If you’ve decided to learn how to play the saxophone, I would like to be the first person to say that you’ve made an excellent choice. What’s not to love? It has a slick design and produces a beautiful sound. The saxophone is also associated with a lot of jazz and rock music. Some of the legendary sax players throughout history include Charlie Parker, Clarence Clemons and John Coltrane. With the proper saxophone lessons and a lot of practice, just about anyone can learn how to play this lovely woodwind instrument. But before you dive straight into your lessons, read this article to better prepare yourself and grasp a better understanding of your new favorite toy, the saxophone.
Types of Saxophones
There are over ten types of saxophones out there, but we will only be focusing on the four most popular ones.
Alto – The alto is the most popular saxophone played within its family. It’s also considered the easiest to play so most beginners start off trying the alto sax. It’s curved with a small mouthpiece, and is in the key of E flat.
Soprano – This saxophone can be either curved or straight and is in the key of B flat. It’s known for being a bit more difficult to play than the alto, making it more ideal for intermediate and advanced players. The reason for this is that the correct embouchure is needed to make the correct sound, and most people have trouble executing this without having some experience playing the sax.
Tenor – Often used in rock and jazz music, the tenor sax is a large instrument with a large mouthpiece. It plays in the key of B flat.
Baritone – This plays in the key of E flat, and is the largest saxophone of them all. It produces a deep bass sound and sometimes uses an extension at the end of the horn to increase its range.
Purchasing Your Equipment
Think of buying a saxophone as a very personal experience. Although you probably don’t have a lot of knowledge about them at the moment, take your time and do your research before you purchase one. Assuming that this is something you will be committed to in the long-term, you’ll want to own an instrument that will last you a long time and produces quality sound. If you decide to save some money and buy a used sax, make sure the owner took good care of it and everything is working properly. The age of the instrument is also a cause for concern, as the keys and sound could be greatly affected if there wear and tear on the saxophone.
Here is a list of a few popular, reputable manufacturers of saxophones that you should consider:
- L.A. Sax
Stop by your local music shop and browse through all the different saxophones on display. Pick them up and get a good feel for them, as every saxophone has a different feel to it.
The same can be said for reeds, which are a necessity for playing the sax. Since they are made organically from the cane field, every reed is unique and shaped differently. If you’re new to playing saxophone, you’ll probably want to start with a number two reed for alto or soprano sax. Otherwise you can ask someone at the music store and they can point you in the right direction.
Holding Your Saxophone
The first thing you want to learn is how to hold your instrument correctly. Your left hand should be on top while your right hand should be positioned on the bottom. Your right thumb goes under the curved thumb rest near the bottom of the instrument. Your right index, middle and ring fingers belong on the mother of pearl keys. Your pinky should be able to move the other keys at the bottom. Your left thumb goes on the round piece at the top of the sax. Your left index finger goes on the second key down of the five mother of pear keys. Your left middle finger goes on the fourth, and the ring goes on the fifth.
Without using the proper embouchure, you will most likely have trouble making any sound from your saxophone. There are several ways to approach this, but use the steps below since it is geared more for beginners. It will be normal for your lips and mouth to be sore after doing this since your muscles aren’t trained yet. Don’t focus so much on making clear sound as that will come once your embouchure is correct.
1. Roll the flat part of your bottom lip just over the top of your bottom teeth. Keep your chin flat.
2. Place the reed on top of your bottom lip. Think of your bottom lip as a pillow or cushion.
3. Bite down softly with your top teeth on top of the mouthpiece
4. Roll your top lip down and in
5. Pull the corners of your mouth in around the sides of the mouthpiece
Playing The Saxophone
As you will slowly learn, almost everything involved in actually learning how to play is understanding how to work the instrument, developing the muscles and technique to work its reed and keys, and a ton of practice. These are aspects that cannot be taught by an instructor, but solely rely on you.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take lessons from a professional though. Take a look at this online tutorial for saxophone beginners which is taught by saxophonist George McCormick. He has over 8 years of experience and currently holds a grade 8 distinction on Jazz Alto Saxophone. The best part about taking an online music course is you can repeat the lesson over and over again at the convenience of your own home.