I've recently received a series of questions about the saxophone and saxophone practice; I thought it would be useful to share the answers here for everyone in a series of blog posts.
Here's the fourth one...
Question: "How do I get fast when practising the scales?"
Here's My Answer:
To practise playing fast, you have to go slow. Most people don’t want to do this as they want the end result yesterday. But, if you are serious then it is non negotiable. There is no short cut.
Here’s two processes to try out…
Part 1 - Finger Positions
The very first thing you need to do is make sure that your finger technique is good.
What does that mean? The ideal is that your fingers touch the keys all of the time; well, 98% of the time, they do need to move when playing a top F with the palm keys, for example.
To be clear, I mean that your fingers should be touching the 6 main keys on the front of the saxophone, plus your little fingers should be touching:
the G# key with your left hand;
the Eb key with your right hand.
Why work at finger technique? If your fingers are closer to the keys, then they can move more quickly. If they are further away, then there is a delay in execution of notes. It's as simple as that!
Exercise 1: Practise without playing
Every time you hold your saxophone (and I mean EVERY time), always have your fingers touching the keys, as described above. The more you do this, the more it becomes a habit.
I have found that over a period of time of doing this that it has actually made a big difference to my finger technique. It does work!
Exercise 2: Playing a scale
Whatever scale you’re playing, practise it VERY VERY slowly, without a metronome. When you’re doing this the main focus needs to be on keeping your fingers touching the keys.
Imagine that your fingers are glued to the keys.
If one or more fingers lift off when you change note, then reset them before moving to the next note. Work your way up and down the scale in this way.
Practise this regularly and consistently. Over time you will find that your fingers lift off less and less.
Part 2 - Push Your Speed
Practising this without working at Part 1 is a waste of time; you will make some progress, but there will be a point you cannot go beyond. Also, you will be reinforcing bad habits, making it harder to correct them in the future.
This is how I recommend you work at developing your speed:
Pick a scale to work on.
Set a metronome to 60 beats per minute (bpm).
Play the scale in crotchets - so you should play 1 note on each click (beat).
Then try playing the scale in quavers - this time there should be 2 notes per beat, evenly spaced.
Then try playing the scale in quaver triplets - there should be 3 notes per beat, again evenly spaced.
Then try semi-quavers - so, 4 notes per beat.
With these steps, make sure that you listen intently to the metronome.
If you can do all of the above, then raise the metronome speed and start again.
At some point you will find your temporary limit. Everyone has this, no matter how good they are. The important thing is to keep working at it and eventually you will be able to move forwards.
If, for example, you find that you can manage crotchets at 60bpm, but struggle with quavers, then keep playing crotchets but raise the metronome speed to 70bpm, then 80bpm etc.
Keep pushing the speed and when you move beyond 120bpm you will be able to play quavers at 60bpm!
You can then incrementally push your speed over time.
Get your finger technique right, work slowly and methodically and you will see great results.