Fixing sticky keys on Saxophone

How To Fix Sticky Keys on Saxophone

🎷 Written by: Greger Hillman, Your friendly saxophone teacher online

Sticky pads on the Sax – a common problem with an easy fix

We all experience sticky pads on the Saxophone from time to time. In most cases it has to do with what you've been eating or drinking before playing your saxophone.

So the easy fix to prevent this from happening is to brush your teeth before you play your sax. That way you make sure that no soda, coffee or left over food in your mouth gets into the saxophone with your saliva as you play.

However, there could be another reason as well and I'll go through both issues and how to solve them, so that you can fix the sticky pads on your saxophone. 

Quick fix for Sticky Keys on Saxophone 

The quick way to solve sticky pads on your sax is to use a tops and a piece of powder paper (or coffee filter).

  1. Start by dipping the tops in water and gently brush the key pad that sticks, so that it's moist before moving on to the next step.
  2. Next place the powder paper between the key pad and the ring (hole) that it covers on the saxophone body.
  3. Push the key down to cover the ring and powder paper, leaving a piece of the paper out to the side for you to hold on to.
  4. Keep the pressure on the pushed key as you pull out the powder paper to the side. You may need to lighten the pressure on the key slightly to make the paper slide out.There should still be some resistance as you do this.
  5. Repeat steps 3-4 a few times to wipe the key pad clean. Change to a new piece of paper if you need to. 

You can get a pack of powder paper for about $10-12 at your local music store or online at Amazon and Thomann (Europe). The powder paper is especially popular with flutes and clarinets.

However, I found using a regular coffee filters works just as well and you can get a whole pack for just a few bucks. If you cut them in smaller pieces (to make them easier to fit the keys) you can keep a few of these in your saxophone case at all times.

Here's a video about removing sticky pads:

A quick fix for sticky pads on your sax

If you do not have powder paper in you saxophone case you can use a dollar bill or a regular piece of paper that you write on. That does also work to a degree even if you do not get the same instant effect as with powder paper. Just make sure to add moisture to the pad (the skin) before using the paper.

What makes the key pads sticky on the saxophone?

The most common reason is that you've played your sax after eating without rinsing your mouth first. Basically food and beverage go down the saxophone with the saliva that moves through the sax as you blow into the mouthpiece.

The easiest way to avoid sticky pads is to make sure you rinse your mouth before playing. I always keep an extra toothbrush in my saxophone case to make it easier to give the teeth a quick rinse before playing.

If you are a saxophone beginner you may not recognize that this is happening as you practice your saxophone. However you can check this by focusing on the 4 most common fingerings that tend to stick on the saxophone. Let's have a closer look at them and what you need to do to fix them.

How to fix a sticky G sharp key on saxophone

The G sharp key is probably the most common key to stick on a saxophone. You can easily check this key by fingering  the G sharp key with your left hand pinky.

Pushing down the G sharp key should make the key pad opening instantly. If that doesn't happen or if you hear a “sticky noise” you need to clean that G sharp pad by following the 5 steps above.

This fixes the “G sharp problem” in most cases. However, if you still have a problem with the G sharp key it could also be the spring holding that key. It's known to jump out of place in some occasions.

You can fix this by putting it back in place with the help of a small screwdriver. You may also need to bend the spring gently in order to get more tension to lift the key up properly. 

How to fix a sticky B Flat key on Saxophone

The b flat alternate fingering is that small key between the B and A fingering on your saxophone. This key can get sticky from the same reasons as the described above. Mainly by either food, beverage or a loose spring on the key.

If you play an A note followed by a B and notice that the note doesn't change instantly you probably have a sticky B flat key on your saxophone.

The fix is to go through the 5 steps listed above in this article to clean the pad with tops and powder paper. If it looks like the B flat key is loose and won't bounce to the upper position you should check to see if the spring has jumped out of position. 

The spring for the B flat key can be a bit tricky to find. It's located on the lower part of the rod connecting the B flat key with the F key on the saxophone.

How to fix sticky low C sharp on saxophone

The sticky low C sharp is not as common on saxophone if you are using a sax stand. However, if you lay your saxophone on a table with all the keys facing down (which is the correct way of doing it outside of the case) saliva can travel through your sax and “land” on that C sharp key.  

Pushing down the C sharp key with your pinky on your left hand you should see the C sharp pad opening on the bottom part of your saxophone.

If nothing happens when pressing the C sharp key, gently lift the key up with your right hand while still pressing down the C sharp key with your left hand. That should make it pop up.

Fixing the sticky C sharp is easy by following the 5 steps I laid out above in order to clean the key pad properly. 

How to fix sticky octave key (register key) on saxophone

A sticky octave key on saxophone can actually be caused by two different keys. Depending of what note you are fingering the octave key works in two different ways.

The first octave key pad to check

Basically any note from high A and above use the octave key on top of the saxophone neck. You can easily check the function by frist fingering a regular A on the saxophone. Then add the octave key (register key) with your left thumb.You should see the octave key pad opening on the saxophone neck.

The second octave key pad to check

The “hidden” octave key on saxophone is used when playing 2nd octave D up to G sharp. This is all within the normal range of the saxophone and you'll notice straight away that something is wrong if this octave key sticks. 

If you have a look at the octave key mechanics on the back of your saxophone (left thumb) and follow it upwards you'll see that there's a small pad on the saxophone body that opens if you finger a G with the octave key. Switching between a G without the octave key to a G with the octave key can help locating the key pad.

If you hear a “sticky sound” from either one of these octave keys you should clean the key pads by following the 5 steps above.

How to prevent sticky keys on your saxophone

The easiest way to prevent sticky keys on your saxophone is to always rinse your mouth before playing your saxophone. I keep an extra tooth brush in my saxophone case, so that I can brush my teeth before playing.

This will prevent you from pushing any rests from food or drinks down into the saxophone which cause the keys on the sax to get sticky and stuck.

Final Thoughts on sticky pads

Sticky pads on Saxophone is a common issue, especially for beginners. I've been playing the sax for 35+ years now and it still happens from time to time, even though I make sure to always brush my teeth before playing my sax. 

I hope you find this article useful to fix your own sticky key pads.

If you want to improve your playing I recommend the sax lesson on how to get a better sax sound and also the saxophone fingering chart. which covers all the basic fingerings you need to know to play songs on your saxophone.

About the author

Hi there. I’m Greger Hillman, your friendly saxophone teacher online with a passion for playing and teaching the saxophone. It’s been over 35 years since I picked up the sax for the first time and it was love at first sight.

If you are just getting started playing saxophone I’m really excited for you and I’m looking forward to helping you become a better sax player starting rigt now. Check out the articles below.

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