Saxophone Fingerings and First Notes | Beginner/Refresher Course Lesson 4 – Better Sax (2023)

First Notes

In this lesson I’m going to show you the saxophone fingerings for a bunch of notes to get you started playing the saxophone.

So far we’ve learned how to set up our reed and mouthpiece properly in Lesson 1, How to form a good saxophone embouchure and get our first sounds in lesson 2, and how to setup the instrument and play with a good posture and hand position in lesson 3. If you haven’t gone through those lessons yet, I recommend you do so now.

In the previous lesson we left off playing the note D. Which is 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 and the octave key

For these saxophone fingerings, I refer to index, middle, and ring finger as 1 2 and 3 respectively in both hands starting with your left hand which is on top.

(Video) Beginner Saxophone Lesson 4 - Fingering and First Notes

You may notice that when you play a D on your saxophone it is not the same note as a D on a piano or guitar.

That’s because the saxophone is a transposing instrument.

You may also notice that a D on the alto saxophone does not sound the same as a D on a tenor or soprano saxophone.

That is because different saxophones transpose differently.

For now, don’t worry about that let’s focus on one thing at a time.

In the video I demonstrate everything on the alto first and then tenor so you can play along with either of those. It’s important to note that the fingerings and note names are identical for all saxophones.

Saxophone Fingerings

Notes in music follow the the first 7 letters of the alphabet A B C D E F G. These correspond to the white keys on the piano.

We already know D so let’s start with that one, and work our way down the alphabet.

D is 123 123 and the octave key which is this one here that gets played by pivoting the tip of the thumb.

Remember, take a deep breath, set your firm yet relaxed embouchure and then blow the note. You’ve got to use enough air to get a good sound, but you don’t want to over-blow either.

Let’s play and hold each note for 4 beats.


Moving down the alphabet, our next note is going to be C.

(Video) Beginner Saxophone Lesson 3 - Setup, Ideal Hand & Body Position

C is played with one finger, our middle finger in the left hand or 2. So lift up everything else including the octave key.

When playing C or any note that has a lot of open keys, be sure to rest your fingertips lightly on the pearls of the keys you are not pressing down.

Don’t leave those fingers up in the air. Check yourself in the mirror to make sure.


Next note down the alphabet is B. B is played with our index finger or 1 in the left hand.

Again, make sure your other fingers are resting lightly on the key pearls.


Moving along, the next note is A. Now things get a lot simpler. we just add the next finger our middle finger. So A is 1 2 in the left hand.

Deep breath, don’t bite down on the reed.


We’ve come to the end of our 7 letter alphabet, so when we go down from A we get G and G is played 123 in the left hand. We just add another finger again.

Check your posture make sure you are not tensing up.

As our notes get lower, the amount of air required to play each note increases slightly so you may find it more difficult to hold these lower notes out for as long. So get in the habit of filling your air tank up completely with each breath you take.


Our next note is F as I’m sure you expected and we just add another finger this time in our right hand. 123 1 is the fingering for F.

Big breath good finger position and posture, firm yet relaxed embouchure. Blow.

(Video) Saxophone Lesson - Beginner Saxophone - First Notes


Next note, you guessed it, E. Add one more finger in your right hand. 123 12 is our fingering for E.


And that brings us back to D. If you add the third finger in your right hand you get what we call low D. It’s just like the first D we learned but it’s played without the octave key and sounds lower. An octave lower in fact. Hence the reason for the name octave key.

The Octave Key

This octave key is fantastic. It’s one of the reasons why the saxophone is a very well designed instrument. In fact, the saxophone is the only instrument in the band or orchestra with a button that makes whatever note you play jump up an octave. Genius.

In case you don’t know, an octave is the distance between 2 notes that share the same name. So from my low D to high D the distance or interval is an octave. And on the saxophone by adding the octave key, my low D jumps back up to where we started.

And I know you have probably figured this out already, this trick works for all of the the other notes I showed you.

So let’s play them.

Starting on D with the octave key, (otherwise known as middle D) We are going to play our way up the alphabet.

Playing Up the Scale

Next is E 123 12 plus the octave key followed by F 123 1 plus the octave key and then G 123 plus octave key.

