A Saxophone fingering chart is an essential tool when you’re learning saxophone, even when you’re an advanced player.
If you are a beginner player, fingering charts can be a little confusing. I’m going to break down how to use the fingering chart, and how the different elements of the fingering chart apply to the saxophone. Plus, I have some handy tips for you along the way!
Grab this free saxophone fingering chart including Altissimo notes and keep it handy on your music stand! (link at bottom of post)
This is same fingering chart that many of our Sax School students use every single day in their practice. I use it in my practice as well! You can get it FREE here.
Why do we need a fingering chart?
A fingering chart is just a reference guide to help you to know what fingers to use when you’re playing different notes on the saxophone. When you’re starting out on sax, the number of keys may seem very confusing, so a finger chart is essential to guiding you through those first few notes.
Once you’ve got those under your fingers, the next step is to use your finger chart as a reference guide for notes that you don’t use very often, like some trill fingerings – mainly notes you are uncertain of.
And for intermediate and advanced players, you are going to want to use that fingering chart to remind you of those awkward altissimo fingers, or notes in the fourth octave that can be quite difficult to get your fingers around and can feel very unfamiliar.
So a fingering chart is an essential reference tool that every saxophone player really needs to have.
Our saxophone fingering chart shows you all the correct hand (left hand or right hand) and finger positions (essential for Fast Fingers on sax) for all saxophones from baritone, tenor saxophone and alto saxophone through to soprano saxophone.
Different saxophones, different fingerings
There are a couple of inconsistencies that you might find between different saxophones. If you are playing a modern saxophone, (made after the 1970s,) the keywork is essentially the same.
However if you are playing on an older, or vintage saxophone, then sometimes the keywork can look a bit different. Some keys might be a different shape, or you may have a few different options with keys down at the bottom end of the saxophone.
In our fingering chart, includes the basic notes which you will be able to find on all saxophones, with the possible exception of the top keys, which may look slightly different.
How to use a saxophone fingering chart
If you are a beginner saxophone player or new to fingering charts then here’s a quick overview of how to use them.
Our fingering chart is broken down into blocks to help you quickly identify the keys and work out which ones to use.
First though it’s important to understand the basic idea of how your sax works.
How notes are changed on a saxophone
Your saxophone looks really complicated, but in reality it is simply a long tube with holes in it.
When we’re adding our fingers onto the saxophone, all we’re really doing is making the tube longer or shorter. Every time we add a finger on, we’re closing off the tubing, and making it longer, or taking off a finger and making it shorter.
We all know that small or short instruments like piccolos or recorders play really high. Meanwhile, really long or big instruments, like trombones or tubas play really low.
Short = high sounds. Long = low sounds.
When we add a finger on, and we make our tube longer, we are making the pitch we are producing from the saxophone lower, and as we take a finger off, and we make the tube shorter, we are making a higher note on the saxophone.
To make the notes on your saxophone sound lower, we need to add a key (or a finger) in order starting from the top and working down.
This is an important point because you’ll always find that our finger patterns work down or up the sax in order.
Another way to think about it is that to have the second key down, you’ll need the first one down too. Each key closing a bit more of the saxophone tube off, or making the tube longer (and sound lower).
Let’s look at the keys themselves.
Your left hand on saxophone
Each one of these funny shapes on the fingering chart represents a key on the saxophone. Simply, if one of these shapes is filled in, it means that we’re pushing that key down. If it’s hollow, it means we’re not pressing it down.
So all you need to do is find the corresponding keys on your saxophone for each of those shapes – if it’s filled in, you put that finger down.
Let’s start with the left hand, work out where our hand goes on the saxophone and which notes they are on the finger chart.
You’ll notice that on the back of your saxophone that you’ve got a round, black or gold button . It doesn’t move, but that’s where your thumb goes. It’s very important that you locate your thumb on that back button.
And then if you look at the front of your saxophone, you should be able to see 4 round keys. You may have a fifth key above. On modern saxophones like mine, it’s shaped a bit like a spoon, but on older saxophones it may be a rounder key. There’s also a small round key, but we are focusing on the 3 larger round keys. These are represented by the top 3 circles on the finger chart.
We use these three keys in order to play these notes:
B= first key down
A= first 2 keys down
G= first 3 keys down
There’s quite a lot of other stuff going on with our left land but we will get to that a little later on in this article.
Your right hand on sax
You’ll notice that on the back of your saxophone, there is a little hook for your thumb. This is just a guide which so you know where your hand has to go, because your neck strap does all the heavy lifting. You shouldn’t be taking a lot of weight on your thumb.
On the front of the saxophone for the right hand, it’s a bit simpler, because every single saxophone is just going to have 3 round keys. Your first 3 fingers go on these keys, with your index finger on the first, middle finger on the second, and ring finger on the third. On the fingering chart, these are represented by the bottom three circular keys.
