I realize that learning how to position your left hand thumb on the saxophone properly isn’t the most glamorous subject. But. Oh. Is. It. Important.
Bad left hand thumb placement is everywhere. It’s an epidemic. I encourage you to engage your peripheral vision and start spying on your fellow saxophonists. See? The various thumb positions you will observe will baffle the mind. Which one is right?
Let’s make you one of the lucky ones—an insider—someone who knows how the thumb is supposed to be placed for optimal function.
Right hand thumb placement, on the other hand, literally, is a no-brainer. Just tuck it underneath the thumb rest with the fleshy part of your thumb touching the body of the saxophone. Easy.
The left hand thumb must be placed thoughtfully. You need to know what to do. Without proper instruction, and left to instinct, most students come up with a position or modus operandi that is doomed to fail.
Let’s get technical.
- The middle joint of the thumb should be positioned on the button, with the top part of the thumb on the octave key, at a slight diagonal to the right.
- The thumb stays in contact with both the button and the octave key the entire time, operating like a lever to depress and release the mechanism.
Learn to operate the octave key like this and you will be able to leap tall buildings play large intervals in a single bound with one push of the thumb!
Music to Challenge Your Large Interval Jump Skills
Salt Peanuts is a catchy be-bop tune from 1943. It was composed by trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Kenny Clarke. For performances and recordings, Charlie Parker was often the saxophonist of choice. It’s a fast number with jaunty rhythms. The main theme, “Salt Peanuts, Salt Peanuts” features four octave leaps in the space of two measures.
To cleanly and quickly execute the octave jumps, the saxophonist’s left hand thumb must be in the proper position. Without proper placement, this piece is unplayable!
Same goes for the fourth movement of the Henri Eccles Sonata arranged by Sigurd Rascher. The last movement, packed with large intervals, is marked Presto. But if you aren’t using the octave key as designed, only Lento will be your sorry, sorry tempo.
So take the time to place your thumb.
But only if you want to play fast and have lots of fun.
You can forget it,
But you’ll regret it.
While others are bopping,
You’ll be stopping,
Becoming increasingly miserable and glum.
Sarah Anne Wolkowski has written Saxophone Technique, which is a book about how to play the saxophone. But only if you are taking or have taken lessons. And only if you want to play with more style and ease. If you are already amazing and require no new ideas or inspiration, this book is not for you. Don’t buy it.
Otherwise, you can purchase it here: https://books.friesenpress.com/store/title/119734000049390196/Sarah-Anne-Wolkowski-Saxophone-Technique
And check out my blog here: https://saxophonetechnique.ca