Frequently Asked Questions
Do you like our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning The Saxophone’ series? Let us know if you have more questions or suggestions, and remember to sign up for 4 Feature Friday…
Choosing An Instrument
Without playing around, here’s what you should know: saxophones aren’t cheap. There are, however, low cost, starter, plastic saxophones by Nuvo which are the ideal way to dip your toe into the world of saxophone – they probably won’t last long, but they’re enormous fun and perfect to find out if there is interest in the instrument. A good student saxophone for beginners will cost around $330 (£250) at its cheapest, and by then, they’re still on the lowest end. It’s always important to remember that when buying a saxophone, you will always get what you pay for.
You will need a few, but these are the most important. You have to have a mouthpiece, a carrying case, a neck strap, ligature and cap, saxophone reeds, and cleaning supplies. Most if not all of these accessories are sold separately, unless you’re buying an instrument package that features them as freebies. Don’t worry about their price because they’re quite affordable and will help maintain your musical investment for a while.
Like any other instrument, a saxophone will come in different sizes to suit player skill level and age. For adults, however, it’s all about whether you want an alto or a soprano sax. We advise beginners to start on the alto, which is a bit larger. But the thing about the alto’s size is that it’s easier to fiddle with than the smaller soprano. This makes it perfect for a novice whose technique is still being developed at the most basic level. Be sure to find something that fits your age (and therefore body measurements) so you don’t pick out an instrument that is too heavy, bulky, or hard for you to move around in.
Beginners should always go for the alto, both for technique and supply purposes. Alto saxes are the most common in the market, and according to the previous FAQ, they’re not too big but not too small to play. A brand new alto saxophone can cost around $395.75 (£300) to begin with, but it’s not uncommon to find prices beyond that. It’s advisable to spend a good amount of money on an instrument that would last, instead of going cheap the first time and outgrowing the saxophone very quickly.
When it comes to buying a saxophone, again, you get what you pay for. The lowest-priced ones on the market are brittle and don’t sound good. Their setups are also not industry-standard, which means that you often cannot play them using advanced techniques due to a lack of critical features. If you’re buying a used saxophone, be sure to look at whether it has major damage to its body and mechanisms. Any signs of abuse will often mean that the instrument will not perform as well as it’s supposed to. But the only way you’ll know for certain is if you ask a trained professional to take a good look at the instrument you want to buy.
In order to properly and thoroughly clean a saxophone, you have to take it apart. The manual will show you where the attachment points are so you can disassemble the instrument without much trouble.
After disassembly it’s time for cleaning. Get a highly absorbent material such as a sponge and swab the insides of the instrument to get rid of excess moisture. Like any other wind instrument, the saxophone’s worst enemy is moisture. You should also take off the reed and the mouthpiece and wipe them down. Be sure to use a specialised cleaner for this, which is sold separately.
It’s easy to see on the outside how complicated the saxophone’s mechanisms are. There are a lot of moving parts that can go bad without proper maintenance. For instance, its keys must seal the holes every time you play it. And these keys can be damaged if you’re careless enough to drop, bump, or hit them on anything. So like any other instrument, it does require a certain amount of effort to maintain. But if you’re a well-mannered person, you won’t have a problem dealing with the maintenance requirements.
If you’re a particularly careful and disciplined saxophone player, then no, your instrument won’t require a lot of maintenance. It also means that in the long run, you won’t have to spend too much money just to keep the instrument in working order. All you have to do is always remember to play it with care, and put it in its protective case when not in use. Clean it after every performance or practise session. Take it to a professional technician at least once a year for a service. That’s it.
A lot of things can cause a saxophone to squeak when taking in air. More often than not, the culprit is an ill-fitting reed. You must always make sure that this is installed correctly and is wet, and doesn’t suffer from cracks on its surface. Sometimes, it’s also the blowing technique that’s to blame. When playing, you have to position your bottom lip over your teeth, and your bottom teeth must never touch the reed. Or maybe you’re using too much mouthpiece on your instrument, so try limiting that. I recommend reading our detailed guide on saxophone technique for more advice.
The saxophone is known for its iconic “sexy” sound. That said, you will definitely know if it sounds bad. When you hear it, don’t panic. Maybe it’s because of your positioning and the way you hold the instrument. Always make sure to grip it properly and use the correct embouchure when playing. You can check if you have the basics right by reading our guide on how to play the saxophone. Or maybe it’s a hardware problem that you might be able to diagnose by taking the instrument apart. Isolate the areas which you think are problematic and test them, and you can eventually find the source of the bad sound. If you can’t find it, then it would be best to bring your sax to a technician for a checkup.
There is no definitive answer to this, because it depends on your prior musical training/skill level, as well as age. For children who are too small for a full size sax, then yes, it is hard to learn. But to an adult with baseline musicality and prior instruction, it won’t be as hard. The sax is as hard to play as any other instrument you can think of. In order to master it, you would have to commit a certain amount of time and effort. As always, it’s down to quality practice, so skip to our dedicated saxophone practice guide to find out more.
