#4 How To Hold A Sax And Play Your First Three Notes

beginner technique Feb 03, 2019

In this free video lesson, for absolute beginners on saxophone, you'll learn where to put your hands on your sax, which buttons to push, how to position your body and fingers and how to play your first three notes.
Part 1 of this beginner series covers the assembly of the mouthpiece and neck, part 2 covers the assembly of the body and neck strap and part 3 covers your embouchure (how to position your teeth and lips etc on the mouthpiece). You can find my Complete Beginner's Series here for all the lessons.
Here are the Q&A topics covered in this lesson, with video time stamps (min:sec). Clicking on the time stamp will take you straight to that portion of the video on youtube (in a separate tab). Full Time stamps for the video and a complete transcript are at the bottom of the blog.
What height should my saxophone neck strap be? (1:29)
  • the sax neck strap should be adjusted so that your mouthpiece falls naturally into your mouth. Think Goldilocks here - not too high, not too low
  • your neck shouldn't be angled up or down with correct adjustment - if you look straight ahead the mouthpiece should fall right into your mouth in a comfortable position
  • be careful not to whack yourself in the face with the mouthpiece when adjusting your neck strap!
Where do I put my fingers and hands on a sax? (1:58)
  • first things first, your left hand is above your right hand on the instrument!
  • although the sax is covered in keys and may look confusing at first, to begin with just think of it more like a recorder - you're only using three fingers on each hand for now
The left hand... (2:04)
  • your left thumb rests on the button at the back, covering the octave key. Your thumb hinges to press the octave key and should always be resting it on it even when that key is not being used. The end of your left thumb should be about level with the edge of the octave key
  • there are five main buttons available for your left hand fingers
  • the first key (from the top) should be left out. This is the front high F key and may be a circular pearl or, more commonly, a spatula type shape. You won't need this key until much later
  • your left index finger is then located on the circular, pearl, button after the front F key
  • the next, very small, button should be left out as well. This is the "bis" Bb key and won't be needed at first
  • your left middle finger and ring finger go on the next two circular buttons
The right hand... (3:12)
  • the right hand is more straight forward - there are three circular pearl buttons for your index, middle and ring fingers
  • the right thumb hooks under the thumb support at the back
  • both your pinkie fingers can rest naturally on the keys where they fall at this point (but don't push them down lol)
What is good finger technique on sax? (4:01)
  • your fingers should form a natural curve shape, like a gently arched bridge
  • your finger tips should be touching the pearl buttons
  • press the buttons without squashing your finger tips into the keys. Only the joint where your fingers join your hand should move - the rest of the finger should stay in a relaxed curved shape
  • be careful not to accidentally hit any other keys with your fingers or palms
  • your fingers should stay as close to the keys as possible when you're not actively pressing them. Don't get into the habit of flapping your fingers about above the sax - it's inefficient and will slow you down later
  • when looking straight down the sax at your fingers, your fingers and thumb on both hands should form a relaxed "C" shape at all times (7:55)
How do I play my first three notes on sax? (5:00)
  • the fingerings are the same on every saxophone, but the pitch of the notes that come out of each sax will be different. Also, a G on any sax won't even sound the same as a G on the piano. This is potentially quite confusing! Instead of going into a long explanation here, just do your best to forget about it for now and trust that when I say how to play a G, it's just a G as far as you're concerned lol
  • for the purposes of these lessons, your index finger on both hands is always called "1", your middle finger "2" and your ring finger "3"
  • to play the note G, push down fingers 1, 2 and 3 on your left hand
  • to play the note A, push down fingers 1 and 2 on your left hand
  • to play the note B, push down finger 1 on your left hand
Hope you enjoyed this week's video. Next week I'll teach you the basics of reading music! Jamie :-)
Video Time Stamps
0:01 - intro and titles

1:29 - neck strap adjustment

1:59 - hand and finger positions on sax

2:05 - where to put your left hand on sax

3:12 - where to put your right hand on sax

4:01 - keeping fingers curved

4:30 - staying relaxed while playing

4:59 - first 3 notes on sax

5:28 - playing a G (alto)

5:56 - playing an A (alto)

6:13 - playing a B (alto)

6:36 - playing G, A and B (tenor)

6:56 - Mary Had A Little Lamb (alto)

7:27 - Mary Had A Little Lamb (tenor)

7:52 - correct hand position pro tip

8:35 - sign off


Video Transcript
Greetings! I'm pro saxophonist Jamie Anderson. This is Get Your Sax Together -bringing you high-quality sax knowledge straight from the pro stage. And on today's free sax lesson for complete beginners you're gonna learn how to hold your saxophone correctly and how to play your first three notes.

Now, make sure you stay tuned to the end of this lesson because I'm gonna share my top pro tip that will instantly give you perfect finger position every time. Or, you could just do it your own way...

