How to learn the Saxophone – Getting set up to start

Saxophone Love
I feel like a complete beginner, but I used to love playing the Saxophone at school, so I do have some experience and hopefully a little technique stored away somewhere!!

So I’m going to dig out my Saxophone from the loft and see if I can re-learn how to play. I will try to share this experience with you so that I can work out what you also might need to know as a beginner.

I’m using an Alto Saxophone (E flat). It is most often used to begin learning the Saxophone, and some Saxophonists stay with the Alto throughout their career. The Tenor is also very popular as it has a deeper and more raspy sound. It has the same fingering as the Alto but produces sound in a B flat key. It is also significantly heavier, and so for most people, I would certainly recommend learning the basics on an Alto first.

Don’t worry about the different keys I mention, I will explain about that when we come to producing some notes on the Sax!

Picking up the Pieces

What do you do first when you want to get good at playing an instrument? Well I look for inspiration. When I used to play in a Jazz band, I absolutely loved playing some funk numbers. Back then we were doing “Chameleon” by Herbie Hancock, “Pick up the Pieces,”by the Average White band, although I secretly liked Candy Dulfer’s version more! “Night Train” in the style of James Brown, “Moanin'” by Art Blakey and the Messengers, “Birdland” by Weather Report, “So What?” of course, Miles Davies, “Quintessence” by Quincy Jones and his Jazz Orchestra, and the playful “Watermelon Man” by Cannonball Adderley.Inspiring Saxophonists

I love jazz music of today, but I’m taking time to get to grips with it! In my day, we were carefully respectful to the jazz masters and in fact, the music I list above was played as only a slight variation and funked up version of the original jazz pieces and much of what we played in lessons and band practices were more like pure jazz numbers by Charlie Parker, Miles Davies, Sonny Rollins, Theolonious Monk, Cat Stevens, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Stan Getz and Horace Silver.

Now, there are no limits as to what can be mixed up and with what! And I love it! It seemed as though we were playing music of the past, something that really belonged to an age gone-by and somehow although we were all teenagers playing it, we didn’t totally own it! Of course, when you perform music and improvise on a piece, you are adding your own creative flair, but like I said, it wasn’t quite our own.

I’m excited to discover what’s out there, and I hope that you are with me on this?! The first thing I would say is, watch out for some bad language!! Hopefully I can find some tracks that are not filled with expletives to share with you on my future posts!

Try before you buy!

Of course, you will need an instrument available to you for this process to happen! You might be able to rent one from your School or College, or even borrow one from someone like me, who has one stored away in their loft! Ultimately, it is nice to buy your own, but you need to see how you get on with playing for a bit first. It can be quite an investment!

One thing you will need is to get a few reeds of your own. I will go into this more in a moment. As the Saxophone is a wind instrument, it requires a certain level of hygiene to keep, especially if you are borrowing someone else’s Sax. Some might even suggest that you purchase your own mouthpiece. It is worth getting some alcohol wipes or Sterisol germicide solution to clean any wind instrument that is shared. You can use a flexible bottle brush or tooth brush to clean inside the Saxophone neck (Crook). The reeds are thought to be the most likely part of the instrument to host bacteria, so it is important to take them off and clean the mouthpiece in warm soapy water, if using a shared instrument. Once you have decided that you want to pursue the hobby, it is worth investing in your own instrument! But it is still important to keep your Saxophone clean and take care of it once you own it too.

Saxophone Reeds for Beginners – keep it simple to begin with

There are many types of reeds out there to buy, with varying prices. Of course, a professional musician might well prefer to use a superior quality reed than a beginner would need. The main thing that you need to be aware of is that the lower the “size” of the reed, the easier it is to produce a sound. If you are having lessons already your teacher might have some reeds that they prefer or recommend for you to start with. It is quite common for you to get through a fair few reeds in the early stages, as from experience some do seem to ‘feel better’ than others! It is a sensory feel partly, how it feels against your tongue, and also a “feel” of how it sounds in tone, and how easy or difficult it is for you to produce a nice tone.Choosing Sax Reeds

It appears that the majority of Saxophonists begin on a size 1.5/ 2 beginner reed. If you can get yourself maybe a couple of each to try out. I would advise to have more than one reed in your kit at a time, as occasionally they can split and are then unplayable. It is also quite nice to switch them around, especially if you are having a particularly long session of playing, your mouthpiece can almost feel like it needs refreshing with a different reed.

