Back on the Sax Part 2: Palm Keys

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.

Hand Jive

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!

I’d be curious to see what you guys have done to get nimble on this palm keys, so feel free to leave a comment and let me know!