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Beginner Unorthodox Button Pushing

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
Ok, I'm a newbie and I'm trying to learn a song that plays the following in the low register of an Alto Sax.

Bb, G#, F#, Bb.

Here's my question. When I play this note run I need to hold down the G# key to play the G# obviously. And that requires my little finger to play that G# valve.

What I've found is that this phase (which actually includes multiple occurrences of the above note values), is far easier for me to play if I just continually hold down that G# key with my pinky, even when playing the Bb, and F#. It doesn't seem to make any difference at all in terms of tonality for the Bb and F#. In other words, the G# key doesn't seem to affect either Bb, or F#, whether it's pressed down during those notes or not. I've tried playing them and pressing this key and I can't hear or tell any difference at all.

So I'm thinking of just learning to play this note run with my pinkie just holding that G# key down the whole time. It just makes playing this phrase so much easier and more fluent.

Is this something that professional musicians might do? In other words, if there are valves that don't make a difference, and it makes the playing of a phrase smoother to just hold them open for the whole phrase to accommodate one note within the phrase is this something that players might do?

Is this a common practice?

Or is this considered a big no-no.

I mean, from a practical point of view it seems to work just fine in terms of tonality so I'm really tempted to just learn this song playing it this way.
 

Andante cantabile

Senior Member
Messages
695
If you use a book such as the Universal Method you will quickly discover that sometimes holding down the G# or another key is the only way to play a run at the proper speed.
 

johnboy

Senior Member
Messages
1,179
The answer to the question, do experienced musicians leave some fingers holding down keys that conventionally would be open, is YES! But it is something that just happens, it is not something that is learnt!!!!
I would not recommend that you consciously continue doing this, as it might cause problems during your development.

That is my opinion, others may disagree.

John.
 
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kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
My learner's book addresses this and some of the exercises are maked to hold the G# key while playing the notes below it. So it is something that's taught, sometimes...

Take a look at your sax. Finger the G, then the G# and you'll see one pad open. Now, without changing anything press the F key as well - the G# pad closes.... even though it should be open. Same goes for F#, E and so on. If you look closely you'll see that the sax has been built this way to allow you to hold the G# key when necessary...
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
Kev,

Thanks, I never really thought to pay close attention to what the valves are actually doing. But I see what you're saying, the F# key activates a "thingy" that that overrides the G# key and closes that valve anyway. So that's nice to know. I guess I'm starting to learn a little bit about my horn.

Viruskiller,

Yes, I'm using the split Bb and that's why it's working evidently, that also overrides the G# key using the same mechanism as the F# key. I didn't realize that when I chose that fingering, I just chose it because it makes sense for this phrase.

