Beginner Playing the upper octave


New Member
East Sussex
Hi, I'm a total newbie to the sax. I've never played any instrument other than the recorder before; although that helps more than one might think since the fingering is practically identical.

My wonderful boyfriend bought me an alto for Christmas, and while I may decide to have lessons at some point, for now I'm happy puffing away on my own, working my way through a few simple tunes.

I think I'm doing ok considering I've only been practising for 3 days, most of my notes come out fairly strong and steady, with limited amounts of squeaking! However, I am having a problem with anything above a C.

When I hold the octave key and the fingering for a D, it doesn't sound any different to if I don't hold the octave key! If I blow much more gently it does kind of make a high D sound, but it's very wishy washy, not a good strong, clear note. I'm assuming it's something I'm doing wrong and not a problem with the sax itself, so what is it I'm doing wrong? Is there a knack to this?

Any hints or ideas gratefully received since at the moment I feel limited to not playing anything that goes into the upper register.

Many thanks
Have you checked that the two octave keys open - the one on the body should be open for the lower notes like D, and the one on the neck for notes above G#.

More likely is that you need to tighten your embouchure a little.
Thanks for the reply. As far as I can see the octave key is working correctly which is why I assume it's me that's the problem!

What I can't understand is how if I blow the same, then I make the exact same note whether the ocatave key is open or closed :confused:
The only way I can make it sound any different is to blow really, really gently, and then I get this higher sounding wishy washy noise.
If my embouchre was particularly bad or wrong, wouldn't I struggle to get the other notes out? Or is that not the case?
Do I need to be doing something different once I use the octave key? (That's a daft question, obviously I do or else I wouldn't be having a problem lol I just don't know what!)
Hi Buz, I think that your doing remarkably well for a sheep. How do you get your hooves around the keys. Shame that human spoilt that lovely picture of you, still, they have to get involved don't they. I can't really help with your problems but I wish you loads of luck during your exploration of all things sax! :)))

Ps. where in East Sussex are you because the music scene down there is second to none!
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It is possible to play in the next octave up without using the octave key at all just by embouchure and air pressure, so it might be your embouchure. Try tightening the corners of your mouth in a bit, and blow faster, and see if that makes a difference, although I don't understand why blowing gently would make you hit the note if that were the case. Worth a try.

It may be a leak, but someone like Griff or indeed others on this site would have a better idea than me.

I hope that you get it sorted soon. Very frustrating. Might be worth getting a more experienced player to give it a blow, just to check to see if it is you or the instrument. Just cos it is new doesn't mean that it is correctly set up.

Welcome aboard, enjoy the sax (once the problem is sorted), and HAPPY NEW YEAR !!!

Hi and welcome from a fellow East Sussex member.If you want a hand to check out the instrument let me know - happy to oblige.

Ps. where in East Sussex are you because the music scene down there if second to none!

Thanks Taz, glad you appreciate it ...

Hi Buz,
D is quite a hard note to play and for some reason never sounds as good or strong as the others. Can you play anything above that? And if you can, can you get down to the D from there? Also when I first bought my alto I remember struggling for many months with the stock mouthpiece that came with it (even though it was a Selmer) and I could not believe how much easier and enjoyable it became when I got a second hand Otto Link 5*.
The D usually needs a bit more effort (like on the recorder you are starting again with an almost full pipe) so maybe try put a bit more air through.
It's quite something you can get so much already after only 3 days. Well done!

I think you posted that before when you were open-mic'ing down this way, didn't you? Must confess I haven't loooked at it for a while. Couple of workshops I'm looking at for the New Year now that I've finished with the Chichester evening sessions.


Apologies Buzby, lets' get back to your intro...
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Hi everyone, thanks for the welcomes and the suggestions, all of which I will be trying out!

I'm based kind of between Eastbourne and Brighton. I am aware there's a pretty good music scene down here, it's one of the reasons my mum and dad moved down here, they are trad jazz enthusiasts, my dad used to play in The Sussex Jazz Kings.

PS, Raymond (the sheep) could quite likely do a better job of it than me if only he had the dexterity ;}
|The octave key works by allowing a little air into the sax at a point which'll cause it to play a very high note, but as the octave key hole is small, there's not enough coming in to play the high note, just enough to kick the note into the next octave (harmonic). For this to happen, the reed has to be held so that it can vibrate at the newer frequency. Tightening your embouchure does this, as does more air. And as said above, with a little practice you'll be able to kick up an octave without the key. And there's a current thread about this on the tenor.