Now as we start to get higher up, there is a natural tendency to tighten up the embouchure and bite down on the reed. Your embouchure muscles may already feel a bit tired from all this playing so take a short break if necessary.

Also if at any time you feel a bit light headed, take a break. That can happen when you’re not used to taking multiple deep breaths in a short time.

As our notes get higher, I want you to resist the urge to bite down on the reed. Let your air do the work of producing the sound.

Our next note A is just like low A. we lift up our third finger in the left hand so it’s 1 2 plus the octave key.

(Video) Beginner Saxophone Lesson 1 - Mouthpiece and Reed Setup Guide

Now for B stay relaxed and keep all your other fingers resting lightly on the key pearls.

And finally our last note for this lesson, high C which is middle finger left hand or 2 plus the octave key.

Don’t worry if you didn’t get all those notes out the first time. Feel free to go back and play along with this video as many times as you want. It’s important to have a good grasp on these saxophone fingerings.

Other Resources

Take some time practicing just playing and holding all of those notes. Your embouchure will get tired quickly at first so take breaks. Over time you will build up strength here and your sound will improve.

There are other notes on the saxophone like all the black piano keys and there are some higher and lower notes as well. The saxophone fingerings for all of those notes are included in the course guide. You can get the PDF Saxophone Fingering Chart here.

But, believe it or not, with the notes and saxophone fingerings you just learned to play, you already have enough to start taking another free course that I offer. It’s called the Play Sax by Ear Crash Course and if you are feeling ready, I invite you to enroll in that next.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, I just started playing saxophone how could I be ready for playing by ear? While I’m sure it’s going to be somewhat challenging for a total beginner, I promise you’ll be surprised by how manageable that course is and how much you can learn from it in a week.

Final Thoughts

As you advance, and are looking for more learning resources I think you will find the courses for sale very helpful and fun.

Please leave your comments below and let me know if you found this course helpful!

Thank you for going through my beginners course. I hope I’ve helped get you started in the right direction!

Also be sure to follow BetterSax onFacebook,Instagram,LinkedIn, andYouTubeto stay up to date with us for news, giveaways, and other saxophone tips and tricks.


What is the hardest sax to learn? ›

Soprano Saxophone

It can be either straight or curved. The soprano is known as the hardest saxophone to play.

What should I learn first on saxophone? ›

The way you hold your lips on the mouthpiece of the saxophone is called the “embouchure.” This is the most crucial aspect of learning the saxophone, and it has a significant impact on tone quality. This skill is developed over several years and requires a lot of practice.

Can I learn saxophone in 3 months? ›

Realistically, playing the sax should take between six months to a year to really learn. That means maintaining the skill long after you have stopped playing regularly. However, once you start, you won't want to stop.

Is flute or sax harder? ›

The saxophone is arguably easier to play than the flute. Saxophones may present some level of challenge in their dynamic range, particularly if you wish to play softer notes. But, other than that, saxophones have a more intuitive fingering and an easier embouchure than most other woodwinds.

Is playing saxophone good for lungs? ›

Playing a woodwind instrument will force you to become conscious of every facet of your breath, from relaxed and open inhalations to sharp and controlled exhalations. Woodwind instruments will absolutely give your lungs a serious respiratory workout.

How many years does it take to get good at saxophone? ›

For most people, it takes around two years to reach a basic level of proficiency. However, some people may be able to pick up the basics more quickly, while others may find that they need more time to really get comfortable with the instrument.

How many hours a day should I practice saxophone? ›

How Long to Practise? If you are at all serious about learning the saxophone, a minimum daily requirement would be 30 minutes practice, but ideally at least an hour. If you intend to become professional then at least 2-3 hours daily is appropriate.

Is 30 too old to learn saxophone? ›

Whether you're a young adult or at a mature age, it's never too late to learn the saxophone.

What is the easiest sax to play? ›

The alto saxophone is easier to play than the soprano saxophone, and so it is a good choice for beginners. A simple comparison of the length of the soprano and alto saxophones shows that they are about the same, 70 centimeters long.

