About Teaching Saxophone

Approach - The first month - Months 2 to 8 - Month 9 and beyond

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SAX 10a.1 - Approach

There are two variables in every teacher - student relationship, the teacher and the student. Each teacher has his/her own unique approach to music, and every student is different.

sax008.gif Keeping this in mind one can distinguish two general approaches to teaching music.

  1. the dogmatic approach : "Do this !"

  2. the approach using logic : "Do it this way, because ...."

As a teacher I am a firm believer in the second approach.
Anything what is based on understanding induces confidence and forms the best foundation for linear progress.

However not all students are susceptible to logic. Young students especially are usually not motivated by understanding and logic, but instead by what is fun and what is required for an exam.
In such cases I use in first instance the dogmatic approach, but during following lessons I gradually add the understanding to it.

With increasing age (for most somewhere in their 20s) students become more logic oriented as is the case for the majority of mature music students.

Many music teachers teach solely in a dogmatic "parrot" fashion. This leaves mature students, who have a genuine desire to understand (about technique as well as about music principles), rather unsatisfied.

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SAX 10a.2 - The first month

The first month I focus exclusively on posture, embouchure and air support.

The important points at the beginning stage (in my opinion) are :
  1. I always start students of with a soft reed such as a Rico No.1.
    This way the embouchure will develop naturally, quickly and above all properly.

  2. The student works on the "wu" and "hoooooh" principles as outlined in Lesson 3 and Lesson 4

  3. I leave the tongue entirely out of it at this stage. All notes are slurred. The main aim is to get a good uninterrupted airflow going from the diaphragm to the reed, without closing the throat.

  4. Always listen for those tell tale "uh" and "ah" starts. These indicate throat closures. Make sure the students start each note with "Hoooh".

  5. All playing is confined to the lower register and on extending voicings down to the low D and C. Use tone exercises as outlined in Lesson 1

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SAX 10a.3 - Months 2 to 8

The new elements introduced during this period are articulation and entering the Middle register.

After about 4 to 6 weeks I start the student on tongue articulation (see Lesson 7).

  1. First very basic "daaaa" legato exercises,

  2. then after a while "daaat" and "dit" staccato exercises.

It is most important to get the four basics steps established right from the start. This puts the student on track for a lifetime of good clean articulation.

Once the student is comfortable with the above I start to put real pressure on the application of correct articulation.

  • Where there is a slur in the music notation - the notes are slurred,
  • where there is not - a legato tongue is used,
  • where there is a staccato - the students must play this.
When playing articulation pieces I stop the student at every mistake. It is amazing how quickly this gets good results.

I was subjected to this approach myself after 3 years of rather sloppy playing. It took me once a full one and a half hour lesson to complete just one line of music (from the left to the right of the page) correctly.

Reading and playing from sheet music correctly also dramatically improves the quality of improvisation or playing by ear.

  • A player with good reading skills is always aware of good articulation and the correct length of each note, and will (consciously or sub-consciously) carry over these good habits in all ad lib solos.

  • A player only capable of playing by ear usually lacks the professional awareness of correct articulation and note length. This results in sloppy solos that are devoid of definition and energy.

Middle register
After 4 to 6 weeks I start the student on a few scales that reach into the middle register. First the major scale of D, then F and G.
sax005.gif These scales reach gradually towards higher pitches.
They also, most importantly, provide three different fingering 'routes' to enter the middle register.

  • D major scale : B - C# - D

  • F major scale : A - sBb - mC - D

  • G major scale : B - sC - D

I spend much effort here to get the proper left thumb action firmly established. If you don't do this now it will be very very hard to correct later.

At this stage I introduce the student also to the fingering rules for the C and Bb. I am rather firm about using the correct C fingerings. The exercise in Lesson 8 is most useful here.


I am usually content leaving the student to focus on the side Bb, leaving the bis key approach until later (12 - 18 months).

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SAX 10a.4 - Month 9 and beyond

At this point the fundamentals of good posture, breathing, embouchure and articulation should all be in place.

Further teaching is now aimed at :

  1. Consolidating the fundamentals
    This is a matter of keeping all elements learnt during the first 8 months on track, and correcting where necessary.
    By the end of the first year all established 'good habits' are likely to remain in place for the rest of the student's playing career.

  2. Firming up the embouchure
    After 8 - 12 months most students have developed sufficient lip muscle strength to change over to a medium soft reed such as a Rico No.1 1/2 and/or to a mouthpiece with slightly larger facing (Yamaha C5). There is however no urgency with this.

  3. Extending pitch range and applying all fingering rules
    I gradually introduce major scales in new keys and also the chromatic scale, all with the appropriate fingering rules.

  4. Start serious tone practice
    Somewhere near the end of the first year I usually introduce the first Overtone practice.
    With young students I usually only outline the principles and practise a bit during most lessons. With adult students, who generally understand the enormous benefit, I go full on into Overtone practice.

As the student progresses, further teaching focuses on musical expression and general improvement of the fundamentals of good tone and technique.
After about three years or whenever the student is ready for it, the vibrato exercises and altissimo practice are introduced.

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Copyright © 20002 Michael Furstner (Jazclass). All rights reserved.