Saxophone reeds come in different sizes. They start at 1 ½ and end up at 4, which is the thickest. The thicker the reed, the harder it is to play, but the fuller the sound will be as well. Beginners should always start at the bottom (1 ½) and work their way up to at least strength 2 down the road. When you eventually find it too easy to play on a 1 ½ reed, you’ll hear that the sound is quite lacking. When you feel like that, that’s when it’s time to move up to thicker reeds, which provide a fuller bodied sound.
There’s no one answer to this, because different people learn at different paces. That includes you. You might be a quick learner and others aren’t.
Everyone can make the saxophone produce a sound on their first day. But that’s merely it: sound. It will take a good amount of time before that sound becomes musical. And even more time for that music to sound melodious. Mastering the techniques such as your embouchure, scales, and vibrato also contribute to the learning curve. If you’re willing to put the work in, don’t be surprised if you get a good sound out of your saxophone in a few years. As always, it’s down to quality practice and technique, so skip to our saxophone practice guide and technique guide to find out more.
People of any age can learn the saxophone, whether by formal instruction or self-teaching. But to be truly masterful at playing it, it is recommended that children start learning as early as age seven. At this age, there will be more than enough time to not only learn the basics, but also the nuances of playing such an iconic instrument. It’s one thing to learn to play music on it, but another thing to learn to play with feeling and passion. This type of skill is best cultivated from an early age.
You have the internet, so you can start with Google! Merely type the keyword “saxophone lessons” and add in your location so you’ll get results nearby. Or you can go to the nearest music shop, where you’re likely to find a list of teachers within the area. If nobody is available, you can simply opt to go for instructional DVDs or videos, which are readily available online. There’s a ton of learning options for you, and you won’t be running out of one anytime soon.
Size is a major consideration when choosing between the two. The alto is smaller and less bulkier than the tenor, which would be easier for people who might have physical issues with lugging around a big instrument. But that’s not all. Going for the alto means you like the brighter, higher pitch that will make it perfect for doing soaring sax solos. The tenor sax, on the other hand, has a lower pitch, but that doesn’t mean it’s less beautiful-sounding than the alto. At the end of the day, it’s your choice.
General Saxophone FAQs
Children as young as 7 can learn how to play the saxophone. Most of the time, these young tots will have to use a smaller instrument with keys that are easy for them to press and hold down. They’ll eventually outgrow the so-called “mini” sax and upgrade to the more standard-sized one. Adults, on the other hand, can learn as well as the children. In other words, there is no age limit to learning how to play sax: just a passion for playing good music is all you need.
Not all orchestral pieces have saxophone parts, but there are a lot, still. So yes, you can join an orchestra as a saxophonist. When trying to get a spot, however, be sure to thoroughly check audition materials if an orchestra is looking for saxophone players. It’s important to keep in mind as well that a lot of modern orchestras don’t explicitly look for saxophonists, as the music they play tend to not have sax parts. If they do, they’re not always written for sax and would be tackled by other woodwind players in the group. Always remember these tips when auditioning or looking for auditions.
Technicalities in music can be confusing, but it’s understandable. For the sax, it’s important to note that some of the very first ones were actually made of wood! In the old days, wood was good enough to produce the sound that orchestral music requires. But times change, and in the modern age, wood simply cannot keep up with the resonance of metal. Metal is also way more durable than wood. Still, the saxophone works like any woodwind instrument, as it produces sound using wooden reeds.
If you have the money for it, why not go for one more saxophone if you already have another? It always helps to have a spare. This is true for higher-level players, especially professionals. For beginners, however, having more than one instrument isn’t a good investment. It is always good to start with one instrument so you will learn and master the different nuances of playing on it. So when the time comes that you get another one when your skills improve, you’ll know what to expect as a player.
A well-cared for instrument from a reputable brand will last any child for several years, until they outgrow the instrument and their playing skills improve. So it would be safe to consider a saxophone as an investment in your child’s future. By the time that the child’s playing improves enough to warrant a more standard instrument, there would be enough information for the student to decide which saxophone best fits their current needs and skills.
Of the 14 types of saxophones, the most common are alto, soprano, tenor, and baritone. The most often played one, however, is the tenor sax. This is what a lot of people see or imagine when they hear the word “saxophone.” A lot of advanced players and professionals play tenor saxes. Soprano saxes are less ubiquitous but there are several high-profile musicians such as Kenny G that use it. As for the baritone sax, it’s not as popular but a lot of people do play it because they love its full-bodied, deep sound.
When thinking about romance and other romantic ideas, a lot of people think of the saxophone. It is known for its iconic sultry sound that’s sure to soothe the ears when played the right way. The saxophone’s role is to serve as the melodic bridge between other instruments such as the trumpet, trombone, and clarinet. Its smooth sound flows easily into almost any musical composition, and also makes it a perfect instrument for music that relies a lot on improvisation such as jazz.
Join Now To Get The 4 Things I’ve Been Loving, Using and Reviewing
4-Feature Friday does precisely what it says on the tin; delivers you an email every Friday with four of the most outstanding things I’ve found that week.
It could consist of exceptional special gifts or possibilities to interact with me, musical instruments, publications, products, music, innovative techniques/tricks, and — needless to say — a variety of exciting musical stuff I dig up from around the globe.
Be part of our online community and enjoy the 4-Feature Friday email by subscribing below: