtone).

Alternative high C# fingering.
sax0808.gifIn passages that alternate rapidly between C#, D and E, the alternative fingering for the high C# is most useful.

It consist of playing the high D key with the left palm and the B with the left index finger.

Alternating between C# and D will keep the left palm pressed against the D key and maintains stability of the instrument.

For a wide range of alternative fingerings for notes in the high register see Raymond Wheeler (1984).

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SAX 8.8 - Tone Practice

Continue to put your main effort into Overtone practice. The benefits from this simply cannot be overstated. They will shape the quality of your playing for the rest of your life.
Besides Overtones, do some articulation exercises and start working on smooth finger actions as outlined in this lesson.

Included in this lesson also two new sets of Tone Exercises.
Tone Exercises 2 are octave skips, and Tone Exercises 3 are intervals within the major scale and related modes.

Audio 8.5 : Alto - Tenor


Do these exercises after your Overtone practice. They help to increase the mobility of your throat. Keep them going for a week or so, then replace them by more soothing Tone exercises like Tone Exercises 1, or the ones you receive in Lesson 9

sax006.gif It is also a good idea to start thinking about some additional material in the form of Etudes.

  1. The 'Etudes Expressive' from Ameller I already mentioned above.

  2. Most of my students like the Etudes Atonale by Guy Lacour.
    These are easy to play, but challenge you to 'think' each pitch before you play the note.

  3. The Method book by Klosé is a classic text. It contains numerous useful exercises, including 40 short Etudes for smooth fingering and articulation.

When You're not there is a ballad in C minor.
Take the same approach as for previous songs : sing in your mind, listen to the sound produced, and feel the vibrations in your body.
Keep your throat as open as you can by simulating the action of yawning.
Think about your embouchure, breathing and air support.

Continue to play the other songs of this course.

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SAX 8.9 - Practice Material

File Name



Saxophone Fingering Chart 1


Saxophone Fingering Chart 2


Alternative Fingerings Chart


Major scales 1 : C - G - D - A - E - B


Major scales 2 : F - Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb


Fingering Rules Exercises


Articulation Exercises 6 - 8


Tone Exercises 2a - Octave skips


Tone Exercises 2b - Octave skips


Tone Exercises 3a - Modal intervals


Tone Exercises 3b - Modal intervals


There's Always a Way - Lead sheet


Play-a-Long - Alto, Baritone


Play-a-Long - Tenor, Soprano


When You're not there - Lead sheet


Play-a-Long - Alto, Baritone


Play-a-Long - Tenor, Soprano

Quiz 8

Test your Knowledge

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Copyright © 2002 Michael Furstner (Jazclass). All rights reserved.