Learn to Play the Saxophone

The saxophone is a popular instrument and for good reason; it is romantic, jazzy, funky, and everything in between! If you want to learn the saxophone, this article will help you get started. Before you jump in, however, we always recommend starting an instrument with a teacher. The saxophone, like other woodwind instruments, is difficult to get sounding right, due to the importance of embouchure (how you hold the instrument in your mouth) and breath control. One of our qualified and personally vetted teachers from all across the UK can help you get it right.

See all of our qualified saxophone teachers here!

The Saxophone

Contrary to what you might think, the saxophone is a part of the woodwind family of instruments. While made of brass it is played with a reed, which is the defining characteristic of woodwind instruments.

Making sound on the saxophone starts from your mouth. The 'Mouthpiece' is where you hold the saxophone in your mouth, and blow into. The 'Keys' are what you press to change the pitch of the note. The 'Bell' is where the sound comes out of. Most saxophones are also worn with a strap, to take pressure off of your fingers holding the instrument.

The saxophone's sonorous and deep sound lends it to be used in a variety of genres, from some contemporary classical to jazz, funk, hip-hop and beyond. Learning to play the saxophone will expose you to a variety of musical styles and genres, making you a very well-rounded musician.

Types of Saxophone

Saxophones come in 4 main varieties. From the lowest to highest pitch, they are: Baritone Sax, Tenor Sax (see above), Alto Sax, Soprano Sax. But don't worry; learning how to play one sax applies to all others, as fingerings are the same. Most beginners will start with the Alto Sax, as it is easier to control and start producing a good tone.

The main difference between saxophones is their transposition. That means, even though a note may be written the same for two different saxophones, the real pitch is different. This is not very important when starting to learn the instrument, and your teacher will explain the importance of transposition as you become a more advanced saxophonist.

Playing Techniques

You might think that by blowing, the saxophone will always make long and smooth sounds. This isn't the case! Like other woodwind instruments, the saxophone is capable of a wide variety of articulations and dynamics.

To play separated notes within the same breath, you use your tongue to briefly stop the reed vibrating. That is called staccato.

If you need to smoothly change from one note to another, you can use the tension of your jaw to 'glide' the pitch of the note. That is called a glissando.

There are many other techniques that you will come across as you learn and develop your skills on the saxophone. Having a good and dedicated teacher is important to this development.

See all of our qualified saxophone teachers here!

Purchasing Your First Sax

When buying your first saxophone, it is important to discuss with a teacher, who can make suggestions and recommendations for your specific circumstances. We would recommend going to your local music store to try out a variety of makes, as some might be better for your hand size than others. As mentioned above, most beginners will start on the Alto Sax. If you are an adult learner, it would also be possible to start on the Tenor Sax. Talk to your teacher about which sound you prefer, and what they recommend.

Besides the instrument itself, you will also need a mouthpiece, reeds, neck-strap, and some cleaning equipment. It can be worth investing in a good mouthpiece from the beginning, as it helps with the sound quality immensely. Likewise, it is often better to not skimp on reeds, as your sound will instantly suffer! Your teacher will likely have their advice on what reed manufacturer and strength to go for.

Tips for Beginners

  • ‘All noise is GOOD noise’. When you first start out, it can take a few attempts to make a sound, and then a few more to get that sound ‘clean’ (free of squeaks, etc.). Any noise you make when starting out is something you can learn from, make adjustments to, or remember for next time. Don’t shy away from the saxophone because of any weird noises/sounds; it’s all an opportunity to learn and grow from! 

  • When you’re starting out, practice little and often. It takes time to build up stamina in both the embouchure (mouth shape) and breathing. Try not to practice until you tire yourself out; building up your stamina by practicing 20 minutes a day steadily will help in the long run. You can increase the time you play when you feel more comfortable with your embouchure (the time this takes can vary from person to person, so don’t put yourself under pressure!).

  • LONG NOTES are the way forward. Playing individual notes on their own for as long as you can not only strengthens your embouchure and helps your breathing, but it can really develop your tone. Playing long notes will help you settle into your embouchure and get more used to the physical side of playing saxophone. As you become more comfortable, you will find yourself becoming more aware of the subtleties the sax has to offer (e.g. where your tongue sits in your mouth, what angle your head is at, how tight your jaw is, etc.). When you start thinking about these, you will be able to start honing in on those tiny details that will help develop your tone and sound.

Saxophone Lessons for Children

Is your child interested in learning to play the saxophone? Learning to play the sax is a fun, rewarding, and educational experience. Not only is it an exciting hobby and skill, but it also teaches responsibility, resilience, and maturity. In the future, your child would also have opportunities to share their passions with their peers, in bands and ensembles.

Ready for Lessons?

Having dedicated support from parent and teacher is essential to foster learning in children. Here's where we can help: many of our qualified and vetted teachers are uniquely equipped with the skills to sprout and grow your child's passions. Find Saxophone teachers online or in your area today, to start your child on their musical journey.

See all of our qualified sax teachers here!

Ready for Saxophone lessons yourself? We hope we have inspired you to get started on your musical journey. We have lots of talented, experienced teachers all over the country. Find a teacher in your city today and get started!

Questions About Saxophone Lessons?

The office team at MusicTeachers are all professional musicians and educators. We also believe that we have the best job in the world: we get to spend our day talking to students across the country about how much they love music and we have helped hundreds of people connect with the perfect, professional tutor for them. We'd love to help you too! Please get in touch with us and tell us your story. Call us at 07946125613 or email us at [email protected]. We can't wait to hear from you!