There's a second possibility - you're already playing the higher octave.... In which case you need to be loosening your embouchure to drop the note. The lower D on your alto should be at the same pitch as the F below middle C on the piano. And D+octave key is the F above middle C.
Many thanks to everyone for the suggestions.

Practised last night and special thanks to ... think it was Andrea, for the suggestion of trying other notes and working down to the D.
I found the A easy, and just worked down from there. It's not brilliant or consistent, but at least now I've found how it feels to make the note I can keep working on getting it right.

Tightening the emouchure definitely helped, I found if I kind of pressed my tongue up onto the part of my lip going over my bottom teeth, that helped me make the right shape.

Thanks again for the help - hope you're all standing by for my next stumbling block, I'm sure there will be many!

Trouble with the octave key is a common problem for learners, look at the other thread from Jasonc, I had it and probably everyone else as well.
Are you learning from a book which helps with embouchure etc or trying to make your own way?
You will find it all gets better with practise or I hope I will.
I have books to help me out - plus a fingering chart that I keep having to refer to everytime the fingering deviates from the recorder!! I keep using the fingering for the Bb that I would on the recorder and then wondering why what I'm playing sounds wrong!

I am sure things will improve with practise, I just believe it's vital to practise things correctly. Practise doesn't necessarily make perfect, if you keep practising the same thing wrong over and over, then it's just much harder to get it right later on. Hence I would much rather stop and research or ask if something's not going right.

Luckily this particular problem seems to be a simple (I wish!) case of improving my embouchure, but at least I know now what to work on :)
Baz, I just thought it could be the G# valve adjustment.
If you don't know what I'm talking about just find the valve that opens when you finger G# (with your left pinky), ask someone to keep it shut for you and see if it makes a difference to the sound of your E and D. If that's not adjusted properly it should make a big difference and you'll feel very good about it like I did when I tried it years ago!!!
Thanks for that Andrea, I did check, but unfortunatly I have to conclude it's not the sax, it's me that's the problem - it usually is :D

Been working hard on my embouchure today and with a little (ok, a lot!) of concentration I can now make the notes I couldn't get before.
I'm still struggling to move fluently between lower and higher notes, but hey, it's only my 5th day of playing, I've got a long, long way to go yet!
Hi Buzby
As a newbie myself (playing 6 months) I dont feel I should try to give advice, but just let you know my experience was the same.

After xmas I treated myself to a new mouthpeice.... santa must of forgotten me:(.
I went from a yamaha 4c peice with #2 reed to a E.Rousseau jazz JDX5 with #2.5 rico royal and for me this made all the difference. Much more confident with higher notes now :)and even manage to hit the high d,e and f . couldnt do that before!!

From this I would say its possibly something that as and when you are able to use a wider tip mouthpeice and stronger reed, it may improve.
It may be more likely that with practice I have improved and nothing to do with the new mouthpeice....perhaps I should try the other one again to see.
Hope this helps
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Hi Buzby
If you can play upper-register G, F, and E OK, then the vent on the body isn't the problem (cos it's open for those 3 notes as well as D)
I'd like to support those who say that D2 is usually the 'stuffiest' note to play has been on all the (few) altos I have tried.
And I agree that running down to it without tonguing can help you to 'find' it......once you have it, keep blowing it until your breath runs out, to get a 'feel' for it (in your embouchure and your ear.
Then try to blow it with a good breath and some 'attack', tonguing it to give it a good clean will work eventually (unless there IS a leak, which might show-up if you press a bit harder with your right ring finger).
I would advise strongly against fiddling with new mouthpieces yet ...what sort of horn/ mouthpiece/reed are you using?

Good often have to 'sneak-up' on notes which are giving you trouble....on my newly acquired tenor it's G2!!

And lucky you, having a bf who gives you a sax :)
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Hi Buzby - hope you have fun learning to play - you sound like you're doing great already.
Thanks for all the new replies.

I'm pleased to report that my upper range is coming along nicely! I've changed from the 1.5 reed that I started with, to a 2. That plus my (hopefully) improving embouchure seems to have helped immensely - in fact I sometimes have the opposite problem now, when I come from a higher note down to a lower one, I occasionally find myself playing the lower one in the upper register, even though I'm not holding the octave key! I know it's just my inexperience though and the only way to improve is practise, which I am doing - a lot!

I'm so pleased I finally took the plunge having wanted to learn the sax since I was about 12!

ps, someone asked what horn I had? It's a Trevor James Classic.

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