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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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