Saxophone Course

  1. The easiest Instrument to play well
  2. Getting from A to B
  3. You need a Compass
  4. Music as a form of Meditation
  5. Getting started
  6. Advice for Beginners
  7. Transposing Instruments

    Practice Studio

Lesson : Intro | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | ??

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SAX Intro 1. The easiest instrument to play well

It is often said that

the saxophone is the easiest instrument to play badly

This is undoubtedly true.

Oddly enough it is equally true to say that

the saxophone is the easiest instrument to play well.

A famous Scandinavian wind instrument player was once asked in an interview how long it takes to learn to play the instrument.

His answer was : "two life times".

sax001.gif How can these three apparently contradictory statements make sense together ?

The answer is simple.
The crucial difference between playing badly and playing well is "know how".

Once you have a clear concept of how to play the saxophone, you simply will not stop getting better. For that is the beauty of music, you never stop learning, not even after two life times.

But you need to have a clear concept of what it is all about. Without it you can play all your life and progress very little.
Perhaps you learn to play a bit faster. So what. It does not mean very much, for :


"It ain't worth a bone, if it hasn't got a tone !"

I regularly get mature students that come to me after a lifetime of playing, who are dissatisfied and frustrated with their playing.

Their problem in each case is the same. They lack a clear concept of how to play the saxophone and therefore don't know what to do to improve.

This is what the Jazclass Saxophone Course is all about.

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SAX Intro 2. Getting from A to B

We all know that the shortest route between two points, A and B, is a straight line.


To actually travel that route you need four things.

  1. The location of A

  2. The location of B

  3. Transport to travel (your legs, a car, a camel)

  4. Fuel for the vehicle to get you there (food, petrol, water)

"A" represents the concept of how to play the saxophone.
This is what the Saxophone Course will teach you. It will explain to you in detail what good saxophone playing involves : posture, embouchure, breathing, voicing, articulation, fingering, etc..

The Course also provides the mode of transport in the form of exercises (on tones, overtones, articulation, vibrato and ballads) to get to B.

"B" is your concept of how you wish to sound.
In the first instance this means identifying and listening to your favourite sax player.
As you progress through the Course you will get a better idea of what you should be listening for. This will bring your B more in focus.

Finally the fuel must be provided by yourself. It is the energy required to practise and the motivation to continue no matter what.
Knowing where A and B are and having the means to travel is no good to you if there is no fuel.

sxmf.jpg Let me tell you about my own journey.

I started playing in my mid 40s. It was quite obvious to me that I was not going to become another Oscar Peterson on the piano or Gerry Mulligan on the baritone sax. This did not matter to me at all.
What I did find absolutely necessary was to know where A and B are, and for me to travel in a straight line to my objective (B).

In other words, I did not need to be as good as Peterson or Mulligan, but I wanted to travel on the same road and in the same direction as they did. This to me was and is all important.

As you travel on the road B will become more and more in focus. However you will never actually get there, for B, like a fata morgana (mirage), will always move further ahead of you.

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SAX Intro 3. You need a Compass

Like on any journey, it is a good idea to have a compass or guide to ensure that you keep on the right track. You need an objective listener who can assess your progress and make constructive criticism on your efforts.

I recommend you consider three options.
  1. tape your practice from time to time and listen to it.
    You need not do it too often (it can be depressing), but it shows up your inadequacies quite clearly.

  2. For a small charge (US$ 10.-) I will assess your progress personally.
    Send me a tape of your normal practice (I will specify what) and I will comment on it. This is not an exam but a good way to check if you do your exercises correctly.

  3. Find a good private teacher.
    Towards the end of the Course it may be a good idea to get some private lessons from a good teacher who can assess you over a period of time. Good teachers are very hard to find, so you may have a few misses before you hit a good one.
    Going through this Course will give you the confidence to assess which teacher makes sense and which one does not.

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SAX Intro 4. Music as a form of Meditation

Good musical performance is an active form of meditation.

Meditation is a state in which the three aspects of a human being :

Mind - Body - Spirit


relaxed, in focus and in perfect balance.

Good instrumental practice works towards this state of meditation through :

  • natural integration of the instrument as part of the body, and

  • the relaxation, focus and balance of body, mind and spirit.

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SAX Intro 5. Getting started

Make a start by getting organised.

  1. Get A and B into focus.

    • For A : you are following this Saxophone Course.

    • For B : start listening to your favourite saxophone players if you are not doing that already.

  2. Practise regularly.
    You will achieve more by practising 20 - 30 minutes each day than by 2 or 3 hours one day and nothing for the next two days. sax002.gif

    • Try to practise 5 days a week and take 2 days rest. This way you can sustain regular practice for a long time.

    • Keep your sax on a stand. This way you can pick it up any time and do not waste time putting the instrument together.

    • Set a regular time during the day for your practice and keep this time slot for this purpose no matter what.

  3. Keep a Logbook to record your practice.
    In this you can specify the time spent on tone exercises, technique, etudes, songs, improvisation each practice session.

    • Add the total (in minutes) for each day, and add all totals for each week.
      This will give you a (well earned) sense of achievement and will help to motivate you to sustain your efforts.

    • You can open a new Logbook page ready for printing, by clicking on the Saxophone in the Title Illustration of any lesson.

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SAX Intro 6. Advice for Beginners

If you have been playing the saxophone for 1 year or more : just go through the lessons and practice material at your own pace.

If you have started a few months ago, or are about to start learning the saxophone, I strongly recommend the following.

  1. Use a very soft reed for the first 8-12 months. Preferably a No.1 reed (see Lesson 3). If you cannot find these in your area ask me to send you some.

    (If a teacher tells you otherwise, ignore the advice, it is based on old fashioned misconceptions.)

  2. start with short practice sessions : 5-10 minutes each day.
    When your bottom lip gets sore : stop practising, from that point on you only learn how not to play the saxophone (you are 'biting' on the mouthpiece using your jaw).

    Gradually your lip muscles will get stronger and you will be able to practise for longer periods at a time.

  3. Focus for the first 6-12 months on Lessons 1 to 4.

  4. Start with Overtone Practice (Lesson 5 and 6) after 6-12 months.
    This gives you time to become comfortable with the instrument and start the development of a good embouchure.

  5. Rome was not built in a day !
    Maintain a relaxed and patient attitude towards your musical goals. A good tone and technique are developed over a period of years, not weeks or months.

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SAX Intro 7. Transposing Instruments

Saxophones are transposing instruments. This means that their notated pitch is different from their sounded pitch.

For example a C on the alto or baritone sax actually sounds as an Eb in true Concert pitch (as on a piano, guitar or flute). The alto and baritone sax are therefore called Eb instruments.

A C on the tenor or soprano sax actually sounds as an Bb in true Concert pitch (as on a piano, guitar or flute). The tenor and soprano sax are therefore called Bb instruments.

In this course the music notation for all saxes is the same, but there are different play-a-long tracks for the Eb saxes (alto and baritone) and for the Bb saxes (tenor and soprano).

Here is a Transposition Table for Bb and Eb instruments to Concert key (C-instruments) pitch.


The above table also applies to key signatures.
To transpose a piece of piano music :

  • for tenor or soprano sax
    use the above table and add 2 sharps (or substract 2 flats) to the key signature.

  • for alto or baritone sax
    use the above table and add 3 sharps (or substract 3 flats) to the key signature.

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Copyright © 2002 Michael Furstner (Jazclass). All rights reserved.