How to Program Your Fingers

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T his week, I would like to start this post with a few questions:

  • What first attracted you to the saxophone?
  • Did you like the tone?
  • Did you like the versatility?
  • Did you like the idea of playing a beautiful melody and then playing aggressively with a flurry of notes?

Tone & Speed

Usually people first fall in love with the tone of the saxophone, and then the desire to play quickly and accurately increases. Last post we discussed a practice method that helps improve your tone. This post we’ll share how to program your fingers so you can play with consistency and gain confidence.

I Thought  I Would Fail

A big part of consistency on the saxophone is developing muscle memory and getting your fingers to do the right thing at the right time. After proper practicing, sometimes your fingers won’t allow you to play wrong notes.

For example, one time I was performing a difficult piece of music, and during one of the most difficult sections, the sheet music became unreadable for a moment. I thought I was set up for failure, but to my amazement, I played the part perfectly. I had practiced the section so many times slowly, and accurately, that my fingers had become programmed to play this passage one way: correctly.

Program Your Fingers

Think of that. If you practice correctly, all the time (which I'll teach you how to do), you’ll program your fingers to play correctly, which diminishes the possibility of playing incorrectly in a performance situation.

With this approach to practice, you will have outstanding performances, even if you tend to get nervous. This makes performing less stressful and more fun.

Here's How You Do It

The tool we’re going to use to program our fingers are scales. I know that may sound boring, but think of the results we discussed above. It will be worth it!

Besides, what is music made of? It's made of scales and various intervals between notes, such as arpeggios and chords. The benefits for this approach are twofold. First, the more you practice correctly, the more familiar you’ll become with the saxophone, and it will begin to feel like an extension of you. Second, the more we play scales and intervals correctly, the better we will be prepared to play those same intervals and scales in written music.

If you practice a majority of the common scales and intervals, most music will then become familiar to you before you even play it. This is the ultimate preparation and something we can all shoot for.

The Steps

Let’s choose the G major scale: G A B C D E F# G. You’ll also need a metronome. Next, follow the process below to program your fingers to play the saxophone correctly. Remember, this will not only help with speed, but with consistency.

  1. Set the metronome to 60
  2. Play one note per click
  3. Play up the scale and back down
  4. Make sure you are locked in with the metronome
  5. Repeat 10 times
  6. Repeat with the another scale

It’s essential to be exact with the metronome. If you are not, you’ll be programming your fingers to play unevenly which will limit your consistency and speed. For more information on playing evenly to gain speed, check out this post.

Remember, we’re not trying to reach high speeds right now, and we don’t want to get tired of practicing scales. Just use this method for 5 minutes a day to program your fingers.

Don't worry, the short amount of time on scales will build into consistency over time and with 5 minutes each day, you won't tire of playing scales. After a week, you can always decide to increase your time to 7 minutes. Remember, consistency is the key, and practicing something for a short time will keep you from getting worn out.


Go ahead and give this practice method a shot and let us know how it goes. I know you’ll see a difference even after one week, which can be an exciting experience. Just use the comment section below to share your results or ask questions. We look forward to it!

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