Saxophone Setup, Ideal Body and Hand Position | Beginner/Refresher Course Lesson 3

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Setup & Ideal Body and Hand Position

In this lesson, let’s learn how to put the saxophone together and the correct hand position for your fingers and hands on the keys.

So far we’ve learned how to set up our reed and mouthpiece in lesson 1 and get a sound with a good saxophone embouchure in lesson 2

At this point you should already have your mouthpiece and reed setup properly and on the neck as we learned in lesson 1.

You may want to put your mouthpiece cap on to protect the reed. In the beginning you are going to be much more prone to reed breaking accidents.

Putting the Saxophone Together

The first thing I do when getting my saxophone out of the case is I put my neckstrap on. So let’s go ahead and do this now.

Now take the body of your saxophone in one hand.  With my left hand I hold the body in the middle, putting my fingers through the brace that connects the body to the bell. This gives me a nice firm and stable grip. Now we are going to gently attach the neck to the body of the saxophone.

First make sure the neck screw is loosened and be sure to get the tenon going into the receiver as straight as possible. 

I make a slight turn when inserting the neck. This just helps it slide in a bit smoother. 

Once the neck tenon is all the way in, line up your octave key with the middle of the neck and tighten the neck screw to hold it in place.

With my right hand I pick up the horn in the same place on the other side, again putting my fingers through the bell to body brace for a solid grip.

This allows me to attach the neck strap hook to the ring with my other hand.

Next we’re going to adjust the height of the neckstrap until the top of the mouthpiece comes right up to our top teeth while standing up straight. If you haven’t done so already, take your mouthpiece cap off. We don’t want to incline our head or neck at all downward. Use the neckstrap to bring the instrument to you so that you can maintain good posture.

Hand Position

Let’s start with the right hand position. Place your right thumb under the thumb hook and then place your index middle and ring finger onto the three key pearls opposite. Your little finger will rest on the E-flat key.

The right thumb is not meant to bear the weight of the instrument. That’s the job of the neck strap. This thumb is just stabilizing the instrument.

For the left hand position, start by placing your thumb on the thumb rest so that the tip can pivot in order to action the octave key with minimal movement. 

It’s a little more complicated on the other side since we have more buttons than fingers. Most saxophones will have 4 or 5 key pearls. You’re going to want to place your index, middle and ring finger on three of the larger ones, skipping over the smaller one for now. Your little finger is going to rest on the G sharp key. 

There is an additional key above the index finger. On some saxophones there will be a key pearl on it which may be confusing. Just make sure that the one smaller key pearl is between your index and middle fingers and you’ll be alright.

It’s important to have a nice and relaxed hand position. This helps to prevent the creation of any extra tension in your hands, wrists, and arms.

Fine Tuning the Setup Before Playing

Now we’re are going to do some fine tuning to get everything in place before we play.

We want our head to be straight and not tilted to either side. So, adjust your mouthpiece accordingly in order to put even pressure on both sides of the reed when playing.

Alto, tenor and baritone saxophones are designed to be held on the right side of your body.

Standing up, I hold them all in front and at a slight angle to the right.

Find the placement where you can hold the saxophone with relaxed hands, your fingers on the key pearls and straight wrists.

If one were to hold the alto sax directly in front of the body, perpendicular to the floor, that would force our left wrist to bend in an uncomfortable way. This would be very bad playing position that could result in injury so please check yourself in front of a mirror and make sure your wrists are straight.

The exact angle that works for you is going to depend on your height, how long your arms are etc.

At this point, you may need to readjust the height of the neck strap or the angle of your neck and mouthpiece. Make the necessary adjustments to get the saxophone to conform to your perfect posture.

Stand in front of a mirror holding the saxophone and check the following:

  • You are standing straight up with good posture
  • Your neck is not tilted to either side nor front of back
  • Make sure your neck strap is holding the saxophone high enough. You want the top of the mouthpiece to come right up to your top teeth
  • Your fingers are resting lightly on the key pearl, and your wrists are straight
  • Your shoulders are relaxed and not hunched up
  • Check that your feet are flat on the floor about hip width apart

Playing Our First Notes

In the next lesson, I’m going to teach you a bunch of notes. I know you’re dying to hear what this thing sounds like.

I want you to press all the keys down except for your 2 pinkies.

So you will have 123 in your left hand, the thumb key and 123 in your right hand.

Pay careful attention here not to action any of the keys that are near the palms of your hands.

Take a deep breath, set your embouchure as we learned in the last lesson and blow a note for as long as you can hold it.

That’s a D. If you are playing a tenor or soprano saxophone, the note you get will sound different to the note I get on my alto. This is normal and I’ll explain why later.

I teach my students to start with D as their first note since it has so many keys down. It’s much easier for a beginner to hold the saxophone while playing notes with keys closed than the ones with most of the keys open.

Don’t squeeze the keys closed with a death grip. Just apply enough pressure for them to close while keeping your hands, wrists and shoulders relaxed.

Your little fingers should be resting lightly on their keys. Don’t allow your pinkies to stick out.

Practice closing and opening all of the keys for playing D while keeping your fingers on the key pearls and your whole body relaxed.

Get used to how it feels to hold the saxophone correctly.

Try removing one hand at a time from the instrument and then bringing it back into place. Let your fingers find their homes without looking. 

Take a few minutes now and practice making this proper hand and body position a permanent habit. The way you are going to pick up and hold the saxophone every time from now on.

As I said earlier, in the next video we are going to learn a whole bunch of notes. If you haven’t already downloaded the pdf guide to this course click the button below to get it. There’s a fingering chart in there that you may want to reference for the next lesson. Remember all the other videos in this course can be found linked in the description below.

Final Thoughts

Leave your comments below. I love hearing feedback from you!

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Chris Harwood says:

My wife is playing a Jupiter Soprano Sax (straight neck). After playing for a while she finds that her right hand thumb gets sore. It seems she’s using it to hold the sax as opposed to letting the neck strap carry the weight. Any tips on how things should be positioned to alieviate this problem?

Jay Metcalf says:

Don’t use the right thumb to hold the weight of the saxophone. this will lead to pain very quickly. Let the instrument rest on your right side hip a bit. The thumb only stabilizes the position.

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

[…] 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 […]

Maxine says:

Hi Jay, I have purchased some courses from Better Sax before and I feel I am improving but still have a long way to go. While you are offering this discount I think it would be wise to buy some other course but I’m not sure which one would be best for me? Can you please recommend the one you think will offer the most benefit ? Thanks very much and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Maxine Edkins (Australia)

Jay Metcalf says:

Check out the suggested order of study here to get a better idea of which course to study next.

Asaolu Praise says:

Nice one.
Please can I receive, each copy of the full lesson in my email.

Jay Metcalf says:

When you sign up for the course you will receive an email with a link to all the videos and the download pdf.



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