I've found that on my alto sax, some alternate fingerings require much more air to play than the normal fingerings. For example, A# can be played with either of these fingerings:

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However, the second one takes significantly more air to make a noise. Is it just my saxophone, or is there some reason for it?

  • The second fingering works because pressing any of the right hand keys causes the Bb pad (the one you'd manually close using the bis fingering) to close. I suspect that your instrument is slightly out of adjustment and the pad isn't closing fully. It's a very easy fix. There should be no significant difference in feel between these fingerings.
    – MattPutnam
    Dec 12, 2018 at 16:21

3 Answers 3


It is hard to know what "significantly more air" means to you. On my saxophone, it does take more air to play A#/Bb with the second fingering, but I would not call it significant. So, if it is that much harder to play the 2nd fingering, I would suggest bringing your saxophone to the shop to see if anything is wrong with it.

That being said, the 2nd fingering has two open holes before the 2nd finger is put down, while in the first the first two holes are both closed. It is harder to push air past the open holes.

I cannot remember the last time I played the 2nd fingering. The first is preferable in almost every situation.

  • 1
    The second fingering is useful if you have to go from a B-flat to an F (or some similar combination.)
    – Duston
    Dec 12, 2018 at 14:49
  • In the "1-and-1" fingering, the F pad doesn't actually do anything. Pressing that key closes the Bb pad. You don't have to "push air past the open holes".
    – MattPutnam
    Dec 12, 2018 at 16:17
  • @MattPutnam that's theoretically true, but not 100% true in practice. Depending on the instrument the 1+1 fingering can have a more muffled tone, which is why it is considered a less desirable alternative.
    – Peter
    Dec 12, 2018 at 16:33

Not all alternate fingerings are created equal. Specifically, the second fingering you show (often called "1+1" Bb) is not meant to be sustained because of it's stuffy tone. Generally, the "1+1" fingering should be reserved for trills or very quick passages (like B-A#-B).

Most professional saxophonists that I know use the first fingering and the "bis Bb" fingering (the second fingering on the chart below) for just about everything. There is a school of jazz playing that uses the bis Bb exclusively (I don't personally subscribe to it). They just get really fast at rolling their first finger on and off the bis key.

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Here's a useful guide: https://www.bestsaxophonewebsiteever.com/a-guide-to-finally-figuring-out-which-bb-fingering-to-use/

  • 1
    Yes, that little bis key is why I have not played the 1 & 1 in forever.
    – Heather S.
    Dec 12, 2018 at 21:47

As Heather said, in almost all cases alternate fingerings should not require significantly different air flow or air pressure. In the example you posted, the change in effective bore length is pretty small.

Now, on the clarinet, one can use the upper side keys in the lowest register (no octave key) to play the same notes as octave key plus lowest fingerings. In these cases, the active length of the bore is radically different, so you will expect different breath control -- the timbre of the note is different as well.

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