Saxophone Fingerings and First Notes | Beginner/Refresher Course Lesson 4 – Better Sax

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First Notes

In this lesson I’m going to show you the saxophone fingerings for a bunch of notes to get you started playing the saxophone.

So far we’ve learned how to set up our reed and mouthpiece properly in Lesson 1, How to form a good saxophone embouchure and get our first sounds in lesson 2, and how to setup the instrument and play with a good posture and hand position in lesson 3. If you haven’t gone through those lessons yet, I recommend you do so now.

In the previous lesson we left off playing  the note D. Which is 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 and the octave key

For these saxophone fingerings, I refer to index, middle, and ring finger as 1 2 and 3 respectively in both hands starting with your left hand which is on top.

You may notice that when you play a D on your saxophone it is not the same note as a D on a piano or guitar.

That’s because the saxophone is a transposing instrument

You may also notice that a D on the alto saxophone does not sound the same as a D on a tenor or soprano saxophone. 

That is because different saxophones transpose differently.

For now, don’t worry about that let’s focus on one thing at a time.

In the video I demonstrate everything on the alto first and then tenor so you can play along with either of those. It’s important to note that the fingerings and note names are identical for all saxophones.

Saxophone Fingerings

Notes in music follow the the first 7 letters of the alphabet A B C D E F G. These correspond to the white keys on the piano.

We already know D so let’s start with that one, and work our way down the alphabet.

D is 123 123 and the octave key which is this one here that gets played by pivoting the tip of the thumb.

Remember, take a deep breath, set your firm yet relaxed embouchure and then blow the note. You’ve got to use enough air to get a good sound, but you don’t want to over-blow either.

Let’s play and hold each note for 4 beats.

C

Moving down the alphabet, our next note is going to be C. 

C is played with one finger, our middle finger in the left hand or 2. So lift up everything else including the octave key.

When playing C or any note that has a lot of open keys, be sure to rest your fingertips lightly on the pearls of the keys you are not pressing down.

Don’t leave those fingers up in the air. Check yourself in the mirror to make sure.

B

Next note down the alphabet is B. B is played with our index finger or 1 in the left hand.

Again, make sure your other fingers are resting lightly on the key pearls.

A

Moving along, the next note is A. Now things get a lot simpler. we just add the next finger our middle finger. So A is 1 2 in the left hand.

Deep breath, don’t bite down on the reed.

G

We’ve come to the end of our 7 letter alphabet, so when we go down from A we get G and G is played 123 in the left hand. We just add another finger again.

Check your posture make sure you are not tensing up.

As our notes get lower, the amount of air required to play each note increases slightly so you may find it more difficult to hold these lower notes out for as long. So get in the habit of filling your air tank up completely with each breath you take.

F

Our next note is F as I’m sure you expected and we just add another finger this time in our right hand. 123 1 is the fingering for F.

Big breath good finger position and posture, firm yet relaxed embouchure. Blow.

E

Next note, you guessed it, E. Add one more finger in your right hand. 123 12 is our fingering for E.

D

And that brings us back to D. If you add the third finger in your right hand you get what we call low D. It’s just like the first D we learned but it’s played without the octave key and sounds lower. An octave lower in fact. Hence the reason for the name octave key.

The Octave Key

This octave key is fantastic. It’s one of the reasons why the saxophone is a very well designed instrument. In fact, the saxophone is the only instrument in the band or orchestra with a button that makes whatever note you play jump up an octave. Genius.

In case you don’t know, an octave is the distance between 2 notes that share the same name. So from my low D to high D the distance or interval is an octave. And on the saxophone by adding the octave key, my low D jumps back up to where we started.

And I know you have probably figured this out already, this trick works for all of the the other notes I showed you.

So let’s play them. 

Starting on D with the octave key, (otherwise known as middle D) We are going to play our way up the alphabet.

