Do you want to get your fingers moving faster on your saxophone?
Check out this cool way to practice ANY complicated line that will speed your fingers up, guaranteed!
We all want to be able to play fast lines really effortlessly. But the fact is, those lines scare most of us and we struggled to get faster fingers on saxophone.
Why? I think there are 2 reasons.
- We struggle with the technique – the way we’re actually approaching the saxophone
- We’re practicing the wrong things.
But don’t worry. In this lesson today, I’m going to show you a great way that you can those fast lines, and break it down so that you learn it quickly. But also most importantly, You’re also going to speed up your technique and the process.
Faster Fingers Bebop Workout
We’re going to look at a fun Bebop line today. But the great news is, you can apply this to absolutely any style of playing. It’s really practical and it doesn’t matter what type of playing you’re into. It will really help you get faster fingers on saxophone.
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So why are we talking about Bebop? Well, even if you’re not a jazz fan, there’s no denying that what those players were doing back in the 1940s with Bebop influenced almost everything that followed. It really changed our perspective of what’s possible on the saxophone – so it’s important to go and check out those players.
And for that reason, in Sax School, we’re talking a lot about Bebop with our members and we’re even working on a Bebop challenge song called “Bird Bounces In”. And we’re also talking about artists like Charlie Parker. In fact, if you haven’t seen it, go check out this feature from Fred Vigdor from our tutor team. Fred breaks down one of Charlie Parker’s solos, but he also talks about why Charlie Parker is an important guy to understand. And he’s got some great suggestions of albums and tracks for you to check out too.
Fast Finger Technique
There’s a few things we can focus on with our technique when we want to get faster fingers on saxophone. The first is tension. It’s really important to be super-relaxed in your shoulders, in your arms, and in your hands. Everything about your saxophone playing and your posture should be relaxed. Otherwise we can’t move our fingers quickly.
The second thing we need is to make sure that our fingers are as close to the keys as possible. When we’re playing, our fingers should pretty much touch those keys all the time. Try to have the absolute smallest amount of movement as possible. We want our fingers and our keys to be like Ferrari engines or Formula One engines – we don’t want it to be like clackety old tractor engines!
If you can get that movement really refined and get the tension out of your shoulders, it’s going to really help you move quickly, and get faster fingers on saxophone.
A great way to check out what’s actually going on with your fingers is to use a mirror in your practice room. Watch as you practice to see if your fingers are actually touching those keys. You’ll be able to see if there’s any tension in your arms and your hands as well.
The Bebop Workout
Let’s look at the process for learning a complicated line like this. And remember, you can apply this to any style.
Slow in Down
The mistake most people make is to try to play the whole line in one go, and to try to play it too fast.
So, the first thing we’re going to do is slow that line right down – to half speed.
Click the link above to get backing tracks at different tempos, plus a PDF worksheet, that you can use in your practice.
We’re going to start off at 100 beats per minute – nice and slow.
Break in Down
We are going to break this line down into 5 note groupings. Here’s the first one.
The inspiration for this lesson came from this album – Charlie Parker vol 1– it’s a compilation of classic Parker recordings. This workout uses lines taken from Parker’s solo over the first track – “My Old Flame”. So these are Charlie Parker classic licks, organised into one exercise.
While I’m looking at those first five notes, I’m thinking keeping about my fingers close to the keys and being relaxed. I’m thinking about getting the movement between the notes really smooth.
But I’m also looking at the articulation. You’ll notice here that the second note – B flat – is slurred down to the third note – the D. That offbeat to onbeat slurring is all the way through this exercise. It’s something you’re going to see a lot in Bebop.
The second five note grouping starts on that A and plays the next five notes – and so on throughout the whole 4 bar line.
So the first step is to work on each of those five note groupings individually, and to get them as smooth as possible.
Once we’ve got these groupings smooth, we can start to combine them together. So, we can put two in a row and then three in a row and then four in a row.
You might also decide to add the first two together, and then add the second two together, and then the third two together before you then combine them all together.
Watch the video to see how I do this.
Focus on identifying the little inconsistencies that are happening in your playing. So if you see a glitch in your fingers as you’re playing through this, or something that feels awkward, then just spend a little bit more time going over that until you get it ironed out perfectly.
If you want to take things a little bit further, here’s a pro tip that’ll really help you to dig deeper with your technique on this exercise.
Take each five note grouping, or even each bar division, and loop it. So, repeat it around and around, and try to get a nice little rhythm going. This will give you a chance to focus in on what’s going on with your fingers how even you can make your playing.
Or, why not try playing a five note section or a whole bar forward and then play it backwards and loop it that way?
Speed it Up
Because we’re really focusing on technique here, it’s super-important that you take your time and spend plenty of time getting all the wrinkles ironed out at a slow tempo.
So, the reason we did this at a 100 beats per minute is so it’s slow enough for you to focus in on every single note.
But when you get to the point where you can play it really comfortably all the way through at that slow tempo, then it’s time to gradually speed it up.
If you’re using a metronome, you can move it up just 5 or 10 beats per minute.
Don’t feel like you need to go all out in one session. Work your way up gradually. If you find any point in when you’re speeding it up, that you start to get more glitches in your playing, slow it back down and go through the process. If you put the time in at the slow tempo, then it will pay massive dividends at the fast tempo.
Watch the video as I play through the line at the faster tempo.
I’m going to be playing at 220 beats per minute now, which is blisteringly fast. I’m going to start again by playing the first five note chunk and then the second five note chunk, to get them right. Then I’ll start combining those two together, adding a third one, and so on through the whole line.
Next Steps – Build a Solo
If you really want to push things forward further, and you’re into improvising, then you can try using each of those five note chunks as improvisation building blocks.
So we can use these chunks and and weave a solo around them. You can change the order, and mix them up in any way that you want, but doing this really forces you to use your brain and find new connections in the melody line.
Plus, it’s a great way to really fine tune your technique.
Watch the video as I work through the line, then try a little improvising.
That’s the whole process for working through this system of learning a line and getting faster fingers on saxophone. I hope you enjoyed it and that it helped you!
Don’t forget that you can apply this system to any style of playing from classical through to blues, jazz, pop – any style that you’re into. The same system applies.
If you want to progress further with your playing, take a look at at Sax School. We’ve got so many resources in there that can help you in whatever style that you’re keen to play. Find out about our 14 day free trial here.