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Saxophone Tips For Beginners

Updated on December 23, 2011

The Saxophone

The saxophone is a very expressive and versatile instrument. It is also relatively easy to learn to play.

It comes in several sizes. The most usual instrument for learning is the Alto, although an adult might choose the Tenor. All other saxes are best avoided by beginner players.

If your child wants to play saxophone you will need to check that their hands are large enough to hold the instrument correctly.  Small hands will not be able to arch over the palm keys.  Older children will not usually have this problem and most will make good progress during the early stages of learning.

How to Practice

To develop and maintain your embouchure it is important to play regularly, preferably every day. To encourage yourself to do this I recommend leaving your sax out of the case, set up and ready to play. A saxophone stand is useful for this. However always remove the mouthpiece when you are not playing. Leaving the mouthpiece on the instrument will make cork replacement necessary earlier.

When playing from music it is important that the music is positioned in front of you and at a comfortable height. Laying your music on a table produces bad posture which makes it very difficult to play the instrument well. You need to get into good habits right from the start. Music stands are not expensive. Please, buy yourself a music stand, and use it.

Playing long notes is boring, and testing on your neighbours, but unfortunately it is the only satisfactory way of learning tone control. Just play a few long notes each day, you don't need to spend hours on them. Listen carefully to the note you are playing. Initially try to keep the volume and pitch constant. As you get better at it try to vary the volume, but still keep the pitch constant. When, and only when, you are proficient at playing long notes correctly you might want to try bending notes. Always, always control the note.

Playing scales and arpeggios is the way to develop dexterity. When playing keep your fingers close to the keys so that finger movements are minimal.

Alto Saxophone
Alto Saxophone

The Instrument

How to care for it

Treat your instrument with the same care that you would a new baby. A knock on certain parts of the mechanism can leave it unplayable.

The best way to keep your saxophone in good condition is to play it regularly.

It is extremely important to use a "pull-through" to remove moisture after each playing session.

An occasional application of a little key oil on the pivots and springs and a wipe down with a soft cloth will certainly do no harm.

Sticky keys and leaks are faced by all sax players from time to time. Experience will tell you which ones can be easily fixed yourself. If in doubt ask another sax player for advice.

Pad replacement and adjustment will occasionally be required. I would strongly advise that you leave such work to a competent instrument repairer.

Never attempt to remove any parts from your saxophone other than the neck and mouthpiece unless you are 100% certain and confident of your abilities.

Absolute Beginners - Alto Saxophone

Absolute Beginners: Alto Saxophone: The Complete Picture Guide to Playing Alto Sax (Includes Play-along CD, Featuring Professional Backing Tracks)
Absolute Beginners: Alto Saxophone: The Complete Picture Guide to Playing Alto Sax (Includes Play-along CD, Featuring Professional Backing Tracks)

This book is exactly what it says it is. If you are beginning to play alto saxophone (and if you are a beginnier the alto will be perfect for you) this book is a really good place to start.

It contains plenty of basic information to get you started and takes you through beginning to learn the instrument note by note.

An audio CD is also included.


The Mouthpiece

Arguably the most important part of your saxophone, the mouthpiece is where the sound is produced. The rest of the instrument amplifies and tunes that sound. The mouthpiece that comes with a new saxophone is usually good enough to play the instrument, but seldom will it give the best sound. It is well worth considering a better mouthpiece as your technical competance grows.

It is important for good sound production, and for your health, that the mouthpiece is kept scrupulously clean. My mouthpiece often gets first dip in the washing up suds. I use a soft brush made for cleaning babies' bottles to make sure the inside is clean. I rinse it. I then dry it thoroughly inside and outside using a soft cloth.

Be careful not to scratch your mouthpiece, especially on the surface where the reed sits. If you manage to chip your mouthpiece it will probably be fit only for the dustbin.

The Ligature

This is a the clip that holds the reed in place. New saxes generally come with a metal ligature, which is perfectly adequate for learning to play. Later you might like to experiment with different ligature and mouthpiece combinations, as both the mouthpiece and the ligature have an effect on the sound produced.

The ligature should be tight enough to hold the reed in place without any movement. Do not tighten it any more than this as it may affect your tone.

The Art of Saxophone Playing

The Art of Saxophone Playing
The Art of Saxophone Playing

This book is generally considered a standard work on saxophone technique. It contains practically everything that anybody could wish to know about saxophone playing.

Packed full of information, it is THE book that every serious saxophone player should have.

If you like this lens, you will love this book.


The Reed

Reeds are the consumable component of your saxophone. You will need to replace the reed regularly.

If you are a beginner I recommend you start with a soft reed of grade 1.5 to 2. Don't buy a complete box of reeds initially as you need to find out which grade is right for you. Choosing your initial reed strength really is a case of trial and error. Once you know what grade you need I would recommend always buying reeds by the box.

Reeds do not usually play perfectly straight out of the box, they need to be played in. After a short play they tend to begin to show their character.

Occasionally you will find a reed that just won't blow right. There is no point taking it back to the shop, it is just part of playing sax that a certain percentage of reeds will be wasted. You can reduce this wastage by buying higher quality reeds.