Beckmesser,

Thanks, it's nice to know that these kinds of things are indeed used and taught in various method books. It really does make playing the phrase far easier and smoother. At least for me as a beginner.

~~~

I guess I'll just go with what serves the musicality whenever I can, and also start paying closer attention to precisely what each key is actually doing and how they might override each other, as in this case.

Thanks to everyone for the feedback.

Johnboy,

I appreciate your concerns, and I agree that it wouldn't be wise to get too sloppy about this in general terms. But I think in a case like this where I'm aware that I'm doing it to help with the articulation of a particular phrase it should be ok. I agree that it could become a bad habit if I were to just use it randomly when reading music, etc, without fully understanding what I'm doing. But Kev's explanation about how the keys actually work to override other keys helps. Now I understand that the three right-hand keys all act to override the G# key. So at least now I know what's actually going on. I'm sure I'll be learning much more about these sorts of redundant key combinations as I continue to learn to play the sax.

This horn is a lot of fun, I'm glad I bought one.
 

saxnik

Member
Messages
381
I use 'alternative' fingerings all the time!

Basically my philosophy is that playing sax should be easy, and fingerings that could be considered 'cheats' are fine, as long as they don't adversely affect the sound. As discussed, the G# is opended by springs rather then direct leverage for this particular reason, something not available to the clarinet doublers amongst us.
It's all to make life easier. (The downside is that G# often sticks!)

The same thinking goes into the choice of which Bb to use (1/1, 1/2, 12/rsk or 1bis), whichever's easiest for the run.
Also don't forget that any of the left table keys (low C#/B/Bb) will also operate the G# pad mechanism, so swift arpeggios don't need a change of key with your left pinky!

Learning the 'best' techniques is clearly the correct thing to do, but as with every skill, you've got to learn the rules, then learn how to bend them to your advantage. In the end, always, always, always go with the sound.

Hope that's helped,

Nick

N.B. I nearly wrote 'adversely affect the tuning', but of course sometimes that's desirable!
 

johnboy

Senior Member
Messages
1,179
I really think that beginners should become proficient at the basics first. Not try to run before they can walk.
It seems that S.D. is struggling with basic fingering for that passage. Something that should be mastered first.
But then I'm Old School!! (silly old s#d).

John.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
I really think that beginners should become proficient at the basics first. Not try to run before they can walk.
It seems that S.D. is struggling with basic fingering for that passage. Something that should be mastered first.
But then I'm Old School!! (silly old s#d).

John.
I don't want to tun this into a right/wrong debate, but can't help observing that:

The universal method isn't exactly a new book... It was first published in January 1908, according to Amazon. So I'd guess it predates all of us, even OG. It even talks about the new models of sax, with low Bb...

So what is old school? Just the way your teacher(s) taught you? But times change, things move on and we adopt new sometimes better ways of doing thigns.
 

johnboy

Senior Member
Messages
1,179
The universal method isn't exactly a new book... It was first published in January 1908, according to Amazon. So I'd guess it predates all of us, even OG. It even talks about the new models of sax, with low Bb...

See, what do I know! I only had one book (being poor I couldn't afford more), I think that was by Boozey & Hawkes. I don't remember anything about alternative fingerings in there.
There was a stage in my development, when, to my surprise, I found myself leaving fingers/keys down.
Obviously, if it doesn't cause S.D. any problems, then fine!

John.
 
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Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
I really think that beginners should become proficient at the basics first. Not try to run before they can walk.
It seems that S.D. is struggling with basic fingering for that passage. Something that should be mastered first.
But then I'm Old School!! (silly old s#d).

John.
If I can "run" before I can "walk" I'm totally happy with that. :welldone

It suits my own personal goals. It might not be wise for a young saxophonist who is planning on making the saxophone his life's career. But that's not my goal. If I can learn to play just a few tunes well, I'll be happy.

Just the same, I'm glad I asked the question and discovered that I'm not doing anything that is that far out in left field. Evidently what I'm doing is a natural thing to do that the instrument itself even appears to have been designed to accommodate. So that's nice to know.
 

Andante cantabile

Senior Member
Messages
695
If I can "run" before I can "walk" I'm totally happy with that. :welldone

It suits my own personal goals. It might not be wise for a young saxophonist who is planning on making the saxophone his life's career. But that's not my goal. If I can learn to play just a few tunes well, I'll be happy.

Just the same, I'm glad I asked the question and discovered that I'm not doing anything that is that far out in left field. Evidently what I'm doing is a natural thing to do that the instrument itself even appears to have been designed to accommodate. So that's nice to know.
Of course you won't be happy with being able to play just a few tunes. You will then discover that there is a lot of other material out thre that could be within reach with just a little bit more effort. So, I think it is an advantage to have an awareness of the potential the saxophone has. You seem to have that in any case.
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
