If you want blisteringly fast and even fingers on your sax, then you MUST know about alternate fingerings.
In this lesson, you are going to learn the following:
- Reasons to learn alternate fingerings
- Essential ways to play B flat alto sax finger chart
- 6 other Must-Know alternate fingerings for all playing styles
Why learn alternate fingerings?
Here’s the thing. Alternate fingerings are just secret codes to help your fingers move as fast as possible. If you want to be efficient and to be able to play beautiful, smooth, fast lines, then you need to understand how to play these alternate fingerings. And more importantly, you need to know when to use them.
B flat Fingering (Bb) Side B flat
The very first thing we probably all learned on the saxophone for B flat (Bb) was one with two fingers – the B finger, and the A finger – plus the first side key down. I like to call this the “side B flat”.
Now that’s a good everyday fingering that you can use in lots of different situations, but it’s not the fingering that I use the most.
A Quick Reminder about B flat (Bb)
Here’s a quick reminder – a (Bb) B flat is when we go from B, down a half step or a semitone, to get to Bb (B flat).
B flat (Bb) is also the same as an A sharp (A#), so we can go from an A, the note below B, up a half step or a semitone to get to A sharp (A#). And A sharp (A#) and B flat (Bb) are the same note.
B Flat Fingering (Bb) Front B flat (Bb)
Now another fingering that I use nearly all the time, uses the “bis key”. That’s the little key just below the B key. So, we press down the B key, plus the bis key, with our index finger. I call this “front B flat (Bb)”.
Both of those B flats are brilliant Bbs (B flats) to use, and they sound great.
When to use
Which Bb (B flat) fingering would you use in which circumstance?
Well, it depends on what notes come before and after that B flat (Bb). For example, if you were playing a chromatic line, where you were working up a scale in half steps or semitones, then the side B flat (Bb) would probably make more sense. If I tried to use the front B flat (Bb), it would be more difficult to move your finger around, especially for new players, For newer players.
The other time is when you’re playing a trill – which is what we move quickly from one note to the next note, a half step up. Let’s say we’re doing an A to a B flat (Bb) trill or A sharp (A#) trill. It’s much quicker to use the side B flat (Bb).
However, if you’re playing a piece of music and the whole piece of music is in the key of F, we’ve got a B flat (Bb) all the way through, then it can work out just to move your finger over onto the B flat (Bb) key and leave it there for the whole piece.
Bb Fingerings – Another Option
Those are the two most common B flat (Bb) fingerings, but here’s another B flat that might be helpful for you. In certain circumstances, you can also play B flat (Bb) by putting the first finger down on your left hand, and then putting down the first or the second finger, or even the third finger, on the right hand. We call this the long B flat (Bb).
When would you use this one? Again, it depends on what the note is before or after your B flat (Bb). For example, if you are playing something that moves quickly from F To B flat, then that would be a perfect example.
Pro Tip for Faster Fingers
Here’s a top tip for you. Now that you know these four B flat (Bb) fingerings, when you’re learning a new piece of music, go through your music, and when you get to your B flat, put a little mark on it with your pencil of which B flat fingering that you’re going to use. For example, are you going to use the front B flat? Are you going to use the side B flat? O the long B flat?
And the reason that we do this is that as we’re learning a new piece of music, particularly if it’s a complicated phrase, if we write in which fingering we’re going to use for B flat, and then we’re consistent with it as we learn it, that’s the fastest route to get super-fast fingers.
Alternate C Fingerings
The very first alternate fingering that I think everyone needs to know about is side C.
So, you can play C with your middle finger like this:
But you can also play C by putting the B finger down and then using the middle side key with your right-hand index finger. We use just the side of our finger with a very small movement.
This is a super useful fingering, particularly if you’re doing a trill. You’ll also use it in a jazz setting. I reckon guys like Ben Webster and Lester Young, they use that side C quite a lot because it sounds lovely and warm.
Alternate F Sharp Fingerings
The next thing we talk about is F sharp (F#). So we know for the normal F sharp, we use that middle finger down on the right hand.
We can also play F sharp by using your first finger F key on your right hand, plus you press a little key down with your right-hand ring finger.
This F sharp is great if you’re doing a trill. It’s also really useful if you’re playing a chromatic scale.
G Sharp (G#) Fingerings
Now G sharp, we know, is your first three fingers on your left hand plus your side key.
But we can also play a G sharp with any of these table keys.
Now that’s important to know because if you’re moving from a note that uses those table keys to a G sharp, it can make the movement much smoother to leave your finger on that table key.
Let’s say we’re doing a C-sharp major arpeggio. So that’s F to C sharp to F or E sharp to G sharp. We can leave our little finger in the same place, not on the G sharp, but keeping it on the C sharp key. It works with any of those notes, so try it out!
High F Sharp (F#) Fingerings
If you’ve got a newer saxophone or a pro-level saxophone, you’ve probably got one of these keys – our high F sharp (F#) key.
If you’ve got a vintage saxophone, or for some student saxophones, you might not have one of these keys. But that doesn’t matter because I’m going to show you two different ways you can play high F sharp.
So if you do have this key, we can use this with our high F fingering, where we use all the Palm keys, the octave key, and the top side key, then add this key to get F sharp.
Now that high F sharp also works with our front fingering. So our front high F sharp is the C key, the octave key, the top spatula key with our index finger on our left hand, plus that F sharp key.
If you don’t have this key, you can use that front F fingering, but instead of using the F sharp key, you use the bottom side key.
So that’s a great alternate fingering. If you’ve got an older saxophone or a student saxophone and you haven’t got that F sharp key, then use that front F and the bottom side key. A lot of jazz players prefer to use that anyway because it’s got a pretty cool sound.
Other Alternates – Effects
Here are the last two fingerings, which are effects fingerings. So you might use them if you’re playing jazz, funk, blues, Ska, pop – all those sorts of energetic styles. These will really come in handy.
Alternate Middle D
So for middle D, we might use six fingers and our octave key.
But we could also use our palm key and no octave key.
When do you use this? For example, if you’ve got to quickly move between C sharp and D – if you use the palm key instead, it’s much smoother.
A lot of people would prefer to use that because it sounds a bit flatter. It’s got a bit of a darker sound. You’ll find guys like Ben Webster, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins will use that as an effect in their playing.
Low C Fingering
This is the last fingering I want to show you, and it’s a cool one. This is something that pops up a lot, in jazz, pop, or funk.
We’re going to use the lower notes C, B, and B flat, but with an octave key to get the octave above.
So let’s say from C, we then swap to using low C fingering, but without the octave key. You can use this on C, or B, or B flat (Bb).
Get the B Flat Alto Sax Fingering Chart
So we’ve talked about a whole bunch of fingerings that you can use there when you’re practicing.
And don’t forget that when you’re learning a new piece of music, always make a note of which fingering you’re going to use, and that’s going to help you to be consistent when you are practicing.
Make sure you grab my free Finger Chart.
It’s got a lot of these fingerings on, but not all of them. It’s a great reference point to have on your music stand.
If you’re keen to progress further with your playing, then go check out what we’re doing at Sax School because there are just so many resources in there that can help you in whatever style you’re keen to play.