The following guidelines will help you decide if the saxophone is a good choice for you.
- Hands are large enough to reach around keys.
- Thumbs are not double-jointed.
- Student's orthodontist approves of playing the saxophone.
- Eye-hand coordination is good.
- Reading skills are above average.
Listen to Examples
- Fred Hemke
- Branford Marsalis
- Gerry Mulligan
- Sigurd Rascher
- Eugene Rousseau
- David Sanborn
- Donald Sinta
Assembly & Care
Avoid costly repairs!
If you can hear it clanking around as you put it together and pack it up, then you need to be more careful.
Assembling the Saxophone
- Carefully put the thin end of the reed in your mouth to moisten it thoroughly while assembling your instrument. Rub a small amount of cork grease on the neck cork, if needed. Wash your hands.
- Hold the body of the saxophone with your left hand, and remove the end plug. With your right hand, gently twist the neck into the body. Be careful not to bend any keys. Tighten the neck screw.
- Carefully twist the mouthpiece on the neck so that approximately 1/2 of the cork remains uncovered. Place the reed on the mouthpiece.
- Put the thin end of the reed in your mouth to moisten it thoroughly.
- Looking at the flat side of the mouthpiece, the ligature screws extend to your right. Slide the ligature up with your thumb.
- Place the flat side of the reed under the ligature and against the mouthpiece.
- Lower the ligature and position the reed so that only a hairline of the mouthpiece can be seen above the reed.
- Gently tighten the ligature screws until they are firm. Do not overtighten!
Packing Up Carefully
Before putting your instrument back in its case after playing, do the following:
- Carefully remove the reed, wipe off excess moisture, and return it to the reed case. Remember, each reed costs at least $1.
- Remove the mouthpiece and wipe the inside with a clean cloth. Once a week, wash the mouthpiece with warm tap water. Dry thoroughly.
- Remove the neck and shake out the excess moisture. Dry with neck cleaner.
- Drop the weight of your chamois or cotton swab into the bell. Pull the swab through the body several times. Return the instrument to its case.
- You should have no other materials in your case, except for those it was designed to hold. Do not use force when closing your case or you could damage the saxophone.
- Improper assembly may damage your instrument
- Damaged equipment will cause problems
To get the best sound or tone quality you should:
- Hold your instrument with good posture
- Play with good breath support, focused airstream, and strong embouchure formation
To control pitch you should:
- Develop good listening skills
- Practice different notes (positions and combinations)
Learn the Notes
One at a time...
Before you learn new songs, you need to learn the notes. Every saxophone player should understand how to read the fingering chart below. Practice holding the saxophone and placing your fingers in all the different combinations for the notes. You will be able to switch faster as your coordination and dexterity improves.
Articulation is the process of attacking and releasing a sequence of notes. Ending the sound is just as important as beginning the pitch. Use the "tip of your tongue at the top of your teeth."
Dexterity is a mental skill or quickness, as well as the readiness and grace in physical activity. In relation to playing an instrument, dexterity is the skill and ease of using your hands and fingers.
Don't get in the habit of curling fingers. Also, you may have trouble if you raise your fingers too far above the keys. Remember that evenness is better than speed. Playing fast, furious, and fumbling is simply not impressive.
How do you sound?
Embouchure (ahm'-bah-shure) is your mouth's position on the mouthpiece of the instrument. A good embouchure takes time and effort, so carefully follow these steps for success:
- Moisten your lips and roll your lower lip over your bottom teeth.
- Center the mouthpiece on your lips and place it about 1/2 inch into your mouth.
- Place your upper teeth directly on top of the mouthpiece. The reed rests on your lower lip over your bottom teeth.
- Close your mouth around the mouthpiece, like a rubber band. Your facial muscles all support and cusion your lips on the mouthpiece.
- Keep your chin down and slightly relaxed.
Start with the Mouthpiece Only
Form your embouchure with the reed in place and take a deep breath without raising your shoulders. Whisper "voo" and gradually exhale your full airstream. Strive for an even tone.
Holding the Saxophone
- Place the neckstrap around your neck and attach the hook to the ring on the back of the saxophone.
- Adjust the length of the strap so you can comfortably bring the mouthpiece to your mouth.
- Place your right thumb under the right thumb rest/hook.
- Place your left thumb diagonally across the left thumb rest.
- Your fingers should curve naturally like the shape of a "C."
- Hold the saxophone on the outside of your right leg, but keep your body upright.