Is it hard to self teach saxophone? ›

Is saxophone hard to learn? In terms of learning the saxophone, it's one of the easiest instruments. The scales run up and down the keys, making it perfect for beginners or people who are switching from the piano or other woodwind instruments with similar technique.

How many hours a week should I practice saxophone? ›

As a rough guideline, you should be looking to average about 3-5 hours of practise every day (even more some days) if you want to be the best of the best.

What is the longest saxophone note ever played? ›

But anyone wanting to attempt the longest saxophone note these days would have to do it without using circular breathing. The record was first set by jazz musician Kenny G with a note of 45 mins 47.77 secs.

Is alto sax easier than clarinet? ›

Saxophone is simply an easier instrument than clarinet overall, and is more commonly used in rock music. It's the natural choice. That being said, oboists often find clarinet easier because the embouchure is a bit firmer, which they're used to.

What is the hardest thing about saxophone? ›

What is the hardest type of saxophone to play? Altissimo, or harmonics are difficult in part due to the fact that they are usually different on most every horn to some degree and require extreme effort with very little return on investment.

What instrument goes well with saxophone? ›

But of course as most jazz arrangers know very well, saxophones combine beautifully with heavy brass in unison and harmony. * This works best with trumpet as the top voice rather than saxophone, as the latter can get overwhelmed by the overtones and the brass's projection.

Does playing saxophone affect your teeth? ›

Saxophone players create an MEF during the parafunctional activity of playing a wind instrument, and this continuous activity can lead do the appearance of pain or sensitivity on the upper teeth or on the lower lip.

Can you chew gum while playing saxophone? ›

Saxophone Care and Feeding

Never chew gum or eat while playing because the acids, sugars, and your saliva combine to eat away at the instrument. Always clean your saxophone after playing. Remove moisture from the inside with a pad saver and wipe away your finger oils from the outside.

Do you need a lot of breath to play the saxophone? ›

Playing a woodwind instrument requires deep breathing, steady air flow and appropriate pressure on the reed. If any of these are lacking, your air flow will be impaired, which will have a negative impact on your performance. By paying attention to your breathing, posture and embouchure, you can ensure quality air flow.

Do you need big hands to play saxophone? ›

You don't need big hands to play the saxophone. In fact, it's commonly the case that fingers are too large, and the playing style needs some adjusting. Alas, little kids may have to wait until they reach about 10 years of age to push the keys of an alto saxophone.

How many hours does it take to master the saxophone? ›

Although you can get fairly good at the saxophone within 2 years, it is said that to truly master it, one needs at least 10,000 hours of practice. With an average of 3 hours of practice per day, that's almost 10 years!

How often should you clean saxophone? ›

Saxophones should ideally be cleaned after every practice or playing session or at least once per week. Clean the body with a swab and soft microfiber cloth. The mouthpiece needs monthly cleaning with warm water and soap. Skipping these tasks may cause health issues for the instrument and player.

Should you tongue every note on saxophone? ›

In general, if you see an arcing line over a group of notes, it's a phrase, and you just tongue the first note. If you're improvising, then it's all up to you to decide what you want to do.

Why do I sound bad on saxophone? ›

If you're noticing harsh, squawking sounds, cover less of the mouthpiece with your mouth. Shift the mouthpiece forward slightly so that it's not covering too much of the reed. If your saxophone is making quiet, muffled sounds, place the mouthpiece further into your mouth.

Why does my saxophone sound so bad? ›

The most common reasons for saxophone squeaking include a broken or misaligned reed, overly dry reed, playing with too much tension in the mouth, improper/high tongue position inside your mouth, or saxophone disrepair.

Can a 50 year old learn saxophone? ›

It is NEVER too late to learn how to play the saxophone. I have a few students who are over the age of 70. One of these students has never ever had anything to do with playing music in her entire life. She has wanted to learn saxophone for the last 60 years and finally has summoned up the courage to start.

Do older saxophones sound better? ›

Saxophones do not get better with age. Some saxophonists believe that older saxophones sound better on the basis of tarnish or the different design. However, there is no evidence that older saxophones sound better than they did originally, nor better than modern saxophones.

