Reply To: Tenor keys

Ken In Dallas

Hi Phill, I’ve been primarily a Tenor player since 1963 and have in the last few months purchased new plastic and wooden Tenors, which in this Pandemic was a bear of a task. Trying instruments in a music shop is far better than buying without trying on the Internet, which feels like flying paper airplanes made of money out the window every time I hit, “Confirm Your Purchase.”

Without this ‘plague,’ Tenors are problematic instruments anyway in good part because each maker is following their own thinking as to how to bring out all the notes needed with an even volume over the instrument’s entire range while permitting fingering by (whatever is meant by) average hands.

Unless you’re under 4’ 11” (150cm) tall, you should be able to play most all Tenors – and your current Tenor – if you try some of the standard techniques most experienced players employ. Past hand injuries are excluded here.

First off, you need a chair with no arms and to sit towards the front of it with your spine ‘bolt upright.’ No leg crossing, feet on the floor, knees wide enough for the instrument between them. No cheating on all this. You must be relaxed upon that foundation. Your shoulders should be relaxed and down. Your elbows should rest gently touching down at your sides. There should be just enough room between your wrists and your body so that your left thumb is free to change position as needed and that your right hand can move across, forward and back as you deal with the double holes of the lowest two notes. Many people feel, including me, teach that that’s the correct technique for dealing with those lowest notes. It’s the wrist not the fingers moving.

Your music should be on a music stand with the center of the page at eye level so that your chin us up as if you were looking toward the horizon. With your instrument up at that height, your wrists are the least twisted when reaching for notes and your fingers are therefore free to spread wide freely. It’s all about a good foundation and good yet relaxed alignment.

Everyone assembles their instrument so that the holes are in line below the fipple. I don’t anymore when playing Tenor. I find that holes slightly to my left help straighten my right wrist improving the reach of my right hand fingers and especially my right pinky.

You mention the reach of your left ring and right index fingers. There is a good deal of improvement to be developed after a few months of playing. Gently playing! There is much to be had by really ‘feeling’ the holes not ‘slapping’ at them. Not ‘feeling’ the holes isn’t the same as too little stretch between fingers, but it does help orient your hands for unimpaired range of finger motion. Your fingers will be gently curved while playing. Learning to play with a gentle touch of the finger pad over the hole is good technique that also improves your note attacks.

I’ve heard from too many people that additional keys (usually for those same two of your fingers) is very often disappointing and expensive – over $100 USD per key. Everybody told me I’d be unhappy with a keyless Tenor. The reach between almost every keyed and keyless Tenor is just about the same. The key lets the instrument be made longer with the lowest holes placed further down. The result is louder low notes – more even a volume level over the entire range. I find a keyless Tenor more intimate and pleasant to play, and I don’t have to protect the key or worry about the pad… but I should mention that my ancient 50-year old keyed wooden Tenor has never needed any work. My ancient plastic keyed Tenor clicks like a tap-dancing troupe walking across the stage. Someday I’ll pad its up position better. Yeah, I know I’m off your topic, but the subject comes up in these discussions very often as a solution to consider.

I can’t think of anything else. If I do I’ll add another posting. The most common successful solution with Tenors is to help the player, not alter the instrument. Yes, you have to reach for it. But no. It shouldn’t hurt. If it does, you’re either doing something wrong or you shouldn’t play Tenor. Human hands are absolutely amazing and can do just about everything. Ask Michelangelo or Leonardo. — k —