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Alto Saxophone Lesson 4

Alto Saxophone Playing Basics

Your Mouth and Making a Sound

Start with the neck and mouthpiece only. It is easier to set your mouth with just the mouthpiece to practice blowing and the neck gives you a nice handle.

Your teeth will touch the top of the Mouthpiece and your top lip is used to seal around it so air does not get out. Your bottom lip covers your bottom teeth and acts as a cushion between the Reed and bottom teeth. You put the mouthpiece in your mouth so your teeth touch at of an inch and your lip will look like it goes to the middle of the incline, top of the mouthpiece.

Applying a moderate amount of pressure to the reed, blow into the mouthpiece. You should hear a note when you blow. You want to try a get it steady and strong with just the mouthpiece and neck before putting the Neck on the Sax Body.

Where Do Your Hands Go on the Sax?

Lets put the Sax together now and try a few notes. Your left hand goes on the top and right hand on the bottom.

Your Left Hand

The left hand thumb goes on the back of the sax on a thumb rest. The next 3 fingers go on the buttons opposite the thumb. Many saxes have 3 big white buttons with one little one and the 3 fingers go on these bigger 3 buttons. Some saxes have an extra big white button above where the 3 fingers go. You can tell by looking and counting how many white buttons you see in the left hand area. If you see a total of 5, skip the first one, put your index finger one the second one, skip the little 3rd one and put the next 2 fingers on the last 2 buttons. It should pretty much fit your hand and will be very natural after a few sessions. You pinky will just hover over a complicated key with 4 gold buttons and rollers between them so thumb, 1, 2, 3 is the left hand.

Your Right Hand

The right hand is easy. Your thumb goes in the thumb rest on the inside close to you, and the index finger goes 1, 2, 3 on the only 3 white buttons in a row on the opposite side of your thumb. Your hand can pretty much find these keys without even looking. Your pinky will hover over a 2 gold key with roller thing and is not needed for a while.

Your First Notes

Once you have your hands in place, put your left hand index finger down and close just the one button. Make sure you only close this one button. You are fingering a B note. Try blowing, following the same set up you used for the neck and mouthpiece only. This will be your first note on the Sax.

If the B does not come out, a few things could be wrong.

You might have your left hand too high and be touching a key that will make you squeak. Another way to check your left hand placement is to make sure your ring finger is on the bottom of the white buttons, and then put your middle finger on the next button up, then skip the little one and place your index finger on the next button, leaving the top button or leaver open. If this sounds complicated, check the pictures again and know you will only have to think about this for a few times and it will fall right into place after a few practice sessions.

Other issues could be the way the neck and body are working together. The neck might need to be adjusted for the little key on the neck to work right. If it is open, even a little, it will make the note want to play too high. This little key could have a damaged little pad on it or missing all together too. This is a simple repair and will need to be fixed before you can go on.

If the sax has not been checked out, there could be adjustment problems, even on new saxes. When in doubt, blame the sax and get it checked out. Once you know the sax is working right you can really get focused on playing with confidence. We covered where the fingers go so let me explain each fingers job real quick and how to change notes.

Fingering the Sax

Your left hand is on top. The left thumb sits on a thumb rest and has 1 button it can push above the thumb rest that will make notes go up high. Your index finger plays the B key and can push the button or lever above the B key or below the B key but this is for later. The middle finger plays the A key and ring finger plays the G key. The right hand thumb supports the sax with the index finger playing the F key, middle finger the E key and ring finger the D key.

To simplify, BAG is the main left hand notes and FED are the main right hand notes. One more piece of information and you are ready to rock. To play the sax, the keys open and close in a row. B is 1 finger down, A is 1 and 2 fingers down, G is 1, 2 and 3 fingers down in a row. Of course there are other buttons and sometimes a key will open when you push, or close a key when you push, but the main 6 buttons are your first notes to play around with.

I have a virtual sax you can play at TenorSaxophone.US which uses these 6 buttons and gives you a few songs to try with these notes. The note sounds are a Tenor sax but you will get the idea if you mess around with it for a minute.

Your First Song

Mary Had a Little Lamb is:

1, 2, 3, 2, 1, 1, 1 - 2, 2, 2 - 1, 1, 1 -

1, 2, 3, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 1, 2, 3 - 3 -

The notes would be:

B A G A B B B | A A A | B B B | B A G A B B B B A A B A G | G |

Learning to Read Music

A Beginning Sax Instruction Book is really needed to begin learning how to read music notes and develop counting and learn more interesting songs. My first Sax Book is still available today, Rubank Method Elementary. It can be used by itself but is best used with an instructor who can follow your early development and make sure you are heading in the right direction.

Private teachers can be found at most music stores, colleges or online at sites searching private instruction or private teacher, Saxophone and Your City and State.

For the same basic information as applied to the Tenor Sax, go to TenorSaxophone.US which has been online longer and might answer some of your questions from a different perspective, making more sense to you as an individual.


Questions and comments are welcome at All email will be answered and many of your questions will find there way onto our Frequently Asked page for others to benefit from also. Thanks for your time here at Alto Saxophone US and we hope this article has been a help to you!

More Saxophone Lessons

Alto Sax Lesson 1 - Buying My First Alto Saxophone

Quick Notes or full article - Buy, Rent or Borrow?

Alto Sax Lesson 2 - Alto Saxophone Accessories

What do you need to play an Alto Sax?

Alto Sax Lesson 3 - Alto Sax Assembly

How do I put my Alto Sax together?

Alto Sax Lesson 4 - Play Alto Sax

How do I blow and finger my Alto Saxophone?

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