Beginner Technique and size with damaged finger


Hi all,

I'm new here and looking to start playing the saxophone. I am not sure which one to choose or anything else really, but I hope to find out with your help.

I have a slight worry though and that is that I have osteoarthritis in my fingers which limits my dexterity a little but I can still use them to play guitar and piano, however, it has deformed the top joint of my left pinkie which now veers inwards at an alarming angle and I'm not sure if it's useable for saxophone playing. I can't really use it for piano now as it gets very painful very quickly though I can fret a note on the guitar or banjo occasionally My other fingers get painful but with a bit of care they are useable.

My question is, does size matter in terms of ease of fingering or are they all pretty much the same? Is there anything that can be done to alleviate the strain on my left pinkie or not? I guess my best bet is to hire one for a month or two and find out how practical it will be for me to learn but I'd like to give myself the best chance of success by choosing the right size. Normally I'd go to a music shop and try fingering a few but with Covid restrictions it's not that easy.
Normally I'd go to a music shop and try fingering a few but with Covid restrictions it's not that easy.
Interesting, as I replied to your intro post just now before I saw this one. My own left pinkie is very weak and often slips on the G# key. If yours is curved to the point of being unusable, this does put a damper on the sax playing, I'm afraid. However, as you're probably not aiming for the Music Hall of Fame, you can probably still play for pleasure if you can find keys where you don't need that pinkie. Fingers crossed! >:)
it has deformed the top joint of my left pinkie which now veers inwards at an alarming angle and I'm not sure if it's useable for saxophone playing.

The left hand pinkie doesn't need to stretch like it does on piano or guitar. From what you're describing I don't think reaching the key would be a problem. You also don't need to put anywhere as much pressure through the fingers to play the sax compared to the piano or guitar, either.

However, it would be best if you can get to a sax/music shop or find someone local who will let you hold their instrument - or better still, instruments as you may find an alto is more comfortable than a tenor. Better safe than sorry.
The left pinkie is one of the busiest fingers, used for G#, and the low notes C#, B and Bb. Low Bb will probably be the most difficult because it sounds as if your pinky bends in the wrong direction. But give it a try and good luck!

If all else fails then I suppose you could ask your man Jeeves
If you do decide the sax is for you, it would probably be possible to modify the layout to accommodate your fingers. Depending on what's needed, DIY fixes may even be an option.
On the saxophone, the left-hand little finger has 4 keys to press - Bb, B, C# and G#. If you can't reach B and Bb, (the two bottom notes on the instrument), then that's a shame, but not a disaster, but if you can't easily press G# then that is a problem.

I think you need to find a shop and try an instrument, just to see if you can manage. Alto sax seems like the most obvious choice. Some instruments require more of a stretch of the left hand than others.
I have a few legacy injuries on my hands, fractures mainly and also tiny little fingers which is a bit of a disadvantage.As is the pain I have to suffer playing.
There's a lot said about the Japanese horns being designed around the diminutive folks of Nippon
So if this is true perhaps this would be good, also for weaker fingers.
The Tech's that watch this forum may give better info regarding left hand pinkie table stuff.
I should maybe clarify. I can move my pinkie it just hurts a lot if I have to use much pressure on it. Trying to play on the piano is difficult after a bit. I can cover all the keys but it gets really painful. My pinkie mobility is good and though my very first knuckle is swollen, I can still make it curve in to the base of my finger and I can open my fingers fully. I've been given exercises to maintain its flexibility by a hand specialist so hopefully I can keep that going.

It really depends on the pressure I need to apply. My problem really is if the keys I'd need to press with my left pinkie would require sufficiently less force and be a bit more ergonomically operated than on the piano. For example, I could use my pinkie to simply cover a soundhole without a problem as it has mobility. I can fret notes on the guitar and reach the notes I need to play scales and chords but after a short time it gets so unpleasant there's no pleasure in it. If the sax key in question was a light key to use and it wasn't called on to make repetitive movements a lot to open and closed it then I reckon I'd manage.

I know. I need to go and try one. I wonder if a shop would send me one to finger, not blow, and let me send it back if it went badly or do companies do short-term rental?
From what you are saying, I would go with an alto, because the pinky keys have less metal to move.
Where are you located? There may be a shop near you where you could try a saxophone.
I don't know what is the shortest time for rental - you would have to ask. Try ukhire.
Definitely go and try one out, you have nothing to lose. As the low pads operated by the pinky are the biggest and heaviest ones, as @nigeld says alto sounds a good bet rather than tenor. You might also get a tech to reduce the spring tension to the minimum. Your hand exercises sound very worthwhile to maintain mobility.
Hi all,

It doesn't sound that promising if the left pinky has to operate the biggest and heaviest pads but I found this video here and it looks like the stretches would be fine for me and he doesn't seem to be using much pressure to depress the keys.