Conversely you will sometimes find a reed that plays really nicely. When this happens enjoy it, reeds have a short life.

If your tone is not right changing your reed will often fix it.

Playing a harder reed does not mean you are better sax player. It is true that you may need a harder reed as your embouchure strengthens, but having a strong embouchure does not mean you are a great sax player. What really matters is the sound that you are producing. Please, please don't join in with the "I play a harder reed than you" competition. Also don't feel that you need to build up to a certain reed strength. Just use the right grade reed for you.

Reed strength does have some baring on the sound produced. If you want a hard, harsh sax sound then a slightly harder reed might help. If you want a sweet mellow sound a slightly softer reed might be better. We are only talking about small changes here, usually only half a grade difference.

Please, be aware that manufacturers do not all grade reeds the same. If you are changing from one company to another you may need to experiment again to find the correct grade for you. Your music shop should be able to advise you.

My Most Important Tip!

Nothing beats learning from a competent saxophone teacher.

Do This Today.

Join the Sax on the Web forum and ask plenty of questions. You will learn a lot from this group of expert sax players and teachers.

See the link list just above this stickynote.

...and as you progress ... - The exercises that Charlie Parker used!

Not for the absolute beginner but once the fingerings for all of the notes have been mastered these exercises will increase your dexterity.

Play them slowly at first and speed will come as you apply yourself to them each day.

These are the exercises that Charlie Parker used. If they are good enough for Charlie Parker then I'm sure any serious saxophone student will want to use them.

O1718 - 25 Daily Exercises for Saxophone
O1718 - 25 Daily Exercises for Saxophone

If used daily these exercises will help to increase dexterity and fluidity in your playing.

Highly recommended to every serious saxophone student.


Reader Feedback

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    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 

      5 years ago from Diamondhead

      Love the sax, I played it in the marching band in high school

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      great lens :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      hi ive just started high school and saxophone but started in primary i already hav the hand of it again my teacher is great and have been asked already to skip to GRADE 4 woo pee its great to play a saxophone its the BEST!!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @Melissa Miotke: It's not too late to learn. Pick one up (be careful not to "like" an instrument for the wrong reasons, such as "my friend plays this", or "my favorite musician plays that", etc......). Find an instrument that "fits" YOU and YOUR personality. Touch it er'day, find a good teacher, and run with it!... :)

    • chinchilla-cages profile image


      6 years ago

      It's a fantastic instrument. Great tips!

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      I wish I knew how to play any instrument. Everyone in my family does except for me...

    • LewesDE profile image


      6 years ago

      I like all of the modules you used on this lens!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens, sax is nowadays really underrated!

    • Showpup LM profile image

      Showpup LM 

      6 years ago

      I never played the saxophone in band but I sure had a crush on the boy who did... :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Returning to this great personal tips lens on learning the saxophone and bringing a blessing.

    • gamecheathub profile image


      6 years ago

      Spot on advice. I played alto saxophone for several years in high school and this brought back some great memories.

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 

      6 years ago from Concord VA

      Great tips for playing the sax!

    • CruiseReady profile image


      6 years ago from East Central Florida

      Many kids learn to play sax in band class at school. I did. Been years since I touched one, though. This was a nice reminder of times past

    • verymary profile image


      7 years ago from Chicago area

      thx for the info! I have an almost 13 y.o. who loves playing his sax. blessing this lens :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is very informative, great and wonderful! I am learning how to play through the internet. I enjoy it so much. you add to my knowledge!

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 

      7 years ago from So Cal

      Very helpful information. The Sax is not my favorite instrument (flute player) but should my child want to try it, I will come back here. Thanks Angel blessed.

    • sushilkin lm profile image

      sushilkin lm 

      7 years ago

      Very Nice Lens. Please PRAY FOR JAPAN Thanks for sharing..

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      saxophone music is sexy

    • PositiveChristi1 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      @JoyfulPamela2: Thank you so much for my first Angel blessing.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image


      7 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Hi! I stopped back to say *SquidAngel Blessed and featured on "Musical Instrument Angel"! =D

    • Yourshowman LM profile image

      Yourshowman LM 

      8 years ago

      a very informative and helpful lens

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image


      8 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Thanks for the wonderful page! :D Adding it to my saxophone page for my students.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I like your lens. I just joined Squidoo. It's nice to see there are other sax players here. I am also a member of sax on the web and have learned much from that site. I'm a late bloomer who use to play as a kid. Keep up the good work

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Nice lens. You should definitely keep it going. Add more tips regularly.

    • flutestar123 lm profile image

      flutestar123 lm 

      10 years ago

      Nice lens! Check out my group for any lens about any musical instrument. Check it out at

    • flutestar123 lm profile image

      flutestar123 lm 

      10 years ago

      Good job on the lens. I liked your tips. They are very informative.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great advice. Amazing how many students think they get great by osmosis. Parents should read this so they can use this information to help make a decision. Great lens.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image


      10 years ago

      Great lens-very informative.



    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Wow - this is truly informative, especially for parents who do not play the sax but have kids who do - like me! Thank-you very much, faved!


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