How to Play Saxophone Notes (Part 1): How to Read the Saxophone Fingering Chart

by ReverbLxnd in Saxophone

Who says you need to read music to play the saxophone? Here's the complete A-Z guide to saxophone fingering charts with everything you'll ever need to read and play saxophone notes without knowing music theory first.

If you’ve seen a saxophone finger chart and wondered what it means. This guide is exactly what you need. Today I want to show you everything you need to know to read a saxophone fingering chart.

This guide is from the beginner saxophone series.

So it is targeted at complete beginners and it assumes almost none or very little saxophone foreknowledge.

What is a Finger or Fingering Chart?

The image below is a complete, blank saxophone fingering chart.

A complete, blank saxophone fingering chartimage

It has most of the keys that you will see in most fingering charts. There might be a few extra keys, but don’t worry, we will look at all of them.

This is a good example of a complete saxophone fingering chart.

Normally, when you are supposed to push a button, it’s colored in.

A colored blank saxophone fingering chartimage

I have colored these keys in because they are not used very much by beginner saxophonists. So I will take them off of this chart entirely, just because they make it a little complicated than it has to be.

Now a standard fingering chart is going to look like this.

A standard blank saxophone fingering chartimage

Plain and simple.

How to Read the Saxophone Finger Chart in 15 Minutes

Now, the first thing we need to talk about is which fingers go where.

The Octave, Left Finger and Right Finger Keys

Have a look at the following chart.

The octave key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

The key that’s colored is called the octave key. The key is on the back of the saxophone. The octave key is pushed in with your left thumb.

Let’s move on.

The left first finger key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

The colored key is called the left first finger key. This key is pushed in by your left pointer or index finger. Unlike the octave key, this key is located towards the front of your saxophone.

Next, we have…

The left second finger key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

The colored key is called the left second finger key. This key is for your left middle finger.

Next…

The left third finger key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

This key is called the left third finger key, it’s for your left ring finger.

Next…

The right first finger key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

This key is called the right first finger key. This key is pushed in by your right pointer or index finger.

Notice the straight line that goes in between this key and the previous one we looked at. This little separator means that we switched hands.

Next, we have…

The right second finger key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

This next key right here is for your right middle finger. It’s called the right second finger key.

Next…

The right third finger key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

This key is called the right third finger key, it’s for your right ring finger.

Are we together, so far?

Good.

The left pink finger keys, or the table keys on a saxophone fingeringchart image

These are the keys that are pushed by your left pinky finger. They are called the left table keys or just the table keys.

All four keys are operated by the left pinky finger. Modern saxophones have ‘rollers’ to make it easier for your pinky to go between all four table keys.

The right pinky finger keys on a saxophone fingering chartimage

And these are the keys that are pushed by your right pinky finger. The upper and lower keys are called the E-flat and Low C keys, respectively.

With the keys we’ve covered so far, you can be able to play a few some notes already. Actually, let’s learn our first few notes.

The first notes we are going to learn are G, A, B, C, and D.

How to Finger G, A, B, C and D on the Saxophone, Off a Finger Chart

The note G is fingered as follows:

How G is fingered on a saxophone fingering chartimage

You only need to have the left first, left second and left third finger keys pushed down.

The note A is fingered as follows:

How A is fingered on a saxophone fingering chartimage

For A, all we have to do is lift the left third finger key so only the left first and left second finger keys are pushed in.

The note B is fingered as follows:

How B is fingered on a saxophone fingering chartimage

All we have to do for B is lift the left second finger key so only the left first finger key is pushed down.

The note C is fingered as follows:

How C is fingered on a saxophone fingering chartimage

For C, we have to switch the left first finger key with the left second finger key. So just the left middle finger is pushed down.

The note D is fingered as follows:

How D is fingered on a saxophone fingering chartimage

And then for D, we push down all of the primary six, and the octave key, That’s all the keys we’ve learned so far except the pinky fingers.

The primary six finger keys are the left first, left second, left third and the right first, right second and right third finger keys.

The Palm Keys, Side Keys, and the Bis Key

Now that the basic keys are covered. Let’s move on to the palm keys.

Keep in mind what we looked at earlier—the upper side of the separator is mostly for the left hand, the lower side of the separator is for the right.

