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Here are some suggestions for developing your ability to move over the saxophone with speed and accuracy:
  • Technique development is another area where having good breath support is vital. If you are not supporting the air, the notes will be slow to speak.
  • Keep the hands and fingers relaxed, no matter what tempo or volume you are playing at. Tension and pressing the keys with excess pressure slows you down.
  • The fingers should be gently curved, and the motion of the fingers should originate at the base, not the tip. For the 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers, the motion should be directly up and down in relation to the keys.
  • In order to learn to move fast, you need to practice slowly. This allows you to move through a passage with clear, clean movements. Practicing with fast, sloppy movements does not lead to fast, clean movements.
  • Think of "landing" your fingers on notes. Learning what it feels like to land on a note allows you to move to that note with confidence. See Eddie Daniel's youtube video on Speed and Agility for a great presentation on this topic.
  • Keep the fingers close to the keys. In most cases, they should actually stay in contact with the keys even when the key is up.
  • Learn passages to a tempo slightly faster than needed. That way you can play the passage with greater freedom at the actual tempo, and you are also ready if the piece is played faster than the planned tempo.
  • Learn the appropriate situations to use the alternate fingerings for notes on the saxophone. Work on exercises that focus on a situation where the alternate fingering should be used. Exercises like this are found in most method books. Larry Teal's The Art of Saxophone Playing has a good section dealing with this.

Technique Development Exercises

Here are some specific ways you can improve your facility on the saxophone.
  • Isolate a technically challenging passage.
    • Play the last note in the passage. Concentrate on what your fingers feel like as they finger this note.
    • Work backward through the passage, adding a note each time, and play to the end of the passage, each time ending with the same feeling on the last note you had when you played it by itself.
  • When practicing scales, intervals and arpeggios, vary the rhythm values. Try the following rhythmic patterns:
    • For eighths and sixteenths, play long-short-long-short, then short-long-short-long.
    • For triplets, play long-short-short, short-short-long, and short-long-short.
    • Play eighth and sixteenth patterns broken into triplets.
    • Break triplet patterns into two-note groups.
  • Work on a difficult passage by itself. Once you have the passage under your fingers at the fastest tempo where you play it well, start a few notes before the passage and play through to a few notes after the passage. Repeat this process over a period long enough to work up to the desired tempo.
  • Different pieces and different styles of playing will have their own technical challenges. Create your own technique exercises based on the challenges presented by a particular musical situation.
  • The more times you experience success in using these approaches to master a challenge in technique, the more confidence you will have that this works for you. Trust in this process.

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©2014 Brad Johnson
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