2 Ways to Fast Fingers

Tone & Technique

There tend to be a couple skills that every beginner would love to improve: their tone and technique (technique-a term we use for finger agility, or ability to play notes quickly). I have written a number of posts on tone, but this time I would like to write about technique. If your fingers are set properly, then you set yourself up with good habits, resulting in the ability to play quickly and accurately in the future. Let’s get started.

Charlie Parker

Check out this video of Charlie Parker and watch his fingers. How would you describe his finger movement?

At the beginning of his solo (and at the end), he plays a fast passage. Did you notice that his fingers remained close to the keys? They didn’t move much, did they? He makes it look so easy too!

It’s important to understand that a lot of finger movement is not required to play fast. In fact, the more relaxed your fingers are, and the closer they remain to the keys, the better your technique can be. If Charlie Parker moved his fingers up and down in a big motion, he most likely would not have had the amazing technique that he displayed in this performance.

This Plagued Me Too

When I was younger, I had an issue with raising my fingers too high when I played. As soon as I was able to settle the fingers down and keep the fingers close to the keys, my technique became much better. But how do we relax our fingers and get them to stay close to the keys? If I told you, “keep your fingers down”, it may not be enough assistance to help solve the issue. Actually method #2 is kind of like that, but with an explanation to help. Method #1 is more likely to help.

Method #1

With method #1, the goal is to feel more comfortable with the saxophone. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to practice all 12 major scales (I know, not an exciting method, but the results are effective). As you become more capable with all your major scales, and work on them at a slow tempo with a metronome, you will begin to feel more comfortable with the saxophone. As this happens, the fingers automatically begin to relax and stay closer to the keys. In fact, one day you’ll be playing and you’ll be amazed that the saxophonist you’re hearing is you! That is a very exciting moment. So, just to repeat myself- in order to relax and bring the fingers down, get to know your major scales. The fingers will automatically begin to relax and they will minimize their movement naturally.

Method #2

Whenever I help someone fix something in their playing, I usually like to provide exercises that they can take home to fix the issue. However, this next method does not follow my traditional teaching method. Here it is: In order to keep your fingers down and relaxed, just make the choice to do so. This approach won’t work for everyone, but I share it because it has worked in the past. The first time this worked I was teaching a student in my studio. I jokingly told him to stop lifting his fingers so high and relax (I believed that simply suggesting this would never result in improvement). He said, “OK” and soon solved the issue. Why did this work for this student? He didn’t realize that this was something that needed to be changed, so just by bringing it up, he solved the problem.

Results

This last method won’t work for everyone, but it’s at least important to identify this as an option. If method #2 works for you- awesome! If not, you’ll have to follow method #1 along with the rest of us.

Whichever method works for you, our main goal is to have relaxed fingers that stay close to the keys. If you do this, your technique will have the foundation to help you play quickly, effectively, and with consistency. You’ll love the player that you’ll become.

A Question

Do you have the issue of raising your fingers too high while playing? How are you fixing it? Have any of these methods (or others) worked for you? You can share your thoughts in the comment section on this page. We would love to hear from you!

Again, thanks for reading! Feel free to “share” and “like” this post with the social media buttons on this page. Thanks!

Comments 12

  1. Hi, great article. It clarifies a lot of things about finger articulation. And yes… one of my mistakes is “overfingering” in both directions, i.e. pressing too much when closing the keys and raising it too long, which results in much effort and time consumed than needed. I’ll practise method No. 1 for sure.

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      Hi Marc,

      Thanks for your comments! I’m glad that you’re able to identify where you can improve your technique. When we can identify an issue, it becomes much easier to resolve. As you continue to practice your scales I would be interested in hearing updates on your technique. Thanks!

  2. Dear Teacher,

    Thanks for the wonderful tips given by you on developing fast finger techniques. I just wanna let you know the 2 problems i have with my finger placement.

    1) I always have the habit of pressing the keys hard ( though I don’t want to). I want to get rid of this habit and I am worried I will spoil the pads and springs.

    2) I always keep my right hand pinky up (my wife used make fun of it) when I play.
    I think my inner conscious says that if i don’t lift my right hand pinky, i will end up touching D# key( as I always press the keys hard) accidentally while playing.

    Could you pls help me with this?.

    Your student,
    Chris

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      Author

      Hi Chris,

      Lifting the pinky is a common issue, but it can be resolved. First, play your easiest scale (that way you’re not thinking about playing notes and you can focus on the issue). Keep your right pinky on the D# key the whole time, but don’t push it down. Let it rest on the top. Play the scale 10 times a day. After a few weeks, this will become more comfortable, and the pinky will begin to rest easily on the key without pressing it. At the beginning, don’t worry if you accidentally play a D#. After some time this will become less likely and it will begin to drift into your playing (not just the easy scale). As far as pressing hard, follow method #1 and you’ll get there.

  3. Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for this extremely useful article. I tended to lift my fingers a little too high as well when I started playing the saxophone. Like you suggested, I got away from that by playing scales. It really helped because it also made playing a lot easier.

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      Thanks for sharing your experience Deirdre. It’s great to hear how you worked through the issue, and that you can fix it again. Way to go!

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      Hi Aldre,

      I’m glad to hear that your tone is improving and that you’re happy with what you hear. Keep up the good work!

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