Have a look at the following finger chart.

The left palm keys on a saxophone fingering chartimage

These three keys are called the left palm keys or just the palm keys.

You use the left-hand palm to push in these keys while keeping your fingers on the finger keys we learned earlier (or pearl keys as they are also known as).

The palm of your left hand comes into contact with the keys.

Sometimes, adjustments to the palm keys make them much easier to play.

Next, we have…

The right-hand side keys on a saxophone fingering chartimage

These three keys are called the right side keys or just the side keys.

You use the side (or palm) of your right hand to push in these three keys, again while keeping your right-hand finger on the right-hand finger keys we learned earlier.

Makes sense, so far?

Okay.

There’s only one key we haven’t covered in our standard saxophone finger chart before it’s time to bring back some of the keys we removed from our chart at the very beginning.

And here it is…

The Bis key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

This key, that sits between the left first finger key (or the B key as we saw earlier) and the left second finger key on the left hand of all saxophones, is called the Bis key.

Bis just means small.

It’s a smaller key than the other left finger keys.

So, how do you finger the Bis key?

The Correct Way to Use the Bis Key, to Finger the B-flat (B♭) Note, on All Saxophones

The Bis key is never played on its own—we never press down the Bis key with any finger other than the left index or pointer finger in combination with the B key.

This is the default correct way to play the note B-flat on all of the saxophones. This is the correct use of the Bis key.

Here’s how that looks like.

How to play B-flat the default correct way on all saxophones fingeringchart image

The left index or pointer finger pushes down both the B key and the Bis key at the same time to finger a B-flat note.

Why do I say default?

Simple. Because there are other ways…

Let me explain.

If you try to play B to B-flat using the Bis key fingering, you’re in trouble. You have to lift your finger off the B key and then reset it over both the B and Bis key.

And therein lies the secret to correct fingering of the Bis key on the saxophone.

In that case, you should use an alternate fingering for B-sharp, not the Bis key. Luckily there are only of the 12 possible major scales that bring us into that particular problem.

Time to bring in some of the keys we removed from the fingering chart at the beginning.

The Front (High) F Key, High

Basically, all saxophones have the same fingering system. The keys we have discussed so far are standard in all saxophones.

Some of the keys we are going to discuss next cover variations amongst makes of saxophones. You will have the high F-sharp key in some saxophones and on some baritones, you have low A key and so on.

Let’s continue…

The Front F Key

The Front F key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

This key is called the front F key or the high F key. You finger the front F key with your left index finger.

The front F is an alternate fingering.

You will come across this in a bit more advanced concepts such as playing altissimo.

You might want to have a look at how to play altissimo notes on saxophone to see some fingerings with the front F key. However, I would advise against trying to play altissimo notes any time soon until you have a good grasp of the fundamentals.

The Low A Key

The Low A key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

The Left Low A Key

The Left Low A key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

The High F-sharp Key

The Left Low A key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

The Side F-sharp Key

The Left Low A key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

The Left High F-sharp Key

The Left Low A key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

Harmonic key (a la Selmer Series III)

The Selmer Series III Harmonic Key on a saxophone fingering chartimage

High F-sharp with High G Keys

The High F-sharp with High G keys on a saxophone fingering chartimage

A Few Side Notes on Alternate Fingerings

In the beginning, when you hear of alternate fingerings it can get quite confusing.

What alternate fingerings do is make your life a little bit easier depending on the situation.

Remember the example we saw on the Bis key.

So if you’re going from one note to another, it might work better with this fingering, or if your are going from a different note to that same note, it might work better with another one.

Sometimes, the alternate fingerings aren’t quite the same sound as the original note fingering, but most of the time the alternate and original fingering will work and sound the same. Sometimes you will find notes of these within the charts.

In Conclusion

In the next post I look at the chromatic scale….

So there you go.

That should cover a good 99 percent of all finger charts you will ever see—most of most.

I hope this was helpful.

ReverbLxnd

Got a question? DM me on Instagram or Twitter @reverblxnd everywhere, or shoot me an email reverblxnd@reverbland.com. I'd love to hear from you.

Author avatar

By using this site you are agreeing to our cookie policy

Accept