Mastering Speed and Clarity on the Saxophone: The Key to Faster Playing

Playing the saxophone with speed, precision, and clarity is a common goal for many saxophonists. However, achieving faster finger movements can be a challenging task. In this blog post, we will explore a simple yet powerful technique that can significantly improve your speed, sound quality, and overall effects of your playing. By making a subtle adjustment to your finger position, you can unlock a world of possibilities on the saxophone.

Assessing Your Current Playing

To begin the process of improving your speed and clarity, it’s crucial to evaluate your current playing technique. Martino suggests recording yourself playing a fast-paced segment that you are currently working on. By watching the recording and analyzing your finger movements, you can identify areas that need improvement.

While examining the video, pay close attention to the position of your fingers on the keys. Martino demonstrates two versions of the same piece, one with fingers placed relatively high and the other with fingers positioned close to the keys. The difference in performance is striking.

Finger Positioning, the Key to Speed

The critical factor in playing faster lies in the position of your fingers on the keys. Ideally, your fingers should be as close to the keys as possible. Imagine that there is superglue on your fingertips, forcing your fingers to stay low. This technique minimizes the distance your fingers have to travel when playing each note.

When watching renowned saxophonists such as Charlie Parker, Michael Brecker, or Bob Reynolds, you may notice that their fingers seem almost stationary. This is because they have mastered the art of minimizing finger movement by keeping their fingers close to the keys. By adopting this approach, you can achieve greater speed and fluidity in your playing.

Benefits of Low Finger Positioning

Adopting a low finger position not only enhances your playing speed but also offers several additional benefits. One notable advantage is the improvement in sound quality and clarity. When your fingers remain close to the keys, the connection between notes becomes seamless, resulting in a smoother sound and a better overall playing experience.

Moreover, playing with low fingers reduces unnecessary accents on each note. When your fingers are positioned higher, you have to lift them more significantly to strike the keys, creating unintentional accents. However, by keeping your fingers close to the keys, you can achieve a more consistent and even tone throughout your playing.

Practicing This Technique

To develop the habit of keeping your fingers low, it is essential to increase your awareness of your finger position. Begin with a simple exercise using three notes: G, A, and B. Play these notes slowly, focusing on maintaining continuous contact between your fingers and the keys. Lift one finger only when the next note is about to be played, ensuring that the previous finger remains in place until the transfer occurs.

By practicing this exercise diligently, you will gradually build a strong connection and awareness between your fingers and the keys. Once you feel comfortable with this technique on simple notes, apply it to scales and other technical passages in your repertoire. Start by playing scales slowly, paying attention to keeping your fingers close to the keys throughout. As you become more proficient, you can incorporate the technique into complex pieces you are working on, gradually ingraining it into your muscle memory.


Building speed and clarity on the saxophone requires a great deal of slow and diligent practice. The importance of finger technique cannot be overstated, and by doing this work, the effectiveness of your playing will increase dramatically.

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