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Saxophone Technique

Saxophone Technique

neal_congress_hands_PaintingTechnique supports rhythm, tone, and notes. Building good habits will save you much time in the future and make you sound better immediately.

Henry Lindeman came up with a very effective method in the 1930s. It is said that he taught Charlie Parker for a few years. Lindeman was inspired by the playing of Jascha Heifetz on violin and wanted to play with a similar high level of technique on saxophone. The saxophone is a much newer instrument, so Lindeman came up with his own exercises.

Lindeman also taught a saxophonist by the name of Phil Sobel and Phil Sobel taught one of my teachers, Gary Meek.

Here is the first Lindeman exercise for your fingers. Keep your hands curved, don’t let any of your fingers become flat. Keep them all on the saxophone keys at all times. Use as little movement as possible and keep your body still.

The idea is to move your fingers like Charlie Parker.

Although the exercise is written originally as sixteenth notes, you don’t want to play it fast initially. And something that makes that easier is to think about the notes as quarter notes, even half notes.

Play this slowly and carefully with very deliberate movements of the fingers.

Do not use alternate fingerings (alt C, bis Bb, etc).

Work on the movement between A and B  very slowly.  Play it as half notes and then slow quarters.  Do not think about it as eighth notes yet.

Eventually, you can play the exercise more like fast eighth notes or sixteenths.  But the purpose is to develop control, not speed.  Once you have control, you will be able to play with greater speed.

You can save this image and/or print it, if you would like.

Exercise #1

Audio example (right click and save as onto your computer)


Or you can download the video if you would like, it will take a few minutes probably.

Video example and explanation (right click and save as onto your computer, file is 47.4 MB)

There is a critique of the Lindeman exercise, check that out and leave a three sentence summary of what the Lindeman Exercise is about and what you should focus on while playing it, (as a comment on that page).

After you have practiced playing it slowly and evenly for a little bit, send me a recording as one of the steps.  When you have completed the first steps, you’ll get access to more lessons.


{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Ermel May 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Hi Neal, thanks for this. I find it very hard not to lift fingers when going from middle C to D, maybe it’s cause I’m going from one key to 4 keys. Do I need more coordination with these fingers?
These notes look like trills, is it ok to sound like trills?


Neal May 7, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Hey Mel,
Yes, that’s a very challenging transition. You need to practice it very slowly.

The Lindeman exercise should not sound anything like a trill for a long time. You need to start slowly. Eventually, you increase the speed.




KT September 8, 2012 at 4:34 pm

The point of the Lindeman. Exercise is to work on control., mainly slow smooth fingering, but other by -products in clued daily review of sight reading and breathe control. Primarily, Lindeman is the exercise to practice fingering with minimal movement and finger control.


Gil Ross September 8, 2012 at 5:15 pm

My view on this exercise is coordination of
breathing, sight reading, keeping hands curved
And as little movement of fingers possible
causes a real smooth&even tone through
out the exercise, I felt pretty comfortable
with this exercise.


Neal October 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Hey Tim,
For the Lindeman, use the usual fingering for C, not the alternate. And use the side Bb if you see it. The B and C will be surrounded by other notes if your technique isn’t quite there. So it’s something that you’ll need to work on, I have worked on it and continue to do so. Slow down a lot, and check out the video example I recorded.


Alan January 5, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Hi Neal
The purpose of Lindeman excercise is to build technique, skill, tone and speed. The exercise is about breath control, fingering practice with little movement to produce smooth sound. Thanks


Barb January 30, 2013 at 6:46 am

The Lindeman exercise helped accent the importance of uniform tone, air, volume and rythmn. It shows the importance of finger position and movement. The slower speed helped me to focus on these important parts of technique.


Neal February 11, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Good point about controlling volume and gaining control of that independent of the fingers.


Doug K. February 12, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I find that my finger over the A comes wants to lift off the key.


Neal February 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Yep, that’s probably the tendency for most people.


Doug K. February 14, 2013 at 5:46 pm

I noticed when I tried to do the fastest version, that I could not be perfectly even. This shows the obvious that I need to practice, practice, practice. Breath seems to wanting for me but I know that will develop with time.


Neal February 24, 2013 at 1:56 pm

You can increase the speed gradually, but you don’t want to jump from playing slowly to very quickly. And don’t increase the speed unless the transitions are good and the rhythm is even.


Vijai Anand February 23, 2013 at 11:45 am

Hi Neal,

You asked me how Lindeman is going. Perhaps in the last 8 weeks I spent 15 -20 mins of my daily practice in this. It really help me to move my fingers more freely and with much control. When started practising scales this made so easy I would say. At the moment I am doing by slurring and wonder when tonging need to be used. Is tonging based on type of music?



Neal February 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Hey Vijai,
Slurring helps your technique because tonguing can cover up transitions that aren’t smooth. Tonguing makes different articulations possible, and articulation does depend a lot on the style of music, so basically yes.


Luc March 7, 2013 at 1:59 am

I have been through the first part of Lindeman exercise and I have to admit that it’s an interesting practice. I would say it’s a 4 in 1 exercise, as while I am doing it, I also focus on my long ton, my fingering, and it helps for appoggisturas control. I should do it more from now on, with a metronome so that I also work my rhythm.


