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What is Saxophone Schmutz?

Video about saxophone schmutz. Learn what it is, when it tends to happen, and what to do about it.

And check out Saxophone Tribe for more on better technique.

Beginning Saxophone Question: “Supposed to tongue every note?” – Careless Whisper

Four notes, first three notes are slurred, last is tongued






Receive a question related to tonguing the notes for the song Careless Whisper for the alto sax video lesson I made.

I’ve started to follow your Careless Whisper instructions. it gets a little harder on the 3rd page where it goes into a high D, (which I’ve forgotten the fingering) so I give up there, but it is my current goal.

I may need to take my sax in for servicing as it`s been in storage a while. Plus I think I will need to get some new reeds, they are number 2 and have also been in storage.  It’s hard to make time to play. But, already  between yesterday and today I’ve improved.

However, I can’t remember if I am supposed to tongue every note. Maybe you can answer that for me. Maybe I am supposed to slur only where there is a slur notice.

Thanks again

My response:

The D uses a palm key and the octave key.  Check out the fingering chart if you need to look up the notes.

Slurring and tonguing depends on the music, sometimes you actually don’t play exactly as it seems to be notated with everything tongue and you definitely don’t want all the notes short in a lot of situations.

If you would like more personal help, check out Saxophone Tribe.

For something like Careless Whisper, you could play it with your own style in which case you would tongue where it seemed to make sense.  Or if you’re trying to play it similar to another sax player, you can learn some things about phrasing and articulation from how they approached it.  For Careless Whisper, I would check out either the original or Sergio Flores.  Or you could listen how I played it and you could see exactly what I did within Saxophone Tribe if you’re interested.  From there you can change it a bit into your own style.

The image above in the post shows one piece from my recording of Careless Whisper from the video.  You can see that there are four notes, the first three notes are slurred  the fourth is tongued.  To make things smoother, I would recommend not tonguing all the notes for a tune like this.

Could show you more things like that in how I approach music within Saxophone Tribe.

To sign up for Saxophone Tribe, go to this page

Pressing too hard on the saxophone keys?

If so, why?

I don’t have a good reason.  You probably don’t either.

If there’s a leak and you need to press hard, you should probably get your saxophone fixed.

Pressing with a lot of energy/pressure is sometimes done when you tense up or if there’s a tough section and you really want the notes to come out right.

The problem is, if you are pressing with a lot of pressure, most of that is excess.

To sound a note on a guitar, you need very little movement.

To sound a note on saxophone, you can use even less.  The sound doesn’t come from pushing the keys, it comes from your airstream.

Pressing too hard isn’t good for your hands either, just like tensing your shoulders.  Playing saxophone should give you as little pain as possible!

So be aware of the pressure of your fingers.  Back off if you need to.  A lighter touch will let you play faster and with less problems.  Pretty directly, it will make you sound better.

Try it!

Let me know how it goes.

Saxophone Technique – Why We Work on it….

When you’re typing on a computer, Saxophone Technique - Keyboard Analogybeing able to type quickly and efficiently helps you communicate faster and easier.

However, no one really notices how fast you type.

It’s convenient to be able to do efficiently.

And you probably won’t hurt yourself if you’re using proper technique, or you’ll at least be less likely to.

But it’s not exactly a spectacle to see someone type.

People care about the message that’s being typed.

Saxophone technique is similar, no one cares about the technique itself, (well, it could impress a few people) they’re mostly interested in what you’re saying on saxophone.  What the music is about.

There is a major benefit to working on technique though.

Recently, I went back to some of the fundamentals of technique on sax, cleaned things up.

Now things fall in place easier without as many of the little problems, a lot of schmutz got worked out of my playing.
It makes the time you spend practicing and learning music become effective because the issue of technique doesn’t get in the way.
So saxophone technique helps you become a better musician.  Once you play with good finger position, proper embouchure, etc you can often forget these things and they’ll be automatic.
It’s not the focus of the music, yet it can help the music and shorten the path to creating great music.
Any thoughts?


Flying Fingers on the Saxophone? What to do about it….

Saxophone Fingers TechniqueBeen working on saxophone technique a bit over the last couple of months.  It all starts with the fingers.

How you press and lift your fingers affects your sound a great deal more than you might think.

Slamming them down triggers reactions in the rest of your body which changes your sound.

Even moving your body as you practice affects your sound.  It’s a variable that you want to eliminate as you practice.  You have more control if you don’t move anything except your fingers.

During performance, go wild!  Don’t want to be a statue on stage.  But you’re not performing when you’re practicing, you’re improving how you play.

Received this email from James,

Hello Neal,
My biggest frustration is keeping my fingers on the keys, especially my right hand.  I have been taking the advice from your website to practice the movements slower and I have had some success, but when I do not focus on keeping my fingers where they belong, they float high above the keys.  What other training measures can I implement to get my fingers to stay where they belong?

My response:

Hey James,
I can see that, I’ve had more trouble keeping my right hand on the keys, something about the feel of the left hand makes it a little easier to keep the curve there it seems.

To be honest, it’s not a small feat to get your fingers to stay on the keys.

