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.


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

12 Replies to “How to learn the Saxophone – Getting set up to start”

  1. Great information I can use with my kids as they begin to venture in to the world of music. I myself play Bass Guitar, and the instrument is quite heavy. I know all about making sure to have a descent to high end sling (or in my case, guitar strap). Once you start gigging and at times playing for hours on end, you can definitely tell the difference. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the comments.
      When you start out it’s hard to imagine how many hours you will actually spend playing isn’t it?!
      Hope your kids enjoy music as much as you do. All the best.

  2. These are great tips. The saxophone is such a beautiful instrument. A sling is a great idea. They do get heavy the longer you play them and practice with them.

    1. Thanks, I agree about the Sax being heavy. When I got the better sling, I felt so much better. I used to get so many neck and shoulder pains prior to that!

  3. Oh man, I’ve always wanted to learn the sax but have been putting it off because I find it a bit intimidating.

    Is there a particular brand you advocate for a beginner? thanks!

    1. I have to say that I have never gone wrong with Yamaha for wind instruments. Mine is still good as new despite many years in storage too!!
      Hope we might inspire you to try it.. I will get to work on Part Two!
      Thanks for visiting the site 😉

  4. Hey Joanne, looking forward to your next review ‘ Let’s make some noise’ after reading your motivational introduction on learning the sax. Can’t wait till you dust it down from the loft and start playing. Will you be making any videos of yourself playing sax in the future?

    My biggest regret was packing the piano in as a kid, sport was far more important – what a waste!

    Reading through your article I had Clarence Clemons playing Jungleland at the back of my mind but I have to say my favourite sax player is Pee Wee Ellis, especially when he plays sax on Tupelo Honey with Van Morrison at the Montreux festival in Switzerland 1980 – great track.
    All the best, looking forward to part 2,

    1. Simon, thanks so much for your comments. I must say, you have inspired me to look up those tracks. I am a big fan of Van Morrison, so I’m sure I’ve been listening to Pee Wee Ellis without even realising.. that’s the trouble with not buying cods anymore, I used to read the inserts and know this kind of stuff?!

      Yes I am hoping to post some videos.. Wish me luck!! 😉

  5. This is an excellent article! I am so impressed with the research and review! There are so many options to consider. I like the idea of renting as a trial. I love your ideas and music selection as an introduction. In college I lived in an old neighbourhood with huge trees and old victorian houses, one of my neighbours would practice his sax and it filled the quiet street with such beauty. I never knew one instrument could be so passionate. Thank you for your work, there is so much to explore and enjoy!

    1. Well thank YOU for such a beautiful description of listening to a Saxophonist. Shows again how much music can evoke such good feelings in people. Thanks for visiting teensdomusic 😉

  6. Great tips! Thank you for the information. I would also suggest going to a music store that sells brass instruments. The people that work there, usually know their stuff pretty well, and will let you try a few instruments. Sometimes it’s also better to invest a few bucks more to get a higher quality instrument, rather than just the student model, because the higher quality instrument might be easier to play and give you a better sound. Another option is to ask for a list of private instructors at the music store, and then call them. Most instructors have very strong ideas of the brands that they like, with good reasons behind their opinions.

    1. Fabulous comments Laurie.. agree with you, especially about the quality instruments. Mine have certainly stood the test of time!

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