Posture & Poise
Sit on the edge of your chair, and always keep your:
- Spine straight and tall
- Shoulders back and relaxed
- Feet flat on the floor
- Music stand height-adjusted to read the music and watch the conductor
Tuning & Pitch Control
Take control of your pitch.
Tuning is the process of matching pitch, which requires two sources: your instrument and another instrumentalist or electronic tuner. Experienced players tune to a "remembered" pitch.
How to Tune
- Warm up thoroughly before tuning.
- Tune to a reliable frequency using written "C", which is "Concert E-flat."
- Play at a medium dynamic level without vibrato.
- Adjust the mouthpiece on the neckpiece to lengthen or shorten the instrument.
- "Pull out" to lower the pitch.
- "Push in" to raise the pitch.
How to Control Pitch
Pitch problems can be corrected by changing the angle of the mouthpiece in the mouth, turning the neckpiece slightly to the right or left, or varying the amount of bottom lip over the teeth.
Heads up! The saxophone embouchure does not have the lip flexibility of other woodwind embouchures. As a last resort, students may "lip up" the pitch by raising the jaw to tighten the embouchure. There is an excellent pitch-alteration chart (p. 66) in the book entitled, "The Art of Saxophone Playing" by Larry Teal.
Intonation & Technique
The Saxophone's Natural Flaws
The causes of poor intonation may be inadequate breath support, a poorly formed embouchure, or poor listening habits. However, every instrument has inherent intonation flaws. The saxophone is one of the most perfect instruments with respect to intonation. It is easier to play in tune than other instruments, but it still has built-in flaws. Students can easily control these problems with a good understanding of the saxophone's pitch characteristics. They are listed below for the saxophone.
Inherent Intonation Flaws
- In general, the lower octave is sharp (too high)
- In general, the upper octave is flat (too low)
Intonation is the process of moving from one pitch to another pitch at a specific interval (vertically). Intonation is controlled by one person because it relies on a trained ear and acquired listening skills while playing.
Specific Pitch Tendencies
Memorize this information
Sharp tendencies (too high):
- Notes in the upper range of the saxophone tend to be sharp.
- Third space C# and fourth line D are generally sharp.
- Sharpness is also caused by pinching or biting.
- The condition of the reed also contributes to pitch tendencies.
- A reed that is too hard will sometimes tend to play too sharp.
- At times, and depending on the quality of the reed, taking too much reed in the mouth may cause sharpness.
Pitch may be lowered through a variety of techniques including:
- Mouthpiece placement adjustment on the neck (pull out)
- Adjusting the amount of reed and mouthpiece in the mouth (pull out)
- Directing the airstream downward
- Slight relaxation of the embouchure to avoid pinching
- Selecting a softer reed
- Alternate fingerings
Flat tendencies (too low):
- Notes in the lower range of the saxophone tend to be flat.
- Flatness is sometimes caused by unsupported air, slower air speed, and an embouchure that is unsupported or too relaxed.
- The condition of the reed also contributes to pitch tendencies.
- A reed that is too soft will sometimes tend to play too flat.
- At times, and depending on the quality of the reed, taking too little reed in the mouth may cause flatness.
Pitch may be raised through a variety of techniques including:
- Mouthpiece placement adjustment on the neck (push in)
- Adjusting the amount of reed and mouthpiece in the mouth (push in)
- Directing the airstream upward
- Slight increase in embouchure firmness
- Selecting a harder reed
- Better air support
- Alternate fingerings
Today is tomorrow's yesterday.
Get more familiar with your instrument and learn who invented it, who composes music for it, and who has mastered the art of playing it.
In the 1840s, Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone family. In today's concert band, saxophones play harmonies and blend with other band instruments. Saxophones are also very popular jazz and solo instruments.
The saxophone family includes the Bb Soprano, Eb Alto (the most common), Bb Tenor, Eb Baritone, and Bb Bass Saxophone. Fingerings are virtually the same for all saxophones, making it possible for a saxophonist to play any of the instruments.
III. Composers & Performers
John Philip Sousa wrote for saxophones in his band compositions. Bizet, Ravel, Debussy, and Prokofiev included saxophones in their orchestral writing. Duke Ellington's jazz arrangements greatly defined the unique sound of the instruments, both in solo and ensemble playing. Some famous saxophone performers are Eugene Rousseau, Sigurd Rascher, David Sanborn, Branford Marsalis, and Gerry Mulligan.
Units of Study
Building skill. Developing technique.
Learn about intonation, pitch control, care & maintenance, etc.