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How to play the saxophone – here’s what you need to know!

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

This instrument sounds impressive from the first time you hear it – the saxophone. Although it’s often connected with jazz, it can also be heard in other genres of music. Are you considering learning the saxophone as well? If so, you might have a few questions on your mind, some of which we are answering in this article.

Saxofon spielen
The saxophone – one of the younger wind instruments

What types of saxophones exist?

There are a great number of saxophones to choose from. However, you will encounter these four models most often: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, and bass saxophone. The pitches can be compared to the singing pitches of men and women. And even though the pitches don’t differ too much – considering the fact that the soprano saxophone is only one octave higher than the tenor saxophone, for instance – these four instruments sound very different from each other. Usually, saxophones belong to the so-called transposing instruments, meaning that a different tone is sounded than the one that is notated. That means that all saxophone notes, including those of the tenor and bass saxophone, are notated in treble clef.

What material are saxophones made of?

Generally, the saxophone is made of regular brass. In the past, its surface was given a clear lacquer finish while the mechanism was nickel-plated. These days, most instruments are coated with gold lacquer, which greatly improves the sound of the instrument. Nevertheless, the saxophone counts as a woodwind instrument. In contrast to other woodwind instruments, the metal used for the saxophone determines the sound characteristics and the quality of the sound. A higher copper content leads to a softer sounding saxophone.

Which components does a saxophone consist of?

All saxophones consist of:

  • a mouthpiece, also called a beak – it consists of a ligature or clamp as well as a reed and a protective capsule

  • an s-bow – it contains a speaker key, and each saxophone has a different size, only sopranino saxophones and simple soprano saxophones do not have this part.

  • a body with bell on which the mechanism is mounted.

These parts can be disassembled if you want to clean your saxophone, for example.

Der Erfinder des Saxophons

When was the saxophone invented?

In comparison, the saxophone belongs to the younger inventions among the other classical instruments we know. Adolphe Sax, who also gave the instrument its name, constructed the first instruments about 170 years ago. He also played the instrument. Nowadays, the impressive sound and the diversity of the tone are the main reasons why saxophone lovers are so enthusiastic about the instrument, especially in the field of jazz and popular music.

Which saxophone is best if I’m a beginner?

We suggest for children to start learning the saxophone with an alto saxophone. For adults, the tenor or alto saxophone are recommended. The reason for this is mainly the weight. One should bear in mind that a tenor saxophone can weigh as much as 5 to 6 kilos. This weight will be around your neck when practicing and playing. The alto saxophone is slightly easier to handle than the tenor saxophone. This is why we recommend it for children in particular.

You may ask yourself why we aren’t recommending the soprano saxophone to beginners. That’s simply because the “extreme registers” tend to be a little harder for beginners to play, which might be frustrating. After all, you don’t have to make the learning process even more difficult for yourself. Here’s the good news though: all saxophone fingerings are the same. That means that once you have learned how to play the alto saxophone, you can switch to another saxophone without encountering any obstacles. All you need to do then is to slightly adjust your sound and lipping. In theory, you can play any saxophone.

At what age can one learn to play the saxophone?

Generally, the recommended age to learn the saxophone is 8 years. At that age the physical proportions, the strength and the general conditions are appropriate. Furthermore, you do need to concentrate a bit to master the lipping, i.e., the position of the mouth when playing.

Ab welchem Alter Saxophon lernen

I’ve been dreaming of playing the saxophone for a long time – but am I not already too old?

One of the great things about playing the saxophone is that it’s fairly simple to produce beautiful sounds with it. And it’s a wonderful instrument for adults to learn. This allows you to have some sound patterns in your head which in turn will help you to develop a concept of sound for your own playing.

How much should I pay for a saxophone?

Recently, you’ll find some cheap products from China on the market. We do not recommend these products. Although they work, they fall short in terms of sound, seeing as they simply can’t live up to the models of renowned brands. We know from experience that such mass-produced instruments begin to show their first faults after only a year, and usually it’s not worth repairing them.

