My homeboy Adam Beach just wrote me about a topic that always comes up with my students. Keep 'em coming Adam.
BTW, killer picture!
Since I've been practicing and gigging more and getting into bebop (picking up from where I left off soon after the end of high school) after a long hiatus where up to that point, in my post high school rock band career, I only played in about 4 guitar-friendly keys: E, G, A, D with no modulations to speak of... an old saxophone issue has resurfaced -- the bis key. What's the bottom line/final word? I sorta think I remember being told that the bis key was a "cheap short-cut" and you should use the side key for b-flat almost always. I find it much more comfortable and that I'm much more dexterous by using the bis key when I'm in the key of a-flat or d-flat or e-flat on the saxophone, but when I switch to G, for example, I have to shift my finger up and it gets messy. Does that mean I should be disciplining myself in using the side bar? I'd really like to use the bis key predominately. Am I dooming myself to saxophone hell?
First, I need to come clean about something utterly terrible. I've got to get this off my chest once and for all.
O.K., Here it goes....................I never use the side Bb key.
THERE, I'VE SAID IT!!!! Now you know my dark secret. Shoot me now.
The only time I ever use the side Bb key is when I trill from A to Bb, that's it.
I know it's not 'proper' saxophone technique, but that's just the way I've done it since discovering the bis key about 25 years ago. I don't recommend that my students do the some thing , but I do have them get comfortable using the bis key. Many times they end up following in my footsteps and abandon the side Bb forever. To me it just feels strange to use my right hand in the middle of a left hand passage. The side Bb uses the palm of the right hand which pulls the fingers off the lower stack, besides being much clumsier than a finger. After years of using the bis key I can play a chromatic scale much faster and cleaner than with the side Bb. Another argument for the bis key is that the timbre of bis Bb is closer to A and B than side Bb. There is a noticeable difference between the two.
The real advantage of bis Bb is when you're playing in flat keys, then you can just leave your finger between B and bis Bb. Make sure you don't put too much of your index finger on the bis key, just enough of the lower tip to close the key down. It's really just a slight rolling motion, the finger doesn't lift or slide, it just rolls.
If you aren't used to using bis Bb at all start off by playing chromatically from G to C# and back down. Do this until you can really move fast.
If you do use side Bb then that you should check to make sure that the side Bb is perfectly in tune with bis Bb. All to often these are two fingering are wildly different. The cork will eventually wear down and side Bb will become sharper and sharper.
You may need to sand down bis key if it has too much of an edge on it. Do this with very fine grit sandpaper until the key is very smooth. Oleg has developed a bis key attachment (for the low low price of fifty dollars) to make the slide from B to bis smoother. If your older horn that has too large a gap between keys this may be the solution.
What about one and one Bb (the B key and the F key)???? What, are you a flute player or something?!?! This fingering is for wusses, end of story. Actually this fingering usually sucks because it's very hard to adjust for this one. Usually it's better to opt for a better adjustment on your F key mechanism than for one and one Bb.
I'm glad I finally got this off my chest. Next is the side C story.......