Back on the Sax Part 2: Palm Keys
So here I am with the second installment of Back on the Sax where I detail my adventures as I go from tech and blogging geek back into my former status of professional giggin’ sax player. To read more about the thinking behind this series you can check out my first Back on the Sax post.
This week, I’ve been focusing on something I’ve discovered while warming up with my chromatic scale. In climbing up that scale, I notice that the evenness of the notes is often disrupted when I reach the palm keys. Playing these notes is not a simple matter of closing a more or less definitely-positioned finger on a key. Instead, I have a relatively broad cross-section of my hand that I can use to play these oddly-shaped keys, so it takes a bit of practice to instantaneously direct my hand to the precise location needed to play these notes.
My problem seems to stem from the fact that I’ve lost much of the muscle memory necessary to play those keys with exact rhythmic accuracy. And the only way to regain that muscle memory is to memorize that feeling once more. What I’ve been doing is going up chromatically from the high D all the way up to the high F, but doing so at a super-slow tempo. The goal here is to forget about burning through the notes, but instead focus on the feeling of the specific points on each finger making contact with the individual palm keys. Often times the first step is to play chromatically through the palm keys at a rapid rate to see where my fingers naturally go, and from there I evaluate if my finger and hand position is optimal for rapid movement. My hunch is that this would be different for everyone, and I think that each saxophonist must find that “sweet spot” for the fingers on those keys.
UPDATE: Since writing this post and experimenting a bit, I’ve come to a new conclusion about developing technique in the tricky areas of the saxophone. Please see this article for more info.
But wait, there’s more!
I’m also conscious of the position of my neckstrap, since the vertical position of the saxophone really affects the angle at which my fingers will be making contact with those palm keys.
From there I practice simple melodies, mostly in the key of D minor, but really, any melody that involves, D, Eb, E, and/or F will work. As the feeling of the palm keys becomes more familiar, I’ll begin to bump the tempo up over the coming days and weeks.
As always, I’ve gotta also make a concerted effort to use my ears to guide my fingers, also paying attention to my embouchure seeing that I don’t bite upwards with my lower jaw to make those notes come out. Tonally, I want to make sure that the timbre, or presence of upper partials remains consistent throughout all of the palm key notes, since there’s a strong tendency for those notes to sound thinner than the notes below them.
A little bit of help
One thing I’m considering to make the job easier is to get myself situated with some palm key risers to lessen the awkward gap between fingers and palm keys. Here are two brands of risers I found which you guys might want to look into yourselves
Whew! That’s a lot of stuff to think about just for those darned palm keys!
March 31, 2011 @ 6:35 pm
I have been practicing all my palm key stuff with fork fingerings as well. In many cases I find the fork key stuff to flow better. It also gets you into the altissimo better.
March 31, 2011 @ 9:13 pm
Wow, fork fingerings can be tricky, but I’m glad you’re finding more success getting around the horn!
Thanks for stopping by,
Jason the Obscure
December 31, 2011 @ 12:14 am
Thanks for writing your article. I am getting around to reading more of your good site. Do you know whether the Oleg key enhancer they show for C (I never miss that key), could be flipped to the Eb next to it. My old 10M finds my finger slipping off and that just might work. Do you have one on your horn?
December 31, 2011 @ 11:40 am
I actually haven’t had an experience with the Oleg key enhancer, but I would definitely give it a try if you are having trouble. Maybe find out if you can return it in the event that it doesn’t work, but it seems like a great product for those horns that may not have been designed very ergonomically.
Wish I could be of more help, but I’m so glad to hear that you’re enjoying the site!
All the best,
Jason the Obscure
December 31, 2011 @ 12:18 pm
Thanks. I’ve used Oleg’s “highrise” on my old Selmer SBA. I’ve high regard for Oleg’s work. Even have one of his mouthpieces. All of my neck straps are his too.
April 25, 2016 @ 2:28 pm
Hi Doron and friends. I play on an old Martin Committee tenor, the lion & crown model. Beautiful sounding horn but not ergonomically friendly and the palm keys are hard to play cleanly and precisely even at slow speeds.
Here’s what I’ve been practicing lately in an attempt to bypass as much as possible those left hand palm keys: If I play G, with or without the octave key, it doesn’t matter, I can produce high D. If I play Ab, again with or w/o the octave key, I can produce high Eb. Playing A will produce high E, Bb will produce high F, and B will produce high F#.
Using these overtones, I’ve actually been able to build up speed and for the most part I’ve been able to avoid playing those left hand palm keys. One thing I haven’t been able to do however, is to hit altissimo G by playing the C key. Doron I was just wondering if you or any of your readers have ever experimented with this method ?
January 23, 2022 @ 11:45 am
Hope you’re well? I had a sax engineer I know fashion me a palm key extension on the D of my Bari sax. I maybe have longish fingers, but even so my hand was having to travel a hood 1.5 inches to hit the key. Not good for normal let alone fast playing. This is so satisfactory that when I got a new Tenor recently and discovered the same problem, I have commissioned an extension for this too.
I can send pics if you like. Interestingly I don’t need this on my Alto.
January 28, 2022 @ 6:33 am
Hey Robin, great to hear from you, I hope that all is good with you and yours too!
So what you’re describing is a great solution, I’m glad to know it’s helping on your bari and tenor! It’s very cool that you were able to have the extension custom made for you, but I would think that one could also find existing products such as what you’re describing by just Google’ing for “Palm Key Risers” – no?