Javier offered this suggestion,

“….practice in front of a mirror and watch his fingers move, learn to feel how the fingers feel close to the keys and do it slowly over and over again to teach the fingers muscles how it’s supposed to feel. Then close his eyes and keep practicing and open them to keep checking and learn to feel the corrected distance from the keys… and stay relaxed in both hands which is imperative as you speed it up”

So a mirror and really slowing things down can help.  Your muscles have memory and you have trained them in a different way for a long time.

The change won’t take place instantly.

If you want to take some personal lessons with me I can help you more directly.  But I can’t really just tell you how to make it work right without seeing what you’re doing and giving you feedback over an extended period of time since you’ll need to work on it for a while.

Let me know if you’re interested.


Saxophone Technique – How to Clean Up Schmutz Between C and D

Received a question about saxophone technique.

Hi Neal
I hope this e-mail finds you doing well.
I have a question for you if you have time?
I’m working on slurring, when I go from D to C even though I have released the octave key sometimes I still get the high C? If I tongue the note it doesn’t happen. It seems the sound wave if not broken holds the octave key down??
Could my horn be haunted? Ha Ha!
Is that normal, is it me or the horn? It is not happening all the time. Maybe water in the octave pip?
Take care thanks for your time.


My response:

Hey Tim,
That’s actually a very good question that you’re asking.

It’s probably not a haunted saxophone or water in the pipe.

You can actually play up an octave from the low notes very easily without using the octave key.  You can even play up two octaves or more.  We can this playing the harmonic series, also known as ‘overblowing’ sometimes.

When you tongue in between notes, you create a space that allows you to ‘reset’ everything.  So pretty much anything will come out cleaner as opposed to slurring it.

You’ll learn a lot by slurring through the music about your technique though.

Going from C to D involves a lot of fingers.  Not just one, like going from G to A or something like that.

Are all your fingers moving perfectly in sync?

Probably not.

Slow things down and try and figure out what you’re doing and you’ll be on your way to fixing the problem.

Let me know how it goes.


Saxophone Fingering Chart Video

Here’s the saxophone fingering chart in a video with some explanations of how it works and my perspective on all the notes and alternate fingerings throughout the range of the saxophone.

It will all be on Sax Station and if you’re on the email list, you’ll get access to it for freeSaxophone Finger Chart has navigation to all the fingerings.

Let me know if you see any issues or have suggestions!

Download a high resolution saxophone fingering chart.

$5 $1

Saxophone Finger Chart – Reloaded

A good saxophone fingering chart is very useful, especially early on in playing the sax.

Saxophone Finger Chart – All the notes and fingerings on saxophone.

It can also be helpful when you need the best way to play a certain pattern of music, alternate fingerings can make your life a bit easier.  Sometimes we get in habits of only using a particular fingering for a note…..

Saxophone Finger Chart Bb

Saxophone Finger Chart Bb

Usually fingering charts for sax are written on one page – they’re portable that way, but on a screen, you don’t have to worry about killing trees and the diagrams can be big enough to see very clearly with tips about the different fingerings right next to the diagrams.  For example – whether the alternate fingering for F# sounds as good as the normal fingering.

So I made one of my own.  Thanks to Bret Pimentel for making the software that enabled it.

Check out the finger chart in a video:

Saxophone Finger Chart

The entire chart will be available to view on the site  for free if you’re on the Sax Station email list.

A high resolution downloadable version with notes and tips is available.

Download the high resolution saxophone fingering chart.

$1 for now

Saxophone Technique Lesson from Pablo Picasso

Picasso had a little technique.

He painted over 14,000 works in his lifetime.

I like what he said about technique, once you have it, technique is no longer an obstacle in your way.

Every movement in your body as you play the saxophone affects the sound.  If you move your fingers a bit too abruptly, if one finger trails another slightly, if you lean forward or back.

Going between middle D and F# smoothly is something that turns out to be rather challenging.  This transition keeps the middle finger on our right hand down and asks that we lift and press two fingers simultaneously – one of them being the fourth finger which proves difficult in controlling independently.

Slowing down the movements and practicing them for some time cleans up the schmutz.

And once you have it cleaned up, it will probably stay cleaner from that moment onward after receiving a little attention.

But you may never have noticed it if you never slowed down and listened carefully…..

What technique issues have you had on saxophone?

Saxophone Harmonics + Two More (Less Common) Bb Saxophone Finger Positions

Rick pointed out two more options for Bb on saxophone, they’re a bit less common, but can be used when it makes sense in context.  And one of them actually brings up the idea of saxophone harmonics….

The first is using the low Bb fingering with the octave key.  You can actually use the low Bb fingering to play many more notes than just the low Bb.  The first note up is the Bb an octave higher, then comes F, then Bb, then D, etc….. keeps going up the ‘harmonic series’.  What you’re doing is using your throat to create different standing waves of air within the tube of the saxophone.  The Bb up an octave comes out easier using the octave key (but it’s not completely necessary).

saxophone fingering Bb

The notes on a saxophone start off from the vibration of the reed and then a wave pattern is set up in the body of the saxophone.  The keys change the length and escape options for the air.  The wave pattern is not limited to the saxophone though!

You are connected to the saxophone so your throat, lungs, etc are part of the system that creates the sound and shape the waves of air.


Another Bb fingering that is a little less in tune uses the middle finger in the right hand that’s used for F#.  It’s useful if you’re doing something like passing from Bb to F#.
saxophone fingering Bb