Of course you won't be happy with being able to play just a few tunes. You will then discover that there is a lot of other material out thre that could be within reach with just a little bit more effort. So, I think it is an advantage to have an awareness of the potential the saxophone has. You seem to have that in any case.
Well, to be perfectly honest about it, right now, my greatest obstacle is embouchure, not fingering anyway. I think I can deal with the fingerings. If I can get a consistent embouchure I might actually be able to play my first tune the whole way through.

Here's a thought (just to share as an aside)

I'm a raw beginner and I've been having a lot of problems with embouchure. However, recently I was given a psychological tip. This might sound silly but the tip was this, "Don't play the saxophone with your embouchure, play it with your fingers".

In other words, the person telling me this is basically saying this: Imagine your lungs and mouth to be a mechanical air supply that makes the horn sound. Create a column of air in your lungs support it with your abdomen muscles and blow. Set the reed in motion with your tone, then PLAY the saxophone with your fingers NOT with your embouchure!

This is a bit of psychology but it really has helped me a lot. Because in the past, I was mentally focusing on the embouchure and trying to PLAY from that mental focal point. The fingerings were like secondary in my mind.

But now I just blow through the horn and focus entirely on "playing" the keys like a piano or anything else. And it does seem to work much better that way. I'm now focusing on actually "playing" the instrument rather than on "blowing into it".

It's psychology that worked for me. Although, it hasn't worked perfectly. I still have embouchure problems, but still, this method does work better than how I was approaching it before when I was focused on the embouchure instead of on the fingering. The fingering is where you want to focus when you play. Or hopeful once you're good you can just focus on the music and forget about the technical stuff altogether.
 

johnboy

Senior Member
Messages
1,179
I have to eat "Humble pie" here, I completely got hold of the wrong end of the stick!!!
When S.D. said low register, I imediately thought "Bottom" Bb (Derrr), to G#, which in a repeat situation I play,by rolling my ring finger from "G", onto the "G#" key/bar.
Sorry for my "Thicko" misunderstanding.
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,904
Yes, your embouchure should become automatic. Fingers are my problem.
I think it should (in an ideal world!) all be automatic while you're performing. On the other hand, you have to keep going back to the basics---embouchure, breathing, scales etc---in your practice (and maybe even more so as you develop), no matter how good you get, otherwise you fall into bad habits. It took me a long time (10yrs plus) to realise that as a clarinettist.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
Subscriber
Messages
21,947
I think it should (in an ideal world!) all be automatic while you're performing. On the other hand, you have to keep going back to the basics---embouchure, breathing, scales etc---in your practice (and maybe even more so as you develop), no matter how good you get, otherwise you fall into bad habits. It took me a long time (10yrs plus) to realise that as a clarinettist.
mmmm - yes
 

dooce

Well-Known Member
Messages
1,418
Yes, your embouchure should become automatic. Fingers are my problem.
I wish I could have video'd Gilad Atzmon at the Blockheads gig last week. His embouchure changes were pretty much non-stop as he ripped up and down the sax. Unless you are playing One Note Samba, that's what you gotta do.....
 

saxnik

Member
Messages
381
In other words, the person telling me this is basically saying this: Imagine your lungs and mouth to be a mechanical air supply that makes the horn sound. Create a column of air in your lungs support it with your abdomen muscles and blow. Set the reed in motion with your tone, then PLAY the saxophone with your fingers NOT with your embouchure!

This is a bit of psychology but it really has helped me a lot. Because in the past, I was mentally focusing on the embouchure and trying to PLAY from that mental focal point. The fingerings were like secondary in my mind.

But now I just blow through the horn and focus entirely on "playing" the keys like a piano or anything else. And it does seem to work much better that way. I'm now focusing on actually "playing" the instrument rather than on "blowing into it".
This is great, though actually this is the most important part:

...Or hopeful once you're good you can just focus on the music and forget about the technical stuff altogether.
My thinking on this is that actually you'll need to focus on the sound you're making - it's the air column support that creates the tone and if the embouchure and fingers are right it will sound fantastic. Embouchure develops over time, and of course the fingers (and embouchure to some extent) need training, with lots of scales, tunes, arpeggios and other patterns. You should hopefully reach the stage with familiar tunes where you don't need to think about the notes, or the embouchure and can concentrate on tone and dynamics, which are the exciting bits to your audience (even if it's just you)!

Nick
 

Andante cantabile

Senior Member
Messages
695
I think it should (in an ideal world!) all be automatic while you're performing. On the other hand, you have to keep going back to the basics---embouchure, breathing, scales etc---in your practice (and maybe even more so as you develop), no matter how good you get, otherwise you fall into bad habits. It took me a long time (10yrs plus) to realise that as a clarinettist.
I think this just about sums it up. And note the timescale. You can shorten that if you pay attention to where you are making progress and where things are slow.
 
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