The secret to playing faster… is to play slower! It may seem counter-productive but hear me out. A while ago I watched a video with Eddie Daniels (the king of clarinettists) and it completely changed my thinking on this subject. (It doesn’t matter that this video is about clarinet, the same principals apply to saxophone).
The main takeaway from the video is that anyone can play fast. Just hold your hands in front of you and wiggle your fingers – it’s not difficult, the issue isn’t whether you can move your fingers quick enough. In order to play fast you need to be 100% confident where your fingers are landing.
The issue isn’t whether you can move your fingers quick enough.
In order to be sure where your fingers are landing they need to correctly and consistently hit their landing areas. The best way to maximise your success is to repeat this movement slowly until it becomes relaxed and passive. This is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical exercise for your fingers. If your fingers are in a panic and flapping around the instrument because you are playing faster than you can keep up with then they are going to misstep finding the keys!
An analogy for this is parking your car in ‘your spot’ at home. I’m sure when you first tried this the first few times you would have been very cautious, taking it slowly and checking your surroundings constantly to ensure no accidents. A few years on and you probably sling your car into the parking space with minimal effort and very little thinking power because you have repeated this process so many times before.
When you are pressing the keys make sure the fleshy ‘pad’ parts of your fingers are sat comfortably in the centre of the keys so that you feel the dimples, don’t drape your finger across the key. Secondly, try to minimise your finger movement and keep close to the keys. Finger flight is not necessary on saxophone because your fingers don’t physically cover any holes (like on a clarinet). This means that technically you could be touching your saxophone keys at all times!
An effective way to improve your playing speed is to work through some technical exercises such as scales and arpeggios. Play notes evenly and slowly with intent and focus and you can seriously level up your technique!
For help with scales please check out our Scale Cheat Sheets in the.