Updated: May 3
Check out these saxophone tips for beginners to get started with the saxophone. Plus, we've also included some warm-ups and exercises to help build your skills as a beginner.
Skip to section:
How to Get Started on the Saxophone
Getting started on the saxophone as a beginner can be broken down into a few steps:
Read Our Gear Guide on How to Buy a Saxophone
Here is a Checklist of the Necessary Equipment & Supplies
At least 3 reeds
A neck strap
Watch our YouTube video for a walk-through on each of these supplies:
Other Tip: If you are using a saxophone that has been stored in an attic, basement, or closet for more than a few months, consider getting it checked out by local music store repair tech to make sure it's in good working condition.
Take Our Free Saxophone Fundamentals Class
To get a step-by-step walkthrough of everything in this article, check out our free Saxophone Fundamentals Class which includes 4 different lessons that take you from putting your saxophone together to playing your first 3 notes.
Learning How to Put the Saxophone Together
We go into more detail on that in this post on how to put together a saxophone (both the saxophone and the mouthpiece/reed). Check that out, put your saxophone and mouthpiece together, and then come back for the next steps.
Make Sure You Are Holding the Saxophone Properly
Tighten or loosen the neck strap so that the saxophone mouthpiece comes directly to your lips without any extra effort. Like below:
To hold the saxophone, place your hands and fingers as follows... (and reference the photos below as well):
Place your left thumb on the metal or black plastic circular pad on the top, back side of the saxophone (see image below).
Curve your (left) fingers around the saxophone, in a relaxed manner, to the key pearls on the front side (without pressing any of the keys that are now underneath your palm)
Let your pinky rest of the flat table of keys that stick out somewhat from the saxophone (see image below)
Place your right thumb under the metal or black plastic hook on the bottom back side of the saxophone.
Curve your (right) fingers around the saxophone in a very relaxed manner so that your fingers fall on the key pearls on the other side of the sax (again, not pressing any other keys in the process).
Let your pinky rest on the lower most metal keys (see image below).
Here's how all this looks:
(Right hand/bottom hand):
(Left hand/top hand):
(NOTE: the Saxophone Fundamentals Class covers this in more detail)
How to Make Your First Sound
Watch our video below on how to make a sound on the saxophone:
The First Notes a Beginner Saxophone Player Should Learn
Whether you're learning alto saxophone, tenor sax, soprano, or baritone, here are the notes we recommend learning first:
G - A - B - C - D - E - F# - G
*See our downloadable saxophone fingering chart for beginners for fingerings for these notes, along with their notation on the staff.
The reason we recommend learning these notes first is that they are in the middle range of the horn, and tend to be easier to play (in terms of sound production and keys used). Learning the notes listed above will also teach you the notes you need to know in order to play a couple different scales. You can even play some common melodies or improvise with those notes alone.
For playing your first notes, be sure you are forming a correct embouchure. Watch this video on how to do that (it's also in the "How to Get Started (step 4)" section of this page). Building the right habits from the start will help you become the best player possible.
Have any questions?
Ask your question below and we'll get back to you as soon as possible. Or, keep reading for our suggested exercises for beginners.
The Top Habits to Build as a Beginner Saxophone Player
When it comes to the best saxophone tips for beginners, it is all about building the right habits from the beginning. Developing good habits will help you become the best player possible.
Good Habit #1 - Relax and reduce tension.
You now have a heavy piece of metal hanging from your neck. It's natural to react by hunching your shoulders, squeezing the saxophone, and/or tightening up the mouth when making a sound. Down the road, tension like this will make it difficult to achieve a good tone and will make playing fast licks more difficult.
TAKEAWAY: Try stretching your shoulders, arms, and hands before playing and “shaking it out” every couple of minutes to see if your body feels tense. Check out our warm-up stretch routine as well.
Good Habit #2 - Keep finger movement relaxed
As we start to play faster notes and licks, it again can be a natural reaction to tense up and try to "crank it out." But in fact, you'll see more success from keeping your fingers relaxed and light.
TAKEAWAY: Practice moving notes and scales slowly, and make each movement to the next note relaxed, light, and easy. Increase the tempo little by little, staying relaxed the entire time. If you feel your fingers or body tense up, then slow it back down again.
Good Habit #3 - Watch hand placement on the keys & don't let "flying fingers" happen
We never expect beginning saxophone students to have perfect hand position- we’ll work on that. But still keep an eye out for bad habits like wrapping the pinky on the undersides of keys, not keeping your right thumb under the thumb rest, or not keeping the left thumb poised on the round thumb rest.
Make sure your thumbs are properly positioned with their respective thumb rests. (The left thumb should rested on the round thumb rest on the back, on top of but not pressing the octave key. That thumb should be at a 45-degree angle pointing at the octave key. The right thumb should be comfortably placed under the bottom thumb hook.)
Then, in a relaxed manner, curve your fingers so that they fall comfortably on the key pearls. Keep your fingers on the keys even when you aren't using them (don't let your fingers wander).
Exercises and Warm-Ups for Beginner Saxophonists
#1: Warm-Up Stretches to Reduce Tension
As mentioned in our list of good habits, a relaxed approach is very important. The stretch routine in our Warm-Up Stretches here will help loosen your muscles to help give you a more relaxed approach. They may also help reduce playing injury or discomfort.
#2: Embouchure Relaxation Exercise
Have we mentioned that relaxation is important!? The exercise below will help train a relaxed embouchure. (What's an embouchure? A saxophone embouchure is the way you form your mouth to create a sound on the saxophone).
Here are the exercise instructions:
Play a G (without the octave key), going through the proper embouchure checklist:
Top teeth are on the top of the mouthpiece as your anchor (about 1/2 an inch in from the tip of the mouthpiece)
The bottom lip is over the bottom teeth, creating the thickest cushion possible
Close your lip corners so that no air can escape
Take a deep breath from the bottom of your lungs, and blow air through the saxophone (maintaining your embouchure).
Now loosen your mouth muscles gradually until the note no longer sounds
Play a G again, keeping your mouth muscles as relaxed as possible, while still allowing the note to speak with a full, strong sound.
Repeat this a few times until it starts to feel engrained and natural.
#3: Long Tone Exercises
To add to the previous embouchure relaxation exercise and embouchure checklist, next you can work on long tone exercises. Long tones are where you hold notes for two beats or more, focusing on a strong, well-supported sound and good embouchure.
Check out our Tone Warm-Ups Here for long-tone ideas.
Interested in further instruction? Take our free Saxophone Fundamentals Class
In our free Saxophone Fundamentals Class, you'll start from square one. By the end of the lesson, you'll have learned your first three notes and your first song.