A Major Scale on Saxophone lesson. Step by step guide by Saxophone teacher

A Major Scale on Saxophone

Written by Greger Hillman, Saxophone teacher and music educator

The A major scale on saxophone has three sharps (♯) which are F♯, C♯, and G♯. Looking at the circle of fifth it keeps building of the G Major (one sharp) and D Major Scale (two sharps) making it slightly more complex with that third sharp (♯) which is the G♯ note that you finger with your left pinky.

If you're a saxophone beginner, I recommend that you start with the G Major Scale before learning this one. G Major is easier to finger and play so it makes a good starting point to keep building on.

That being said, studying the A major Scale is a natural progression as you become more familiar with playing all the Major Scales the saxophone.

Playing the A Major Scale on Saxophone

The A Major Scale can be played over one whole octave on the Saxophone. From middle A to high A.

Here's the A major scale in the 1st octave. A good starting point for learning the A Major Scale on your sax and as you can see in the image you have the note names labeled above each note.

A Major Scale on Saxophone explained with note names and on music staff. Easy to follow visual guide

Related resource: Saxophone Fingering Chart

There is ONE exception with certain models of the Baritone Saxophones that also have a low A key.

However, the majority of saxophones do not have a low A key so you probably do not have it either. Still, there is a pretty cool trick that you can use to “fake” that low A on a Alto Sax which I'll cover towards the end of this article.

Basic facts of the A major Scale

The notes in the A Major Scale are: A – B – C♯ – D – E – F♯ – G♯ – A

The intervals of the A Major Scale are: W – W – H – W – W – W – H

The letter W stands for Whole Step. Observing the piano keys, you can note that the interval between A and B is a Whole Step (W) as it spans the distance of two half steps.

The Letter H stands for Half Step. On the piano keys, instances of this are between the notes C♯ and D and the notes G♯ and A in the A Major Scale. These half step intervals don't have other notes in between, marking them as true half steps.

A major Scale intervals explained

I like to use the keys on a piano as a reference as it's visual and makes it easier to understand and see the intervals between notes.

A Major Scale illustration on piano keys with note names and intervals for an easy way to learn music theory.

Looking at the image above, you can see that the A Major Scale on Piano has three sharps (♯) and uses both white and black keys. Those three black keys represent the F♯, C♯, and G♯ notes.

Practicing A Major Scale on Saxophone

Begin practicing the A Major Scale by starting on the root (A) and moving through each note until the octave (A). This helps familiarize you with the fingerings and lets you become used to and absorb the sound of the Major Scale.

As you become familiar with the scale's sound, it'll become easier to transpose and play other Major Scales on your saxophone as well.

Basic A Major Scale patterns to practice

Ascending and Descending Scale Practice:

Begin with the A major scale in the first octave, ascend from the root note (low A) to the octave (middle A), and then descend back to the root.

Prioritize maintaining a consistent embouchure and proper air support for each note, so that all the notes are clear and even. This can be a challenge as you're also focusing on the fingering for the A Scale.

I recommend that you practice the scale slowly as it helps you master the fingering. Over time, this builds “finger memory,” enabling you to play the A scale without pondering over the fingerings at all.

Scale Intervals:

Start on the root note (A) and skip to the third note (C♯), then return to the second note (B) and skip to the fourth note (D). Continue this “ladder” pattern until you reach the 9th note (the B) and land on the octave A note.

The Scale interval pattern looks like this: A-C♯, B-D, C♯-E, D-F♯, E-G♯, F♯-A, G♯-B, A.

Arpeggio Practice:

Practicing the A Major Scale Arpeggio on your saxophone will help you go beyond the basic exercises where you play the scale up and down.

With Arpeggios it looks like this:

  • Start on the Tonic (Low A) » Play third (C♯), the fifth (E), and the octave (middle A).
  • The Arpeggio Sequence ascending is: A-C♯-E-A
  • The Arpeggio Sequence descending is: A-E-C♯-A.

Practicing arpeggios helps to reinforce “the sound of the primary chord” (A Major) within the scale.

I introduce this exercise to my saxophone students when they've learned the A Major Scale well as it adds another layer to the complexity.

A Major Scale Triads

Moving beyond these basic A Major Scale exercises you have the Major Scale Triads which help you really stretch both your fingerings and mind.

However, I recommend that you learn the A Major Scale by heart first, before taking on the more advanced fingering exercises on the sax.

It's better to stick to the basic scale patterns throughout all 12 Major Scales on Saxophone to begin with.

The good news is that once you've learned the intervals of the Major Scale (W – W – H – W – W – W – H) you can transpose it to any Major key as they all follow the exact same pattern.

Play low A on Saxophone [Bonus tip]

As you've probably noticed most saxophones do not have a low A key, with the exception of some Baritone Saxophones.

Still, there's a way to “fake” a low A on your saxophone so that you actually can play the A scale in two octaves on your saxophone.

I've only used it a handful of times on my Tenor- and Alto Saxophones throughout my 36+ career as a saxophone player and in my experience it's not that useful unless you want to use it as an effect when soloing.

Fingering low A on Saxophone

To play low A on Alto Saxophone (and Tenor Sax if you can reach it) is to finger low B♭ on your saxophone. It will cover all the key holes throughout the saxophone body.

Next, angle your saxophone to the left and lift up your left leg to cover the bell of the saxophone.

This will make the note drop a half step from low B♭ low A on your saxophone.

I personally do not use that often as it's not practical when playing gigs with a wireless microphone on the saxophone. There's plenty of other notes on the saxophone that works just fine.

Still, if you're up for it you can give it a try. Be careful though, so that you do not fall over.

Saxophone teacher online Greger Hillman

Written by Greger Hillman

Greger Hillman is a saxophone teacher with +36 years of experience playing saxophone. 

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