There’s a Time and a Place for Every Fingering (Sax – Bb)

 There are a handful of conversations that come up in saxophone lessons with great regularity.  One that I’d like to discuss here is the “Favorite Fingering” talk.  This is where I tell the student, for instance, which B flat fingering to use and they counter with a variation of, “Actually, I prefer the side fingering.  It’s my favorite.”  Almost without exception, the student has developed this affinity because it is the only fingering they have used for several years.  So, even if I can convince the student that I am right, their familiarity with their go-to fingering will all but guarantee that time is wasted.

Do you have a hard time determining which saxophone B flat to tell your beginner students to use and when? Concert band directors and saxophone private lesson teachers will benefit from the excellent teaching tips in this article. A very easy-to-read, short explanation from a professional saxophonist and teacher. The 3 fingerings discussed are bis Bb, side Bb and “1&1” but some call it the “1&4” fingering. For more info on teaching woodwinds, brass, percussion, visit

So, how do we fix this problem?  It is my sense that fixing this type of habit after it has formed is an uphill battle.  Like most problems, the most desirable solution is far easier if you prevent the problem from forming in the first place.  The way to prevent students from developing fingering preferences is to teach all the options at the same time.  In this series, I’ll discuss some basic standard and alternate fingerings that I feel should be taught in the beginner classroom.

B Flat

As I explain to all of my students when the topic comes up, when playing B Flat, I use the “Bis” fingering 50% of the time, the side fingering 49.99% of the time, and some variation of 1 and 4 (also known as 1 and 1) on very rare, special occasions.  When deciding which to use, I think about which will involve the least amount of movement.  So, the fewer hands and the fewer fingers moving, the better.


Fingering  – Side B Flat
When to use – B Flat has an adjacent B Natural
Which scales to use it for – B & F Sharp Major, Chromatic Scale

Bis Bb

Fingering  – Bis B Flat
When to use – B Flat does not have an adjacent B Natural
Which scales to use it for – F, B Flat, E Flat, A Flat, D Flat Major

Fingering  – 1 and 4
When to use – I recommend not teaching this to beginners
Which scales to use it for – Don’t even think about it

In a beginner class, I teach the side fingering first because I want them to think of this as the standard.  But, after we play our first line in the book using the side fingering, we learn a line that has them use the “Bis” fingering.

Most beginner books introduce the side fingering early on and the Bis fingering much later.  The way to compensate for this is to introduce the F tetrachord (which would call for the Bis fingering) on the same day as you cover the side fingering.  In fact, scales and tetrachords taught properly will prevent this issue altogether.

Here is a link to the website for my book, The Young Saxophonist.  By going to the link and clicking “Side vs. Bis page 13” you can watch a video of me teaching this concept. (scroll down on the page to select the correct option.)

2nd article in this series – F# & C – can be found here.
Coming soon: C sharp, palm D, Front E & F

Dr. Daniel Loudenback is currently Assistant Professor of Woodwinds at The University of Mary in Bismarck, ND.  Before that, he was Fine Arts Director for Ector County ISD in Odessa, TX.  He also taught high school orchestra and middle and high school band in West Texas.  His book, “The Young Saxophonist: A Supplemental Method for Class Instruction” is available through NTune Music and Sound.  Dr. Loudenback is a Yamaha Performing Artist and plays exclusively on Yamaha Saxophones.

Woodwind Instrument Resources for Band Directors and Private Lesson Teachers

Related Posts:
Rhythm Envelope Game – Teaching Beginning Band with Games
11 Tips to Use Today (multiple instruments)
3 Quick Ways to Check Your Percussionist’s Grip from the Podium

If you would like to receive our weekly newsletter, sign up here
Don’t forget to like us on Facebook too!

Learn. Share. Inspire.


Trackbacks & Pings

Leave a Reply