False Fingerings

AKA. Fake Fingerings or Double Densities

It’s easy to confuse these with alternate or alternative fingerings. For alternative fingerings see the alternative saxophone fingering chart
False Fingerings are when two (and sometimes more) fingerings produce notes which have a slight or even quite marked difference in timbre and/or pitch. These can be used for an effect. Some are based on the overtones (harmonics) and it’s a good idea to practice these first.

Example 1

Alternative or Alternate Fingerings

An alternative fingering is a different fingering for the same note which is used to facilitate a certain passage. Notable examples are the different fingerings for Bb and F#. These usually sound exactly the same or only very slightly different, unlike false fingerings which have quite a marked difference in sound and are usually used as an effect rather than to make a technically awkward phrase easier to play.

Getting started:

All of these work well on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone. Bb is a good note to start on so let’s listen again to example 1:
Example 1

  • Play a Bb in the lower register (ie Bb2, one octave above bottom Bb). You can use any of the three alternative standard Bb fingerings, but the Bb bis is probably the easiest fingering for this.
  • While playing this note, and without changing your embouchure or tonguing, finger a bottom Bb – it should be very easy to sound the 1st harmonic (octave) instead of the low Bb so that it is the same pitch as the first note, but has a much rounder timbre.
  • Alternate between these two fingerings of the same note to get the effect. The harmonic may be slightly out of tune, but this does not matter, it’s all part of the effect.

The following chart shows fingerings for the notes from this Bb upwards.

Bb, B, C, C# Finger Bb, B, C or C# one octave lower. As you alternate between the Bb and the low Bb, you should find that without altering you embouchure it is very easy for the low Bb to sound the 1st harmonic (octave above the fundamental) so it is the same pitch but with a different tone. Same applies to B, C and C#
D High D fingering (Palm key 1), but without the octave key While fingering middle D, you then need to remove your thumb from the octave key and finger the side key simultaneously. If the top D is sounding high instead of at the same pitch as the middle D, practice this slowly and remove the thumb fractionally before applying the top D side key.
Eb High Eb fingering (palm keys 1 & 2), but without the octave key The same as D but with the two side keys
E Add low C key (RH 4) to the standard E fingering. Keep octave key pressed. This is not a harmonic, it just uses the C to choke the sound a bit
F Low Bb fingering Keep octave key pressed. Finger F, then low Bb without altering the embouchure. This sounds the second harmonic of the low Bb, which is F (octave and a fifth). This may need a bit of work to get the right overtone sounding, but it sounds great when you finally achieve the effect on this note.
F# – G# Low B – low C# fingering Keep octave key pressed. Basically the same as for F. For G and G# it’s actually easier to keep the low C finger down
A Add RH 1,2 and 3 to the standard A fingering This is really a second harmonic of D as above. The lack of LH 3 makes the note harmonic easier
Bb Add RH 1,2 and 3 to the standard Bb fingering As with A, this is really a second harmonic of Eb. You can keep your RH 4 on the low Eb key for both notes.
B Add RH 3 (D key) to the standard B fingering As with E, this is a choked note rather than a harmonic of a lower note
C (a) Finger low C
(b) Add RH 1,2 &3
(a) is is the 3rd harmonic of low C
(b) This slightly flattens the note, use this if (a) is too difficult
C# Finger low C# plus octave key May also work without RH C# or without LH B key

Advanced false fingering techiques

With this effect, you alternate between two different fingerings for the same note, or an alternating fingering in combination with two or more normal notes, as with the following example on the tenor which alternates between high C, G, 2nd harmonic G and G again:

Example 2


Earl Bostic Example

Here Earl Bostic combines the G false fingering with a rising triplet figure for a very neat effect. The G fingering alternates between a regular G in the upper register (G2) and a low C fingering (C1), but sounding the second harmonic, ie G2)

Example by Earl Bostic


Earl Bostic false fingerings
Earl Bostic solo: Cherokee


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