How long do saxophones last? ›

Saxophones can last up to 100 years with proper care as they're very durable instruments. Most saxophones are made of brass, which can last up to a century with frequent exposure to moisture before it starts to rust and fall apart. With proper care, some saxophones can last well over a century.

What is the best sax ever made? ›

Most saxophonists will agree that the Mk. VI is the finest saxophone ever made and there are endless reviews for other instruments that compare it to the Mk. VI. This saxophone is the benchmark for every sax that's ever come since, it's simply the best and there's not much more to say about it.

What is the funnest saxophone to play? ›

Arguably the Bari Sax is the most fun to play, although it's not an instrument you would generally start on. Most players after starting on Alto or Tenor Sax choose to add the Baritone to their repertoire because they like the sound and feel of it.

What is the lowest sax in the world? ›

baritone saxophone (lowest pitch)

How much is a decent saxophone? ›

Expect to pay around $1,200 for a lower-end model and up to $8,000 for a high-quality professional tenor saxophone.

How should a beginner practice the saxophone? ›

Saxophone for beginners: 10 top practice tips
  1. Get the best mouthpiece you can. ...
  2. Have a comfortable sling. ...
  3. Get a sax stand. ...
  4. Play your scales and exercises over a backing track. ...
  5. Transcribe a solo. ...
  6. Transpose a song. ...
  7. Get a flight case. ...
  8. Practice little and often.
Sep 28, 2018

What is the rarest type of saxophone? ›

The soprillo, or sopranissimo, saxophone is also a rare instrument. At 33cm long, its highest note is an octave above a soprano saxophone and the corresponding key is positioned in the mouthpiece.

What is the hardest instrument to learn? ›

Top 5 most difficult instruments to play
  • Bassoon. Bassoon player in orchestra. ...
  • Violin. The violin is a commonly learnt instrument, so you may be surprised to see this here. ...
  • French horn. ...
  • Hammond organ. ...
  • Accordion.
Jan 11, 2023

Is a Bari sax harder than an alto sax? ›

Baritone saxophones have more curves in their design than alto saxophones. Baritones are more difficult to play than altos.

Which sax is the easiest? ›

The alto saxophone is easier to play than the soprano saxophone, and so it is a good choice for beginners. A simple comparison of the length of the soprano and alto saxophones shows that they are about the same, 70 centimeters long.

Why are sax so expensive? ›

The instrument's outside is typically lacquered to protect the brass, but some models are plated with silver or gold to protect the brass. If the instrument is plated rather than lacquered, the price will be higher. What is this? All of these things can make the saxophone a costly instrument.

What is the #1 hardest instrument to learn? ›

1. Violin. The violin is a wooden stringed instrument that's part of a larger family of similar instruments. It's the smallest and highest-pitched instrument in its family and normally has four strings, although some violins can have five.

What sax is most used in jazz? ›

With its rich and warm tones, and its relatively lightweight body, the Tenor Saxophone is considered the mainstay instrument in the genre, and has been widely associated with some of the world's most popular jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.

How much is a good sax? ›

Expect to pay around $1,200 for a lower-end model and up to $8,000 for a high-quality professional tenor saxophone.

What song has a lot of saxophone in it? ›

Careless Whisper (George Michael)

What key is alto sax in? ›

Tenor saxophones are tuned to B♭, and alto saxophones are tuned to E♭, but when playing the same note on a score, the fingerings are the same.

Why alto sax is better than tenor? ›

Since the alto sax is smaller, its notes are higher and brighter than those of the tenor sax. The tenor sax produces a mellow, rich, and deep sound.


1. Beginner Saxophone Lesson 5 - Tonguing & Articulation
(Better Sax)
2. ALTISSIMO Fingerings and Warm-ups for Alto and Tenor Saxophone
(Better Sax)
3. How to Play Faster and Make Fewer Mistakes - Saxophone Fingering Tutorial
(Better Sax)
4. C Major Sax Scale & Fingerings (FREE PDF Chart!)
(Saxophone Masterclass)
5. 3 Songs Perfect for Beginner Saxophone Players
(Better Sax)
6. Saxophone Lesson 5: First Notes


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