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Beginner's Corner IX

Fingering Speed

by Paul R. Coats

Mike wrote:

Paul: I play Alto Saxophone, and one of my largest pet peeves is when I fumble fingerings at fast tempos. Is there any way I can successfully increase my speed while maintaining my accuracy?


Paul answered:

(1) Yes... practice for speed by playing  S  L  O  W  L  Y.

When you play full speed, and run into a problem, and fumble... then you back up, run into it full speed again, and fumble, and keep doing that, you ingrain the fumble into "muscle memory".

You have heard, "Practice makes perfect"? Well, if you practice your mistakes, I promise you, you WILL perfect them!

Whether it is Karate, Boxing, Target Shooting, you name it... just about any physical activity, you will see people practicing in slow motion.

You start very slowly, however slow it takes to play the passage perfectly. Go no faster than this. Repeat and repeat, ingraining the correct patterns into memory. Then very gradually increase speed, and get it perfect. Increase a little at a time, and sooner than you expect, you will be blazing away.

(2) Watch how some players’ fingers fly up off the keys. Why move them 2" before they move the key 1/4"? Now I refer you to the only known video of Charlie Parker... Bird playing "Hothouse" with Dizzy. Sometimes you can see this on VH-1. Bird’s fingers look as if they don't even move, yet he blazes away. His fingers never leave the keys. The old pros use to say, "Feel the pearls."

Economy of movement!!!

(3) When you move your fingers, as you open or close the keys, the fingers move just as fast whether you play slowly or quickly. At fast tempos, there is less time interval between finger moves, but the speed you open or close a key... should be like a trip hammer, or solenoid. Zap!!! You must learn to move the fingers quickly and smoothly, but without excessive popping noise.

(4) Learn to play in ALL keys. As you move fingers, for example from chromatic F# to G, the right hand index finger and the ring finger (on the chromatic F# key) move as one, as if they are physically wired together, as you move them up and down. This is not two separate finger moves, but two fingers that move as one. Again, practice slowly to learn this.

(5) Learn all alternate fingerings, how your sax can work to YOUR advantage... such as use of all 4 fingerings for Bb, when and where to use alternates, how the articulated G# and low C# work. Did you know that on pro saxes ANY of the left pinky table keys will actuate the G#? Learn to use the fork high E and fork high F. Teal's The Saxophonist's Workbook is great for this work... www.southernmusic.com has it.

Hope this helps.


Beginners Corner 8

"Improving Reading and Playing Skills"

Beginners Corner 10

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Created: April 2, 2002
Update: February 18, 2005
© 2002-5  Harri Rautiainen

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Paul R. Coats is a regular contributor. He shares his experience in frequent articles published here on this site:
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