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.
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 Cleaning kits
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.
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.
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!!