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Beginner Two Questions:

Sweet Dreamer

Well-Known Member
First Question: (About backing tracks and keys)

I have a music book with CD called "Jazz at the Lounge". It has various jazz pieces in it and they are transposed for C treble, Bb, Eb, and C bass clef.

There is only one backing track for each song. Today I was practicing a pieced named "Sway". I was accidentally using the Bb sheet music. I didn't realize this until I tried to play over the backing track and realized that I was in the wrong key.

Ok, fine. So I got the correct Eb sheet music and started to replay the song that's when I noticed two things:

1. The Bb version sounds a LOT BETTER, because it's played lower in the registers.
2. The Bb version is also a LOT EASIER, to finger when played in Bb (which is actually the key of G for this backing track), than it is to play in Eb (which is actually the key of D for this backing track)

So I'm wishing that I could actually play this in the key of G. Since it sounds better and is easier to finger too boot.

Has anyone else run into this sort of thing? What do you? Search for a backing track in the key you'd prefer to play the piece in, or do you bite the bullet and try to be a professional about it and play the key that the "band" is already in. :)))

Second Question (About alternative fingering for the D note on an Alto Sax)

Is there a way to play the second register D note in the first register on an Alto sax?

I haven't been able to find alternative fingerings for this. I'm talking about the D note you get when you close all the the main keys and depress the resister or octave key.

I notice that if, instead of playing the basic D fingering, I use one of those side levers I can get a note that sounds really close to the D note. But I can't seem to find any charts that actually recommend this fingering. (this would be without pressing the octave or register key)

It sounds real close, but using a tuning meter I can see that it's off by just a few cents.

I'm also not sure which lever to use. The top lever or the second one down?

When I play the D note "correctly" closing all the valves and depressing the octave key, I get a perfect F on the tuning meter. Thus the sax is "in tune".

When I use the top-most side lever alone I get a slightly sharp F which I can't seem to tame down to a perfect F (or D note on an Eb sax)

When I use the second lever down I get slightly flat F which I can't seem to tame "up" to a perfect F (or D note on an Eb sax)

So I guess my question is this: Does anyone ever use one of these levers to play a "D" note on the Alto sax in lieu of using the basic full D fingering? And if so, which lever do you use?

Hey Sweet Dreamer,
So for you first question about things being more comfortable in one key or another. That's how it goes sometimes, things are easier and/or feel better in one key. It may be that the music was originally played on tenor and it made more sense like that.

The reverse is also true, it may feel better for the Eb instrument version. The Charlie Parker Omnibook certainly makes more sense on alto saxophone. It even goes out of range (on the low end) for the Bb version so you need to jump octaves at times.

You probably want to learn it in the original key so you can play it with the backing track and with other musicians who will tend to play music in the original key. Nothing's stopping you from trying it in the other keys though and it will be good for you to know it in more than one key.

For your second question, you probably could use the lowest palm key or the second palm key up on alto. The lowest will tend to be flat and the middle will tend to be sharp (based on my trying it out on my alto just now and checking out the tuner).

It works more cleanly on tenor, and I will sometimes use the lowest palm key for D on the staff. The same one that you would use for D above the staff, but without the octave key. The intonation isn't necessarily perfect, but you can adjust and get it pretty close. It sounds a little different and can even be use for effect to go between the regular fingering and this alternate fingering.

If it's a fast part of the music, being slightly off in intonation won't be too noticeable. You probably want to use the usual fingering if it's a sustained note.

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For your second question, you probably could use the lowest palm key or the second palm key up on alto. The lowest will tend to be flat and the middle will tend to be sharp (based on my trying it out on my alto just now and checking out the tuner).

Ok, I'm finding these palm keys to be kind of a mystery. I can't find an alto sax fingering chart anywhere that suggests to use a palm key for a D note in the lower register, as an alternative fingering for the basic D note (second line of the treble staff)

However, I did find this photo:


They're pointing to the middle palm key as the "D" key.

I was using the Eb key, but I guess it does sound better when I use the "D" key.

For this particular passage it's so much nicer to be able to us a palm key rather than crossing over to a full-fingered D note just for that one little "blip" of a D note.

I agree with you that when the D note is sustained it's far better to go for the full-fingered D note. I actually do that at the end of this same phrase, but before that there's a real quick D note that I just pass over, and that works out a lot slicker as a palmed note.

I used using the Eb key (as called out in this photo), but I guess it does sound better with the actual D key. I just wasn't sure which key to use.
Yep, you probably want to go with the 'D' or 'Eb' key. I would probably use the 'D' palm key.

In my mind I was thinking about the palm keys as they are connected to the tone holes. I was thinking about the 'D' palm key as being the lowest tone hole, although the 'F' palm key is positioned lowest, the tone hole for it is the highest.