Stand Tall!

It’s worth mentioning at this early stage that you need to think about your posture when playing a musical instrument. Saxophones are quite heavy instruments, and it’s essential that you wear a “sling” around your neck to hook the saxophone on in front of you. The Saxophone is quite heavy, and should come with a neck sling. However, I remember using the standard sling for a year or two when I started out, and suffering with a lot of shoulder aches and pains. Not to mention the heaviness of the instrument when you are carrying it around to and from lessons etc. I highly recommend investing in a decent Saxophone sling, once you have decided to pursue the instrument. I literally could not believe the difference in comfort levels once I bought a better sling! The one I bought years ago, and still have, is a neoprene/ elastic strap, but there are loads out there to choose from.

Conclusion

This started out as an article about picking up the Saxophone for the first time. Having started this I realise you need a few bits of practical advice and equipment, so I have decided to break this up into stages.

Part Two – Lets Make Some Noise will go into further detail about making a good sound through the Saxophone.. Exciting!!

Saxophone Inspirations

Hobbies for Teenagers – Make Music Work for You

You know you have music within you somewhere. You know you do, or you wouldn’t even be here reading this post!

Have you been bitten by the musical bug, and are just looking for more information and articles to keep growing your passion for music? Or are you beginning to lose interest lately?

Maybe you have had some musical tuition over the years, and you are getting a little tired of the lessons now? Maybe you find the practicing for exams increasingly difficult to fit in, and the scales frankly just dull, and irritating?! But, there is a part of you that knows you are good at music?

Piano boredom

There are many benefits to keeping up musical involvement while you are growing up, and I’m hoping to motivate you with ideas in how to keep music alive! Having a hobby is known to benefit our psychological health and help teen stress, as it provides a method of relaxation. If you have any serious mental health issues, then of course I would recommend seeking help from a professional, but sometimes once talking and goal setting has been done to deal with the stress as much as you can, it can be helpful to have an outlet to turn to, such as a hobby.

Don’t give up!

DJ Funny – Music fun

Music is meant to be fun! Of course, you can take it seriously and I’m all for that too, but ultimately it is a creation, an art form, an expression of ourselves in some way. What I’m finding is, that once it becomes yet another task to be completed, another form of homework to fit in, something to be nagged about, we are falling out of love with learning instruments and teenagers quite commonly “give them up.” Yet music is real..it’s something which we can all relate to in some way, no matter what age we are or where we come from. Music is created by people, played by people, and listened to by people! It’s a way of connecting with so many other people without even needing to speak! Being involved in the creation of something that sounds really good, is a wonderful feeling, especially when you have some friends with you to experience it too. It’s far more enjoyable to produce music together with others, than it is alone, but both have their positives.

What I’m suggesting is that we don’t give up, and ditch our musical talent, letting it all go to waste! But consider a different angle, avenue or way of utilising your talent. Just because you are bored with what you are doing right now, doesn’t mean you should waste other opportunities to have fun.

Parents want to see you happy..

If you are worried that your parents might not agree with your decision to have a break from classical lessons for example, in order to join a band, learn to sing, pick up riffs from You Tube, teach yourself how to mix or use a drum machine, or whatever that alternative musical road is that is calling you, the best thing to do is to simply talk to them about it! On the whole, parents are only looking out for whatever is best for you, and want you to be happy. They don’t always see things the same way as you, but hearing from you about what you want from life, what sparks your interest and how they can help, is quite literally what every parent of a teenager wants! Keeping up a good relationship with your parents is worth the effort and talking is the easiest way to keep a good connection between you. However hard it might be for both parties at times! Maybe you can come to a compromise, or a trial period, to see if things are going to work out with the new venture? If this is proving too difficult, perhaps another relative or a good teacher at school can provide a sounding board for you? And potentially help initiate that discussion. Point your parents towards this website, as it is aimed at both teenagers and your parents, in an effort to keep that connection and understanding of both our worlds, using music as a link.