Playing Up the Scale

Next is E 123 12 plus the octave key followed by F 123 1 plus the octave key and then G 123 plus octave key.

Now as we start to get higher up, there is a natural tendency to tighten up the embouchure and bite down on the reed. Your embouchure muscles may already feel a bit tired from all this playing so take a short break if necessary.

Also if at any time you feel a bit light headed, take a break. That can happen when you’re not used to taking multiple deep breaths in a short time.

As our notes get higher, I want you to resist the urge to bite down on the reed. Let your air do the work of producing the sound.

Our next note A is just like low A.  we lift up our third finger in the left hand so it’s 1 2 plus the octave key.

Now for B stay relaxed and keep all your other fingers resting lightly on the key pearls.

And finally our last note for this lesson, high C which is middle finger left hand or 2 plus the octave key.

Don’t worry if you didn’t get all those notes out the first time. Feel free to go back and play along with this video as many times as you want. It’s important to have a good grasp on these saxophone fingerings.

Other Resources

Take some time practicing just playing and holding all of those notes. Your embouchure will get tired quickly at first so take breaks. Over time you will build up strength here and your sound will improve.

There are other notes on the saxophone like all the black piano keys and there are some higher and lower notes as well. The saxophone fingerings for all of those notes are included in the course guide. You can get the PDF Saxophone Fingering Chart here.

But, believe it or not, with the notes and saxophone fingerings you just learned to play, you already have enough to start taking another free course that I offer. It’s called the Play Sax by Ear Crash Course and if you are feeling ready, I invite you to enroll in that next. 

Now you might be thinking to yourself, I just started playing saxophone how could I be ready for playing by ear? While I’m sure it’s going to be somewhat challenging for a total beginner, I promise you’ll be surprised by how manageable that course is and how much you can learn from it in a week.

Final Thoughts

As you advance, and are looking for more learning resources I think you will find the courses for sale very helpful and fun.

Please leave your comments below and let me know if you found this course helpful!

Thank you for going through my beginners course. I hope I’ve helped get you started in the right direction!

Also be sure to follow BetterSax on Facebook, InstagramLinkedIn, and YouTube to stay up to date with us for news, giveaways, and other saxophone tips and tricks.

6 thoughts on “Saxophone Fingerings and First Notes | Beginner/Refresher Course Lesson 4”

  1. Have I been gone that long that B flat is not played as L1 and R1? And also, might I make a suggestion…? In your fingering chart, is it possible to add what the note will look like on a sheet of music. Yes, I could look it up elsewhere…Just thought it would be helpful. One more thing, do you recommend an app or software for writing music (typing it) For instance, B Flat…. Sharps are Easy enough C#. Thank You genuinely giddy about discovering you. Blues Foundation Parts 1 and 2 already in my posession.

    1. 1 and 1 Bb is considered an alternate fingering on saxophone. If you were taught by a clarinetist or flautist they may have misinformed you based on the fingerings for their instruments. It is a common issue. Glad you are getting into the courses.

  2. Pingback: Saxophone Setup, Ideal Body and Hand Position | Beginner/Refresher Course Lesson 3 – Better Sax

  3. Braeden Marcott

    Help! I’ve been doing fine in your “Play Sax by Ear” course until I hit lesson 3. “The Chromatic Scale in G”. For once, you haven’t specified which notes we’re to play starting with G. For instance, in thePentatonic, we’ve skipped C and F; obviously we don’t skip any notes in the chromatic, but I’m just not sure which precise notes go into it. I did some research, and found that there are five sharps and five flats in the scale. Is that right? (G#, A#, C#, D# and F# and Gb, Eb, Db, Bb and Ab) I know getting the chromatic scale down correctly is extremely important so I don’t want to, as you say, “practice with mistakes.”
    Could you clarify this for me?

    By the way, you are the BEST at teaching sax. I am brand new (at age 66), have looked around — and you are the clearest instructor! Thank you, and I am finally a bit confident now and loving it!!!

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