To play notes with these right hand keys, you must first have all three of your left keys pressed down. These are the notes you can get:
F= Right Hand + first key
E= Right Hand + first TWO keys
D= Right Hand + first THREE keys.
There are some extra keys around your right hand but don’t worry, we will get to them later!
Playing a simple melody on saxophone for beginners
Once you identify your three left hand keys AND your three right hand keys, you are ready to start making up melodies and having fun on your sax.
So if you’re new to saxophone, you now know 6 notes: B, A, G and F, E, D. Try them out and see what melodies you can make up with them.
For example: Mary Had A Little Lamb
Now you are rockin’!
In fact, if you are new to saxophone, make sure to grab my free Toolkit lesson bundle. Or if you are a Sax School member, check out the Quickstart Getting Started on Saxophone course, which will show you how you can make some great melodies with those six notes too. So have some fun with them! See what you can come up with.
Extra keys on your saxophone
On the back of your sax, your left thumb operates the octave key – that’s the large flat key above your thumb rest. You use this key with the tip of your left thumb to move the saxophone notes up into the next octave.
When you have your thumb on the button at the back of the saxophone, the heel of your thumb should be on the button, so the tip of your thumb can operate the octave key. You should be just moving the tip of the thumb, to make that movement as small and efficient as possible.
Your left hand position on saxophone
It’s super important that you have your hands in a natural and relaxed position when you play saxophone. Often students will have their wrist bent when playing which causes a lot of strain in your arm AND makes it very difficult to reach the left hand pinky keys.
Instead your hands should be in a natural “C” shape and your wrist and your arm in line. Try making your hand and arm in the shape, then move it onto the sax to see the correct position.
It’s also really important to get your neck strap right. When your saxophone is resting on the neckstrap, it should go straight into your mouth without you having to hunch your shoulders or reach up or down. Your neck strap should be doing all the heavy lifting, and holding the entire weight of the saxophone.
Use a Mirror
It’s a great idea to put a mirror in you practice room, so that you can watch your hands, your arms, your fingers and your body whilst you’re practicing. You want to make sure there is no tension in your wrist, and that you’re not holding your wrist at a weird angle or lifting your fingers off too high.
Extra Left Hand Keys
Your left hand also operates the side keys, which we call “Palm Keys”. They are found in the top right of the fingering chart.They are called palm keys because they are operated by the palm of our left hand.
With our thumb on the button at the back, we operate these by pushing in sideways. The reason we do it this way is you can have your fingers on top of the 3 pearl finger keys, but you can also just about reach those palm keys. Again, this is about being super efficient, so we can keep your hand basically in one position, and operate all those different options.
There’s one more bundle of keys that we operate with our left hand and that’s our pinky keys near the bend of the saxophone. These keys are located in the middle right of the fingering chart.
These keys can feel like a stretch for some people. but if you hold your hand and arm in a natural position as discussed above, then you’ll be able to reach those keys even if you are really small.
Other right hand keys on saxophone
Your right hand has a lot to do on saxophone. As well as your three pearl keys for F, E and D, there are also a bunch of other keys to control:
Your right hand pinky finger has two low note keys to control. Remember, any time you have these low notes pushed down, you’ll also need to have the other 6 keys pressed down too (for that long tube and low sound). Again, if your wriest is nice and relaxed you’ll find it easier to reach these keys.
We also have a set of 3 long keys that you can operate with your left hand index finger. These “side keys” are used for alternative ways to play notes like Bb, and C plus your very high F. On some older saxophones these might be a different shape.
If you’re an advanced player you will want to check out the altissimo fingerings which are included on our PDF.
The altissimo fingerings show you how to play the notes right at the top of the saxophone in the fourth octave. Altissimo notes are more tricky and depending on your saxophone you might find that one fingering works better than another, so for some notes I’ve included a couple of options.
So now you know all the notes on the fingering chart and how to find them on the saxophone.There might be some extra keys on your saxophone, depending on how new it is. But I wanted to keep the fingering chart down to the basics that you are going to use most often.
How to have faster fingers on saxophone
Knowing where to put your fingers is only have the story. To get those fingers “flying” on your sax, you need to first keep your fingers as close to the keys as possible at all times.
In fact, they should be touching the sax always (this is almost impossible but a great goal).
You can work on this by watching your fingers in a mirror as you practice. For more tips check out my Faster Fingers lesson here.
When you are ready we also have alternate fingering charts to help you including our alternate Bb fingering charts here.
If you want more tips like this, come over and see what we are doing in Sax School. We’ve got thousands of students using our lessons every day to make great progress, from just starting out, to getting back to their saxophone, to getting out gigging. Get a 14 day free trial here.