I also take encouragement from your comments @Veggie Dave about it requiring much less force than either the guitar or piano. I don't know if I'm using rose tinted specs here but I also feel that the hand position might make it easier to play than the piano too and it might hopefully not bend the pinky as much in a bad direction as the guitar ( at least the way I hold it ) does. My pinkie bends laterally in towards the ring finger and the guitar puts pressure on it in that direction and so does playing the left hand thumb and pinkie together on the piano.

Hi @Vetinari I'm actually near Maidstone in Kent not a million miles from Brands Hatch. It's probably not the very best time to be asking people to let me come and paw their sax though

I have found that some shops rent for 3 months periods so it might be worthwhile doing that to give it a decent trial. If I do, I would go for an alto as happily this is the sort of sound I envisaged trying to produce so I'm glad it also is a good beginning instrument.

Anyway, I'm most grateful for all your kind help :)
Shame can't help then. 200 miles is a bit too far to travel.
The effort required to close keys on saxes is not a lot and less than a piano. Makes of sax vary slightly in terms of spacing etc and as noted above instruments made by say Yamaha tend to be slightly more compact than others. The tension of various springs can be altered to suit your own needs and keys can be modified to suit you as well.

You probably need a sax playing friend or a teacher to help you out with this, or a very good 'proper' sax shop where the staff will provide some proper help and advice.
I have a permanently bent left pinkie finger due to an accident. It has OK strength, but isn't usable on piano or guitar due to the bend. I have no trouble playing sax, but it does require having strength in that finger. So I think you can best answer the question for yourself. The bend on mine is about 40 degrees from straight at the last joint.
I'm actually near Maidstone in Kent not a million miles from Brands Hatch. It's probably not the very best time to be asking people to let me come and paw their sax though

The reason why I play sax is because my left hand and wrist were shattered in a bike accident making it impossible to play guitar and painful to play piano (plus I lost all my fingeer span).

A quick thing I've just thought of, though. Take a can of deoderant, such as Nivea For Men. Hold the can vertically, just using your fingertips and thumbtip (imagine it's made of incredibly delicate glass so any squeezing will shatter it). Relax your arm so that your elbow rests on your ribs and your thumb is basically inline with your second finger on the can. Spread your fingers so that there's around a 15-18mm gap between them (except the pinkie where you want around 20mm). You're now holding a reasonable representation of an alto.

Regarding the weight, there is some pressure on the thumb but the weight of the intrument itself is taken by the strap/harness. The amount of pressure required to close a sax key is much less than playing a piano key, it's much less than holding a guitar string down (especially if you're used to using strings heavier than a set of 9s). Obviously this isn't a replacement for physically holding the real thing but if doing this is painful then you'll know it's almost definitely not an option. If, on the other hand, it's easy then the chances are the sax won't be a problem, either.

You're also not too far from the warehouse. Time for it trip out. ;)

Losing bell notes B and Bb isn't a problem. Plenty of range left. It would probably take ages to get them to sound any how. The worst sounding notes on the instrument imo.
G# and C# can be set to your liking and any fudge in that area will open them.
I think the saxophone is much less demanding on the pinky fingers than guitar or piano. I don't play guitar and mando's much these days as my hands get older but no problem with any of the saxphones.
Thanks @Veggie Dave I can do that stretch all right. Stretching and flexibility generally isn't too bad. However, I can't do, for example, a Gmaj scale on the guitar using 3 frets to a string on the 3rd 5th and 7th frets for the bottom two as although my fingers will make it, my hand start to ache though I'm not sure if that's the arthritis or the tendonitis to be honest. I avoid using my pinkie for all the other scale postions which is kind of annoying to me.
Although I can fret strings with my pinkie it's not something I'd want to do much. I'm encouraged by the light pressure required by the sax and the hand grip looks better for me.

I am probably going to rent an alto for 3 months ( cost about £90 so not too bad ) to give it a reasonable trial.

@Colin the Bear Thanks. That's an encouraging experience.

Hah! just reaised the thank button is there :)
I also have arthritis. Knees, fingers .... . I guess you see a doctor or physiotherapist. I use some kind of "painkiller creme" before I play. Helps a little bit. There are not so many "motions" you can do with you fingers/hands.

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