Sadly, there are always critics out there too! But I’m guessing we are all becoming used to that with the freedom people have to comment, however cruelly, on anything and everything. But to push forward in life, you sometimes have to be brave! And for every critic, there’s always someone else who appreciates what you do.

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley

I’m going to be writing about different ways we can easily keep involved with music, and helping parents to have a little insight into how music can help boost self-esteem and combat stress in teenagers.

Keep Listening to Music

Some easy ways to stay involved in music:

  • Listen to the radio. If you don’t like what you hear, try different stations. You might discover that you really enjoy other styles of music that you wouldn’t normally listen to. Music has so many genres besides the mainstream pop! Try streaming music from different playlists than the most recent, or most popular.
  • Ask your parents what they used to like as a teenager. Maybe have a look with them at some of their favourite songs, chances are there will be a few you like! You could ask to have a look through their iTunes library and try a few songs out, or put the library playlist on shuffle so that any random stuff will come up. A great deal of modern music uses riffs, parts of other songs or are re-mixes of hits from the past. Even the greatest artists use cover versions. So you might get inspired by some old stuff, even if it sounds a little dated at first.
  • Remember music can be part of your life in different ways. For example, I love to dance to Hard House and Trance when I’m in a club, but I wouldn’t want to listen to it when I’m making my breakfast! Classical music can be beneficial to listen to when working, and I love to play classical music on my flute, but I rarely choose to listen to it in the car.
  • Look out for events and workshops, local performances and so on. These can be great to attend, and to be a part of. I remember so clearly when I attended a day workshop run by the Guildhall Jazz Band. I already enjoyed playing jazz on the Saxophone, but witnessing the talent and outstanding performances by the band, led by Scott Stroman simply blew me away! Being so so inspired and learning so much from the improvisation workshops, which helped me to build on a musical phrase until, between us all in the small group, we had “written” a complete piece of music, which we were able to perform. It was such a highlight for me and my friend, that we lived through it for days or weeks afterwards, taking the experience into our jazz band made up of like-minded sixth former s (mostly) from the local schools at which my Saxophone teacher worked.
  • Keep music live! While I love listening to music in any situation, nothing compares to when you see a performance live! It can be expensive to see mainstream artists, and often require travelling into cities, but why not look out for local bands. This is where you can get parents, family and friends involved too. When you see that people are performing and putting themselves out there, it can really motivate you to go and learn how to play a bit better. Or ask for tickets to see an artist you love as a birthday present, or offer to save up and pay for some of it, if your parents will take you?! More time together can only be a good thing!?
  • Get some different sheet music, or find some chord sequences for a song you love online.
  • Go to a music shop. There are still a few around. At one time, nothing would make me feel better than wandering around a music shop, hearing people trying out keyboards, guitars and so on, seeing the brass instruments new and shiny on the walls, and choosing myself a new book of sheet music to buy. My friend and I would venture into London as teenagers, and go to Chappells in New Bond Street (now relocated to Wardour Street, Soho). We also went to the enormous HMV Store on Oxford Street, and any other record shop we could find. It would keep us going for ages afterwards, listening to new CDs together! Now it’s so easy to buy online, but don’t forget the individual shops out there!
  • Talk to your own music teachers. Tell them what you are bored with, and what you are enjoying. They should be able to recommend ideas for you, and give suggestions or what is around in the local area.
  • Don’t make practicing a chore. Give yourself a goal, and perhaps a small reward for doing it? Remember why you are doing it, and by practicing you will sound better, have more skill and more ability to go and play the music you really enjoy! You can’t pick up an instrument and expect it to be easy from day one. Everything in life that is good, deserves a little effort!

Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t.” – Johnny Depp