To go back to the first part of the question, maybe the real answe is to work on your sound. Long tones with a recorder....

However I too prefer the lower notes on a sax -and struggle to get such nice sounds out of the same note (in concert pitch) on alto, when I compare it to tenor.

As for the difference between playing in G or D - it's only 1 sharp extra. If you pactice the scale regularly, you'll find the F# becomes second nature. And I guess it's why traditional music teaching places so much emphasis on scales. Am finding that the more I practice scales, the more instinctive the trickuier fingerings become - like Eb, G#...

And this spills over into the question on D. You really need to get the straight fingering instinctive/automatic, working on all the fingers closing all the keys at the same time. Something like C# =-> D octave -> C# -> D octave and then start adding extra notes in/jumping to it from different notes (B->D octave). Will sound terrible, but if you put 5-10 minutes a day into it, you'll soon have it solid. A lot of the early exercises/tunes in my first workbook were written around the octave break, with lots of repetition. Drove me nuts, but it was effective... I think you'll find that once you get the D right, it'll be as quick/quicker than usign the D palm key.
I think you'll find that once you get the D right, it'll be as quick/quicker than usign the D palm key.

I've actually been practicing this piece using both fingerings. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. It could be simply a matter of practice, but in the early going using the palm D note is winning in terms of both "best feel" and "best sound". At least for the quick passing D note. I definitely use the full-fingered D for the final note of the phrase which is a whole note and rings out for a long time. But there's a real quick D note earlier in that phrase that seems to work better with the palm lever.

It's not just that the fingering is easier, but the note itself seem to be more "open" along with the B and C# that are on either side of it. It seems to fit into the run better from a musical point of view.

But then again, this could be due to the fact that I'm not playing the full-fingered D note well enough in that quick passage. It does seem to take a fraction of a second to "set it" before I allow it to sound. If I try to just slam it on and off without including some sort of breath control it becomes troublesome.

Maybe that's the bottom line right there. I think when I use the full-fingered D I have difficulty "flying over" that note without making some adjustments in air flow/pressure, whilst I don't feel that I need to do that when I use the palm key D.

Does that make any sense?

I mean when you suddenly close all the valves on the instrument it's going to require at least a tad bit more pressure to bring that note up to where the more "open" notes are that surround it.

I think that's at least a contributing factor. It's more than just a fingering issue going on. There's some sort of air flow or pressure difference going on there too.
Yes, it is one of the challenging technical aspects of the sax which we get used to - playing B,C# then on to D with the sound remaining pleasant and intonation correct - particularly on Alto in my experience - making sure that your embouchure is fixed in a "frown" so that no air escapes while your fingers are jumping about. On the trumpet both low C# and D can be very sharp - hence the need to extend the 3rd valve tubing at times, which can take some technical skill also. Best thing is just to switch to a Tenor Sax when you don't like certain scales/keys on Alto.

I do prefer playing tunes in their original key and on the original instrument. Playing "Cantaloupe Island" and "All Blues" on sax just sounds poor compared to the original Bb long cornet/trumpet respectively IMO - some thing are just not meant to be!

Kind regards
+1 for Neal and Tom and Kev - all quite right.

I think it helps to think of the sax as being a straight tube, which you change the length of by closing the pads down over the holes.
The longer the tube, the lower the sound - for a given register (or harmonic).
The palm key levers open pads further up the sax that are usually closed. With only a short tube, they're only designed to be in tune for the upper register, but as you've discovered, you can get away with using them for fast notes crossing the break, though I too tend to use the Eb lever for D, since it's more in tune than the D on my alto. They don't really sound good enough for anything longer than a semiquaver though, a sharp-eared listener will hear it and grimace!

As Kev says, you're much better off in the long term to get the basic fingerings really fluent before trying these compromise tricks, unless you're really stuck. As you mentioned, it's possible to alter the intonation with your embouchure (and sometimes by covering/opening tone holes further down the horn), but the basic fingerings are the ones to use really, since in real terms once you've mastered them it's less effort to play them, since no adjustment is required.

Keep at it, sounds like you're getting on to some fun stuff now!

@Kevin, that's a good point about working on tone. You kind of got into technique for this issue too. How well you control your fingers and how synchronized they are can really affect your sound a lot. More than you might expect actually. Moving between notes slowly and seeing if one finger lifts slightly before another one, etc can be valuable practice.

@Tom, thanks for telling us more about the trumpet. Not so much a brass player myself. I think on a few of these recordings they used tenor more than alto. The trumpet/tenor sound that Horace Silver used.

@Nick, that's true about mastering the fundamental fingerings. They tend to sound better even if they're trickier to execute sometimes. I was surprised myself when the Eb palm key worked decently well for getting out middle D (though it was fairly sharp). Mostly play tenor myself.


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