Jay March 9, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Hi folks,

Sorry to the tribe for such questions, but I only have a total of 3% vision and have never read music before- nope, not even at school!

Generally I do everything by ear, but have made the screen very large so I can learn what I am missing in written music.

Based on what I could find on the net, I think exercise 1 goes like this, but any clarity would be appreciated.

Exercise 1.
Clef = where the G is on the scale.
4 4 = 4 bars, 4 beats per bar (timing)
1 thick and 1 thin verticle line, plus two dots on either side of a horizontal line = no idea…
Thus, I should play 4 bars of the following, with 4 beats in each bar.
1 half note (2 beats) of A and 1 half note (2 beats) B

For part 2 I should play
4 bars of the following, with 4 beats per bar.:
1 quarter note (1 beat) A, 1 quarter note (1 beat) B, 1 quarter note (1 beat) A, 1 quarter note (1 beat) B.

I am unsure what the rather large curved lines going across the top of the scales are.

Thanks for listening.


Neal March 9, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Hey Jay,
No worries, the curved line over the top means to slur things together, meaning to connect them and not tongue.


Mary July 2, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Lindeman Island is all about control and technique and accuracy in playing. Slowing down, learning correct finger movements and breath control. Keeping Body still, curved fingers and as little movement as possible.



jeff December 17, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Hey Neal, I can keep my do I just keep finger on A to B. Easy, but keeping all my fingers on the keys with out playing G or opening the key a little is harder. And will take some practice I see for me.


Casey January 9, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Hi Neal,
The purpose of the Lindeman exercise is about recognising how tone is impacted by finger position, not just breathing alone. I noticed that I concentrated so much on keeping my fingers on the keys, that I forgot to breathe, when normally I’ll be just listening to the sound or concentrating on what notes I’m supposed to be playing. I will benefit from practicing transitions between notes slowly before speeding it up because my fingers tend to hover above not touching the keys, and I know I get frustrated when my fingers don’t match my intention.


Michael SHORTLAND April 29, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Hi All. Here’s a general query. I am without my sax for a week while it is being fixed.

What is the best way to use up one or two hours a day on music?

I am trying to learn Miles’ “So What” (two choruses) but obviously not building up muscle memory without my Selmer.

Any ideas please? Thanks all, Thanks Neal, if you have any ideas. Mike


Neal April 29, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Do you have access to a piano and do you play piano?

Can you work on something like musictheory.net?

Do you have a smartphone?

I will usually travel with an instrument, clarinet if space and weight are an issue.


Henry May 5, 2014 at 12:10 am

Hi Neal
Just a comment on traveling with an instrument, I went back home to Perth, West Australia and took my Tenor Sax, not a scratch or dent on case. Now I back in Bristol UK Sax plays like before no problems, I guess I may have been lucky I have a good case but not that expensive.
Its a shame my playing hasn’t improved ha.


Rodney Hamler July 15, 2015 at 7:06 pm

Hey Neal:
I find the lindeman exercise to be very helpful. I can transition from A to B smoothly,and i can play the C major scale smoothly if i do not slam the keys on the horn. keeping my fingers close to the keys seems to have a smooth transition. but going from C to D is very difficult task. How can i fix that problem?


Jaen Ely February 4, 2017 at 2:50 pm

I have to confess. When I first saw the Lindeman exercise, lesson 1, I thought it was some kind of a joke to practice a smooth transition between A and B. Well, it’s now that I realize the horrible finger positioning habit I’ve already acquired during my short span of playing the sax. I’ve been practicing lesson 1 for days now trying to master the smooth quiet transition between A and B without slamming on the keys and at the same time keep my fingers on the other keys. I don’t mind spend weeks in lesson 1. I’ll keep practicing until I can master it. The question that I have for you and everyone in the group is: What is the best position to practice, standing or sitting down? And for how long should I practice per day? Please let me know at your earliest.


Neal February 4, 2017 at 3:36 pm

Hey Jean,
That’s funny. No though, not a joke. As you get further into the method, some things are impossible to play perfectly for anyone. But they can still help a lot with technique.

I think you could spend a good bit of time on these exercises, but still spend some time on songs. You can think about how the exercise is related to the songs you’re playing and even slow down and fix things.

If you have the discipline to mostly focus on the Lindeman, that’s fine. I have spent quite a bit of time on it myself and especially at the beginning when I learned about it.

For practicing, I like to stand, that’s really just my preference though. When I perform I’m almost always standing and it feels more natural to me. I used to play more sitting.

For practice, I would aim for 30 minutes to an an hour as a minimum and for you right now, I would say up to 1.5 or 2 hours. The maximum anyone can practice deliberately in a day is about 4 hours. That’s for professionals who want to improve as fast as possible. People can play the saxophone more than that in a day, but it ends up not being as focused since everyone has a limited amount of willpower.

Taking breaks in between practicing is good too. Most of the time I’ll play for twenty or thirty minutes, take a break, come back and do it again, and do that several times in a day.


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