tricks to keep my fingers close to keys [Archive] - Sax on the Web Forum

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john rosario
07-11-2008, 11:00 PM
i finally started taking lessons and my instructor told me my fingers are to far off the keys, anybody know of a way so i can learn how to keep my fingers close to keys??? thanks for any advice

hakukani
07-11-2008, 11:02 PM
Glue?


Seriously, I know people that put paper tape on their keys for awhile to remind them to keep their fingers from flying.

Spongebob Saxpants
07-11-2008, 11:07 PM
You could also try just practicing your fingerings. Really concentrate on moving your fingers as little as possible. Keep doing this, and then start playing some simple exercises or scales. Keep your main focus on your finger movement. As you do this more, it will become more natural and easy to play.

jbtsax
07-11-2008, 11:10 PM
Practice memorized scales slowly at first concentrating on keeping the fingers close and then gradually increasing the tempo without raising the fingers higher. Since you can't see the fingers well when playing the sax it is helpful to practice in front of a full length mirror so you can watch your hands and fingers.

Keep reminding yourself everytime you play and practice your sax. I required my private lesson students to write KTFCTK* at the top of each assigned lesson.


*Keep the fingers close to keys

John

SAXISMYAXE
07-11-2008, 11:20 PM
It takes some concerted effort for many at first, but in time it becomes second nature. Even Charlie Parker had to work at it, to the extent of walking around with his fingers permanently curled to discipline himself.

Dizzy mentions this in an interview that I cannot for the life of me remember the source of. Getting older will do that to your memory.:(

DavyRay
07-11-2008, 11:22 PM
Did you say something?

Was I wearing a hat when I came in here?

SAXISMYAXE
07-11-2008, 11:28 PM
Huh,

Speak up sonny, I can't hear you. :D

That'll be next.:(

CiaranAudio
07-11-2008, 11:28 PM
As long as you hit all the notes the way you want I don't see why it really matters, aside from looking really gay. My pinky finger is known to stick straight out when I start concentrating too much...

SAXISMYAXE
07-11-2008, 11:29 PM
As long as you hit all the notes the way you want I don't see why it really matters, aside from looking really gay.

Speed and improved technique.

Pgraves
07-11-2008, 11:39 PM
I asked Joe Allard how to learn to play faster, this was one of the things he showed me:

Work each finger separately like this:

Use a relaxed hand and light pressure, and really feel what each finger is doing.

Playing b to c# start as slowly as you can, literally take a full second to open the key, be sure to stop your finger when the key is open, this is to say, do not lift your finger off the key at all.
Close down to b very slowly.

Repeat and very gradually increase to maximum speed, run the finger at full speed for a couple of seconds, then decrease slowly.
This all could take perhaps 10 seconds.

You are training the finger to move only the distance required to open the key.

Of course as you speed up it may come off slightly, but try to not do this. This is an exercise that will pay gradually if you do it a once or twice (or more) every practice session.

Repeat the process with each finger
A -> B ->A
G -> A ->G
F -> G -> F
etc.

The concept is to train the fingers each to move 1/2 inch quickly.

If you want try 2 finger combinations.
G -> B ->G

Or do the slow to fast to slow with minimal movement routine on descending whole steps. Working each whole step separately.
That'll get various finger combinations.

A Greene
07-11-2008, 11:45 PM
Try this - It's a bit bizzarre but will really help.

Do NOT lift you fingers up AT ALL. Press a key down and relax the finger until the spring pushes the key up. It's a weird sensation not lifting the fingers but actually focusing on relaxing. The saxophone keys will pop without help you simply have to lighten up your touch to a point where you're using as little power as possible.

I promise your speed will become BLINDINGLY fast.

With that said Brecker - one of my all time favorites had terrible "looking" hands but he certainly can play fast. However, the videos of Charlie Parker I've seen - his hands don't even appear to be moving.

CiaranAudio
07-11-2008, 11:46 PM
Speed and improved technique.

