Few people realise that there are actually four alternatives to playing a Bb on the saxophone (some may even say five!) I have often inherited students who are trying to play complicated passages that can be simplified easily by just choosing a different way of playing the note Bb. In this article I’d like to clarify which Bb is best used in different situations.
1. The Standard or Chromatic A#/Bb
Most method books introduce this Bb fingering to students first and this is the best fingering to get comfortable with. It is ideally suited to playing anything that is chromatic in nature.
2. The Bis key Bb
You’ll notice from the diagram that the bis key is the small key in between your index finger “B” and second finger “C”. This key is designed to be pressed with the index finger covering both keys simultaneously. You can keep your index finger covering both keys while playing any other note that uses the first finger, without it affecting their pitch.
The bis key is an excellent short-cut key, ideally used in pieces with key signatures with flats in them that is not chromatic in nature.
3. The 1+1
If you add your right index finger to your B you will notice that the bis key also gets pushed down. This creates another alternative Bb.
As a flute player initially, this fingering seemed like an easy alternative to me (as it’s played the same way on flute). However it’s only real usefulness is in passages alternating between Bb and F.
4. The 1+2
This fingering involves the index finger of your left hand and the second finger (on the “E” key) of your right hand. This Bb fingering is only useful when going between A# and F# (Bb and Gb).
One last option to consider is using your low Bb fingering with the octave key. This fingering is only suggested as providing a different “colour” to the note and is more often used in esoteric compositions and perhaps in mastering overtones.
So there are lots of choices for your Bb. To make best use of them take time to mark on your music which fingering you plan to use. Be systematic about this and get practised at using the most efficient fingering. Over time you will get better at working out which is the best choice, and your technique will be better for it.
About the author:
Laurinda Davidson is a clinician and educator based in Queensland, Australia where she is the band director and woodwind teacher at Brisbane Girls Grammar School.