"Never had one lesson”

So, just before we get into it this free sax lesson is part four of my series for complete beginners. You'll find a card up there linking to the other lessons in the series. Now, if you enjoy what you're seeing please do subscribe down below and ring the bell to be notified when my new lessons come out. I also love hearing from you guys so please do post comments down below or ask me a question.

If you want to get to know a bit more about me and my life as a pro saxophonist have a look at my Welcome To My World Vlogs linked on that card up there - full of candid back stage footage, all very fun and hilarious stuff with top pro tips and tricks and, of course, the famous blooper reel. So, without further ado, let's JUMP to it

The first thing to cover is the length of your sling, or neck strap. Make sure that when you're holding the instrument in a natural position the mouthpiece just falls naturally into your mouth. You don't want to be having the sling too low and craning forward like this, or you don't want the neck strap so high that you're pushing the saxophone up into your mouth like this. So a nice natural position for the neck strap.

So let's cover where you're gonna put your fingers. Let's do the left hand first. On your sax you're gonna have some kind of button - metal or plastic - on the back, and your left thumb is just going to sit on that button covering the octave key, but not pressing it. Now, on the front you can see that there's one, two, three, four, five different buttons. Often that front F key will be a gold flat key but whether it's a circular key with a pearl or if it's a gold flat key we're going to ignore that so your finger goes to the next button along, which will definitely be a circular button, and your first finger goes there.

Your next finger misses out that small button, which is called the bis key, and goes to the next key, and then your third finger goes on the next key. Just make sure you don't hit those side keys with your palm accidentally.

So to recap - thumb resting on the button covering the octave key but not pressing it, miss the first key and then one... miss the small one, two, three. And on the right hand, your saxophone will have a hook down here. It might be black plastic, in my case it's gold, now you're going to put the main joint of your thumb underneath that hook like that, and then, the right hand’s easier than the left hand, because there's only three buttons to push.

One,two, three. And again, be careful that you don't nudge any of these extra keys down there. And you can ignore these ones, which are for your right pinky, and you can ignore all these ones, which are your left pinky, so really we're thinking much more like a recorder at this stage. Your thumbs aren't going to do anything and your pinkies aren't going to do anything so for the moment it's only these six fingers that were concerned with.

So the vital thing about your finger position is that your fingers should form a nice curve, like this, with your finger tip on the button. Don't press this knuckle into the instrument like this. You want your finger to have a nice curve to it and the tip of your finger should be on the button like this.

So what we don't want to see is the fingers pressing down in that kind of shape. They need to be a nice curve like this. Also, very importantly, the whole thing should be very relaxed. Don't slump forward like this, don't hunch those shoulders up, especially the left shoulder is famous and sax plays for going right up here. That's going to put a lot of tension in your left hand.

So, shoulders down, nice relaxed upright posture and bring the saxophone into your mouth, then we’re ready to play our first notes!

So now, fanfare of trumpets......we're finally ready to start playing our first actual notes on the saxophone! The next video in the series is going to cover everything you need to know about reading music, written music, and the previous video covered everything you need to know about the basics of embouchure, how you have your mouth, teeth and tongue, so go and checkout those videos.

Our first note is going to be a G and it is the first three fingers down of your left hand. One, two three. So we're going to take a nice big breath in to the bottom of our torso, we've got those first three fingers down on the left hand, make sure you're not hitting any other keys, and here we go…

Great, so we've got our G. The next note we can learn is called an "A". That is two fingers, first two fingers of your left hand. So we just take off that third finger, and that sounds like this…

And finally, the third note is a B, and that is the first finger in your left hand. So now we have our first three notes: G, A and B. And on tenor those first three notes, that G, A and B are going to sound like this…

So I'm all about getting right into it and getting some tunes going straight away, so what can we play with those three notes? Well, not that much to be honest, but we can play something simple like Mary Had A Little Lamb. And we're gonna start on B. The notes are going to come up on the screen, so this is what it sounds like on alto…

And on tenor the first little section of Mary Had A Little Lamb is going to start like this, again starting on B.

OK, now remember I promised you that top tip for having the perfect hand position instantly every time? Well this is the secret - your hand should be a nice curved shape like the letter C, and your right hand should be exactly the same, so when you put your hands on the instrument if you look straight down you should see a letter C with both hands, and the way to remember it is to say to yourself "can I see a C" make sure you can "see a C", and not a weird little duck's beak!

Next time in part 5 of my complete beginner series I'm going to demystify written music for you. In the meantime if you've enjoyed the video please subscribe and ring that bell to get notifications of when my new videos come out, and I'll see you for more fantastic free sax lessons and fun vlogs next time on Get Your SaxTogether. See you later!

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