How to Play Happy Birthday on an Alto Saxophone

By Shaun Fowler
Any saxophone player can learn Happy Birthday.

"Happy Birthday" is a relatively easy song to play, even for beginning alto saxophone players. Once you are able to properly assemble the instrument, make a decent tone, know how to use the octave key and how to play about five notes, you will be ready to begin. "Happy Birthday" can be played in any major key, but for most beginning alto saxophone players it is easiest to start with the key of C. As with all music, you must practice the piece in order to achieve the sound you are looking for.

Fingerings

Find the following notes on the fingering chart: middle G, A, B, C, D, E, F natural and high G (G') (see Resources).

Play middle G. You will use the index, middle and ring fingers in your left hand. Make sure to start the sound with a steady stream of air. As you blow into the instrument, touch your tongue lightly to the first quarter inch of the reed like you were going to say the word "too." All of the notes in this piece should be started with the tongue in the same way.

Play middle A. You will use the index and middle fingers in your left hand.

Play B. You will only use the index finger of your left hand.

Play C. You will use only the middle finger of your left hand.

Transition to D. The following notes, which are on the fourth line of the treble clef and higher, will need the octave key. The octave key is operated with your left hand thumb. It is positioned right above the left hand thumb rest. For ease of operation, leave your left thumb at a 45-degree angle on the instrument and always touch the octave key when playing. Use gentle pressure when you need to open the key. D will use the index, middle and ring fingers of the left and right hands, as well as the left hand thumb on the octave key.

Play E. You will use the index, middle, ring finger and thumb of the left hand and the index and middle fingers of your right hand.

Play F-natural. You will use the index, middle, ring finger and thumb of the left hand and the index finger of the right hand.

Play high G. It is exactly the same fingering as the middle G, except you also need to use the octave key.

Familiarize yourself with the notes in Steps 2-9 so they are comfortable and you are able to play them on sight.

The Key of C

Play middle G. This will be your starting pitch and the lowest note in the song. The notes in the first section are G, G, A, G, C, B. If you are accustomed to singing solfege, or the musical scale on "do re mi fa sol la ti do," you will notice that this piece begins on the fifth note of the scale: "sol." If thinking in terms of solfege is more familiar or easier for you, you can think of this part as "sol sol la sol do ti."

Start on middle G again for the second part. The notes in sequence are: G, G, A, G, D, C (sol sol la sol re do).

Play the same G for the beginning of the third part. The notes in this sequence are: G, G, high G, E, C, B, A (sol sol sol' mi do ti la).

Begin the final part with high F natural. The notes in this sequence are: F, F, E, C, D, C (fa fa mi do re do). This concludes the piece.

Tip

Listen to the song so you can play the rhythms by ear.

About the Author

Shaun Fowler is the author of a personal finance blog. He works full-time as a financial analyst while completing a Master of Business Administration in accounting.