From “C” To Shining “C” – Alternate Fingerings on the Sax

Question #1 How many sax players never use the alternate side key “C”?… Question #2 Why?

“Old school” teachers only taught second finger “C”, Bis key “Bb”, and second finger right hand “F#”. I was one of those recipients of that wisdom. Like all beginner students, I trusted my private tutors, so I practiced these bad habits two hours a day for four years in high school.

If you were to ask many modern private teachers why they don’t teach alternate fingerings, their logical response would have to be “because that is what they were taught in their youth.” It sounds incestuous to me.

When I got to Berklee College in Boston, I found myself involved in what became “The Tuesday Night Dues Band”, a very prestigious ensemble at that time, led by Phil Wilson. As lead alto, it became very obvious that the music was too difficult to play without the proper fingerings. My fingers were getting tied up like pretzels. So I analyzed the problem spots and started to apply the proper alternatives. Three years later I took lessons on the oboe and had to play “F” four different ways. This is when the light went on in my head that alternate fingerings were there for a reason. Can you answer why, Boys and Girls? I then thought maybe those extra keys on the saxophone and clarinet had a purpose as well.

Let’s take “middle side key “C”. Play back and forth on exhibit A: first finger “B” to second finger “C”. Now
exhibit B: first finger “B” to “B” plus middle side key “C”.

Which was easier to play, moving one finger or two fingers moving in opposing directions?
One point for exhibit B………Which was smoother? Oh-oh two points for B………Which “C” has a clearer sound?
Come on now, exhibit B again……And finally, How about intonation? In most cases exhibit B. Of course in other situations second finger “C” has it’s share of the load as in side Bb to “C”.
If I have a choice for a held out “C”, I’d play a side key “C” in a heart beat because it sounds soooo clear.

To be honest, it took me years to break out of those bad habits. But I am glad I did. When I started teaching privately after college and three years of military service, I swore I would break that incestuous chain that everyone took for granted…….(at least in my own lineage as a teacher as well as a performer)

My rule of thumb is: “B” to “C”, “C” to “B” USE SIDE KEY!!!!!

Remember, students learn in spite of their teachers, and alternate fingerings is an example of this. Don’t settle for less! I was one of them!