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The Top Saxophone Tips for Beginners [with Videos and Downloads]

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Check out these saxophone tips for beginners to get started with the saxophone. Plus, we've also included some how-tos, warm-ups, and exercises to help build your skills as a beginner.

 

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The Top Saxophone Tips for Beginners

Here are the most common corrections we make in the first few lessons, and so are our absolute top saxophone tips for beginners:

  1. Use a lot of air - it takes a lot of air to play the saxophone (probably more than you think)

  2. Take a deep breath from your diaphragm (which feels like your belly) in order to take in enough air to support your sound

  3. Make sure your palms aren't accidentally pressing other keys - there are a lot of keys under your palms, and even a slight accidental press could stop or interrupt your sound

  4. Make sure your throat is open - you want to keep your throat open (as if there was a grapefruit in your throat, or as if you were trying to whistle a very low note)

  5. Keep your tongue flat at the bottom of your mouth

Next, we'll walk through more detailed steps on getting started on the saxophone.

 

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:


Saxophone Playing Position Example with the Neck Strap

To hold the saxophone, place your hands and fingers as follows... (and reference the photos below as well):

  1. Place your left thumb on the metal or black plastic circular pad on the top, back side of the saxophone (see image below).

  2. 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)

  3. Let your pinky rest of the flat table of keys that stick out somewhat from the saxophone (see image below)

  4. Place your right thumb under the metal or black plastic hook on the bottom back side of the saxophone.

  5. 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).

  6. Let your pinky rest on the lowermost metal keys (see image below).


Here's how all this looks:

(Right hand/bottom hand):

(Left hand/top hand):



(NOTE: the free 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 and form a correct embouchure:

Summary of the saxophone embouchure checklist:

  • Your top teeth on the top of the mouthpiece (about one finger-width from the tip of the mouthpiece)

  • Your bottom lip creates the thickest cushion possible against the bottom of the reed

  • Close the lip corners so that no air escapes

 

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 of 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.


 

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 - Make sure you don't accidentally press additional keys

You'll notice that there are keys right underneath your palms in both your right and left hands. It is very easy to accidentally press one of those keys under your palms. In fact, this is one of the top reasons we see for not getting a sound, or getting a honking sound. Even a very slight press of an extra key is enough to keep you from getting the note out. Because this is so common, it's one of our top saxophone tips for beginners.


Good Habit #3 - 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 #4 - 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.


TAKEAWAY:

  1. Make sure your thumbs are properly positioned with their respective thumb rests. (The left thumb should rest 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.)

  2. 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:

  1. Play a G (without the octave key), going through the proper embouchure checklist:

    1. Top teeth are on the top of the mouthpiece as your anchor (about 1/2 an inch in from the tip of the mouthpiece)

    2. The bottom lip is over the bottom teeth, creating the thickest cushion possible

    3. Close your lip corners so that no air can escape

    4. Take a deep breath from the bottom of your lungs, and blow air through the saxophone (maintaining your embouchure).

  2. Now loosen your mouth muscles gradually until the note no longer sounds

  3. 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.


Thanks for reading! We hope this has helped you get started on the saxophone.

 
What is Play?

Play Online Saxophone Lessons is a flexible alternative to traditional private saxophone lessons. We offer a range of options from on-demand classes, to memberships that allow you to chat with a teacher for feedback, to one-on-one experiences for those looking to accelerate their progress.


Through these different formats, you can choose the option(s) that will best support your goals.




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