You should expect to spend at least 800 CHF to acquire a decent saxophone. Sometimes you can find good bargains at second-hand markets. If possible, you should take an experienced saxophone player.

If you are a beginner, we recommend a saxophone from Yamaha or Jupiter, as these brands provide fine quality even within the beginner’s range.

Do I have to get my own saxophone right away?

No, that’s not necessary. You may very well rent a saxophone at first, allowing you to try out the instrument for yourself as you decide whether you really want to stick with it. This enables you to postpone your decision for a little longer. Just talk to your teacher, who can advise you on which model and service is most suitable for you.

What should I take into consideration when buying a saxophone?

When purchasing a saxophone, the mouthpiece deserves special attention. Usually, the mouthpieces that are included are good for beginners since they produce a decent tone without requiring too much effort on your part. However, at some point you’ll realize that you’re becoming more ambitious which will lead you to look for a different, and possibly better, mouthpiece. In doing so, you’ll begin the never-ending journey of most saxophone players.

Fact is that your mouthpiece will make a big difference when it comes to the sound you can produce. With a good mouthpiece, you’ll be able to hit the notes in a relaxed manner. What’s important for your choice is that the mouthpiece rests comfortably in your mouth and that it fits your individual vision of sound.

Ein tolles Blasinstrument, das Saxophon

What material is the mouthpiece made of?

You can choose from a variety of materials: Metal, rubber, and plastic. Ceramics or wood are rarely used. Metal produces a somewhat louder and edgier sound. If you prefer a relatively throaty sound, then this material is suitable for you.

Rubber provides a warm and rich sound.

What are the most important factors when playing the saxophone?

As with any other instrument, you need to commit to it. Once you’ve decided on the saxophone, it’s time to practice. And the following principle applies in all cases: regularity is the decisive criterion. In order to improve your mouth position, which is crucial for producing the right sounds, it’s recommended that you practice every day.

You might also wonder if you need a lot of breath to play: it’s not about applying strength though, but rather about the right technique taught to you by your teacher. Playing the saxophone takes practice, but it’s not any harder than playing other instruments. If you’re worried about having bad lungs, there’s good news: even with certain lung conditions, playing a wind instrument is recommended as a way to strengthen your lungs. Consult your physician for advice on this.

If you want to practice regularly, here’s another great tip: buy a saxophone stand right away, because then you can put your saxophone on the stand for easier access to your instrument. If you have to completely reassemble the saxophone every time you want to practice, you might not choose to do so if you only have a few minutes to spare. You should only detach the mouthpiece every time to prevent the cork from wearing out too quickly.

Place your sheet music correctly. This may sound odd at first, but if you don’t keep a straight posture, you’ll get used to a bad stance which will sooner or later affect the quality of your performance. Moreover, you will have to effortfully retrain yourself to get rid of this bad posture.

Fingerhaltung beim Saxophonspielen

First, practice the correct mouth position. Your mouth must properly enclose the mouthpiece. Your teacher can show you the best way to do this. Imagine that you want to hold your breath under water and inhale strongly. Breathe in hard before blowing hard into the mouthpiece. If this works, you can attach the mouthpiece onto the saxophone and blow into the instrument without applying any particular grip. Doing this takes the pressure off, because you’re not carrying the instrument just yet but are simply experimenting a bit.

Next, we suggest longer tones. Although this may not sound very exciting, it’s all about producing a consistent tone in the end, enabling you to gain control over your pitch. Make sure that every time you practice, you play 3 or 4 long notes. Start by trying to produce an even tone at a certain volume without it sounding wobbly. Afterward, you can experiment with the volume and practice by once again playing long and even tones.

The next step is playing scales. This doesn’t sound very exciting either, but it builds a solid foundation for the development of your skills. Now comes the exciting part: Find pieces to play. For bands there is specific sheet music, or you can ask your teacher for suitable pieces. After that, all you have to do is keep practicing. Yes, we already mentioned that before, but it remains the secret to success when you want to learn the saxophone.

In case you still have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our teachers. In doing so, you will find out if the saxophone is really the instrument you want to play.


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