Agreed, best to learn properly. But as long as you're playing what you want then I don't see how its really a big deal?

rleitch
07-12-2008, 12:23 AM
anybody know of a way so i can learn how to keep my fingers close to keys??? thanks for any advice

Watch Charlie Rouse on Youtube. Amazing technique!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFNGppc9pJ8&feature=related

Jayn
07-12-2008, 12:27 AM
What pgraves said.
And: I used to put double stick tape on my keys--immediate feedback as to when I lifted a finger off of a pearl and it did no damage to the pearls on my MK VI

ShedShark
07-12-2008, 12:50 AM
As long as you hit all the notes the way you want I don't see why it really matters, aside from looking really gay.

Gay as in... a net half shirt, vest, booty shorts, combat boots, and a whistle?

Agent27
07-12-2008, 01:06 AM
Focus on the keeping the pinkies on the pinky keys. Keep your right pinky on Eb and your left pinky on G#. This should help keep your other fingers from flying off.

The only time my finger noticeably come off the keys is for the switches from F to F# and from B to C.

zacworld
07-12-2008, 07:51 AM
If you want to keep your fingers closer to the keys you have to practice relaxing your fingers as you play. One way to practice this would be to see how little pressure you can apply to your keys to get them to close. Many of my students use far too much more pressure on their keys than is necessary to close them, which slows down their technique. It's a bit counterintuitive, especially when you are playing fast, intense passages, but when fingers get tensed and more pressure is applied that's usually when they also start going higher in the air & they get further away from the keys, and for me at least this slows down my technique quite a bit. I'd suggest practicing trills on a daily basis, but do them with light, relaxed finger pressure. This will make you keep your fingers close to the keys and should help your overall technique as well.

Gordon (NZ)
07-13-2008, 03:30 AM
It takes time for a finger (as for anything else) to accelerate from a stand still to full speed.

Therefore fingers very close to the keys can be a recipe for slower key closing.

If the finger starts significantly above the key, then it will have to start moving slightly before we want to close the key. However the brain is very good at being trained to do timing tricks such as this automatically, so this is not an issue.

The down side to having the fingers higher off the keys is that there may be more of a slap as the finger hits the key.

Some teachers get quite pedantic about this issue, but IMO they have not really thought it through.

Some very technically skilled players, on many instruments, have their fingers well above the keys or tone holes.

Take a look at few trumpet players and bag pipers.
James Galway's fingers are nowhere near touching the keys - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjeVilS2pug .
Take a look at some Youtube sax clips of good players.

So if your teacher listens to reason, discuss this with him/her, and do what you find works for you.

SAXISMYAXE
07-13-2008, 04:07 AM
As a player and maker of the Great Highland and Irish Uilleann bagpipes (among others), I can tell you that the reasons for keeping the fingers higher off the chanter's finger holes is due to the need to keep the fingers perfectly straight in accordance with proper technique for those instruments. This posture is completely different than that found on the sax, clarinet, oboe, flute. Apples to oranges.

Keeping the fingers from locking up (the rapid and complicated gracing required with the GHB make this a very real issue) and also preventing muffling of the notes are the primary reasons for a higher finger position.

Most instructors will try to steer the piping student to a happy middle ground even with this instrument, as fingers kept too high off the chanter will indeed limit speed. A very troublesome issue for many fast tempo jigs and reels let me tell you.;)

Too high and the speed is compromised, too low, and the gracings can become sloppy and slurred.

DavyRay
07-13-2008, 04:14 AM
Mike,

What I want to know it why my Welsh ancestors were not famous for bagpipes or even whistles. Is it because they spent too much time in the mines, or was it because they could not afford a whistle?

SAXISMYAXE
07-13-2008, 04:21 AM
Mike,

What I want to know it why my Welsh ancestors were not famous for bagpipes or even whistles. Is it because they spent too much time in the mines, or was it because they could not afford a whistle?

Hi Davy,

I'm part Welsh as well (And they first settled in North Carolina too. Rowan county to be exact.;))

Although Bagpipes are not unique to, nor did they originate among Celtic culture, and were indeed common all throughout the world, paramount Europe, Wales does not really have a lengthy history with this instrument to the degree that Scotland, Ireland, Northern England (Northumberland), Brittany etc. does.

The most commonly associated folk instruments of Wales are the Welsh Harp and Shepard's Pibgorn, a double reeded pipe with finger holes in the shawm family.

There is a renaissance of interest in the bagpipe among Welsh pipers, but like many modern Irish pipers (non Uilleann), it is utilizing the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe rather than any indigenous pipe.

BigTooter
07-13-2008, 02:31 PM
John,

My teacher told me a story from his College experiences where a Jazz Musician had been brought in to address a graduate class on the Sax.

Your question was one that was ask. One of his suggestions was for a minute or two at the beggining of your practice to play "without" the support of the neck strap. This WILL bring those fingers in closer.

The Jazz Mans suggestion was to unhook the neck strap. Given the consequences of a slip I would suggest try just loosening the neck strap at least for the first few practices.

rleitch
07-13-2008, 03:14 PM
In addition to Gordon's point: I've often wondered whether keeping ones fingers on the keys might, in all sorts of subtle ways, cause havoc with intonation?.

Intuitively, working on reducing excess motion sounds smart to me, but taping fingers to the keys etc. seems kind of crazy.

Rory

Pete Thomas
07-13-2008, 03:31 PM
Maybe this will help:
http://www.petethomas.co.uk/piclucky/stickit.jpg
It worked for me so I became an endorser.

rleitch
07-13-2008, 04:10 PM
Maybe this will help:
http://www.petethomas.co.uk/piclucky/stickit.jpg
It worked for me so I became an endorser.

Okay, so that's crazy as in "crazy, man, CRAAAAAZY"8-) But does it work under water and/or at high altitudes?

jbtsax
07-13-2008, 04:25 PM
It takes time for a finger (as for anything else) to accelerate from a stand still to full speed.

Therefore fingers very close to the keys can be a recipe for slower key closing.

If the finger starts significantly above the key, then it will have to start moving slightly before we want to close the key. However the brain is very good at being trained to do timing tricks such as this automatically, so this is not an issue.
It has been a while since we have disagreed on something Gordon, but I must offer a dissenting opinion. The farther an object travels the faster it must move to reach a given point in the same amount of time.

I used to demonstrate this principle by having my students clap their hands as fast as possible but first requiring that they move them apart the width of a music stand each time. The effect resembles trained seals at the zoo clapping for a fish. Then I would have them clap as fast as possible but keeping the hands as close together as they wished. The resulting applause from the class would elicit a "Thank you very much" from the teacher. :) The point was (and is) moving something farther slows you down.


Some very technically skilled players, on many instruments, have their fingers well above the keys or tone holes.
I believe they play with fast technique in spite of this habit not because of it. I believe there are many more who keep their fingers as close to the keys as possible.

James Galway's fingers are nowhere near touching the keys - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjeVilS2pug
Open holed instruments are quite different from instruments with solid keys since the fingers must be raise a sufficient distance to vent the notes clearly.

Touching the keys as you play at all times would be nearly impossible, but is a worthwhile ideal to strive for. By doing so one learns to keep the fingers close to the keys which enhances both speed and rhythmic accuracy of one's technique. IMO.

John

Carl H.
07-13-2008, 04:31 PM
If you want to observe finger motion by professionals who are playing very - VERY - fast, watch the 1st violin section in a professional symphony. I doubt you will see any fingers traveling very far. A violin is much closer to the action of a sax than a clarinet or other open holed woodwind. Once you have traveled a certain distance there is no benefit to moving your finger any farther. Moving farther away leads to inaccuracy and longer reaction times.

And there is a few centuries of practice on the violins to get this figured out.

Gordon (NZ)
07-14-2008, 01:20 AM
Aha, JBT!
Good point. But I think it is flawed...

Clapping is also slower depending on the mass that one is trying to accelerate and decelerate. When you clap with your hands wide apart, you are moving your forearms as well, and involving a whole lot of extra body muscles.

There are also other factors, such as the speed at which muscles are able to respond and activate (a chemical process?), and these may well be the limiting factors, especially with fingers.

Time to illustrate: Clap with your hands as fast as you can say 10 cm apart. Now 5 cm apart. Now 2 cm apart. Unless you are rather different from me, there is no significant speeding up.

Now, a finger:

Wiggle your finger through an amplitude of say 3 cm, as fast as you can. Now try it with an amplitude of about 1 cm. For me, that does not allow me to wiggle it at a higher frequency. So for me at least, the frequency is not governed by amplitude.

"Touching the keys as you play at all times would be nearly impossible, but is a worthwhile ideal to strive for. " Like wiggling your finger through an amplitude of 0.5 cm? Actually that, for me, is slow and irregular - indeed out of control!

"Open holed instruments are quite different from instruments with solid keys since the fingers must be raise a sufficient distance to vent the notes clearly."

The link to Galway had him lifting fingers far further than what was necessary for venting of open holes, and his G# finger lifted well above the key.

Besides, this venting issue does not apply to trumpet players.

"I believe they play with fast technique in spite of this habit not because of it. I believe there are many more who keep their fingers as close to the keys as possible."

It seems to be saying that the finger lift height, within reason, is not really an issue. :-)

Carl wrote: "watch the 1st violin section in a professional symphony. I doubt you will see any fingers travelling very far."

But they do lift a lot further than they actually need to, which is only say 1 mm above an open string in order to clear the string(s) while going from one location to another.

Interesting dicussion. I hope it is not seen as an argument.

jbtsax
07-14-2008, 01:51 AM
My God Gordon. You could complicate a ham and cheese sandwich. :) I see your point, but my view remains the same. Often in my teaching I would exaggerate a concept in order to convey the idea to young students. Exaggerating poor posture, tonguing too hard, blowing too hard without control are a few that come to mind.

It appears to me that keeping the fingers close to minimize the distance of travel would be a fundamental of typing, playing the piano, text messaging, and playing wind instruments. Try a successful buzz roll on a snare drum not keeping the tips of the sticks close to the head and see the difference. We could argue the minutia all night as we did with the tonguing thing, so let's just agree to cheerfully disagree on this one. :):):):)

John

DavyRay
07-14-2008, 01:59 AM
Interesting discussion. The comment about typing and piano seems relevant. There is quite a bit of reaching involved with saxophone keys. With all the video available, it may be possible to note the hand positions of good pro players, to see if there is a "best practices" rule to discover.

hakukani
07-14-2008, 02:05 AM
When you see string players using 'minimal motion' you must keep in mind that there's going to be a bit of 'overshoot', that is going a bit past the optimal distance when fast changes in opposing muscle sets.

Also, the size and flexibility of the palm and length of the fingers come into the equation.

For instance, I play with a guy that has 'pianist' fingers--really long. He flops around quite a bit, but it seems to work.

My little fat stubbies hardly leave the keys, even when playing the palm keys or the high E key.

Carl H.
07-14-2008, 02:26 AM
When you see string players using 'minimal motion' you must keep in mind that there's going to be a bit of 'overshoot', that is going a bit past the optimal distance when fast changes in opposing muscle sets.


And the player has the option of coming in to the string at a less than ideal angle of approach because every finger has the potential to play every note on every string, whereas sax players keys (optimally) move only up and down - one finger more or less per note (excluding pinkies and clarinet players who don't use the bis key:twisted:).

When changing strings, the distance between the string and the fingerboard varies. In addition the relationship also varies in relation to the distance from the nut.

The string is oscillating which also has to be accounted for when raising the fingers from the string.

Even with all this, you do not see the fingers flailing about like the average sax player in fast passages, and saxes have it easy. You will find string players stretching their fingers out during sustained passages, but when it hits the fan, they are conserving motion big time.

Gordon (NZ)
07-14-2008, 02:38 AM
My God Gordon. You could complicate a ham and cheese sandwich. :)
John
Yep. I sure could and quite likely would. It's an interesting brain to live with, but difficult at times. I think some fractal programming was inserrted by aliens :). Life's never boring.

"... so let's just agree to cheerfully disagree on this one..."
A great stance. :):):D

Kelpie
08-02-2008, 04:05 PM
I sometimes practice in front of a mirror.