Saxophones For Beginners

Saxophones For Beginners

14 minutes

The saxophone is a great instrument to learn, with a wonderful sound and the flexibility to get involved in all sorts of styles of music. But choosing between saxophones for beginners can be confusing. Do you go for soprano, alto, tenor or baritone, and how much do you need to spend to get a good quality instrument?

Which Type Of Saxophone
Should I Choose?

SOPRANO

Yamaha YSS475II
Soprano Saxophone
Good mid-level soprano
$ 2,500
/£1,800
  • Level: Intermediate
  • Ideal for: Experienced amateurs/students
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

The soprano is the smallest of the regular four types of saxophone, and plays at a higher pitch than the other three.

It is often considered the most difficult of the regular saxes to play, as playing the higher notes well requires a lot of fine control of the mouth muscles, so we don’t tend to recommend it for beginners. The one exception might be if you are already a fairly advanced clarinet player, as that instrument requires a similar degree of control.

Another thing to consider is that there aren’t many student sopranos available, so you might find you have to splash out on a more expensive intermediate or pro sax if you choose this instrument.

PROS
CONS

ALTO

Yamaha YAS280 Alto Saxophone
Excellent student
alto saxophone for beginners
$ 1,300
/£900
  • Level: Beginner/Intermediate
  • Ideal for: Beginners, students
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

The alto is the second smallest standard sax, and is a great choice of saxophone for beginners.

Its sound is easier to control than the soprano, and it is lighter than the larger tenor and baritone saxes, so easier to hold and play with good posture.

There is also a good range of reasonably priced student instruments available

PROS
CONS

TENOR

Yamaha YTS280
Tenor Saxophone
Good mid-level soprano
$ 1,300
/£900
  • Level: Beginner/Intermediate
  • Ideal for: Beginners, students
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

Tenor saxophones are larger still, and are also a good choice for beginners, but only really for adults and older children.

The playing difficulty is very similar to the alto, but the added weight means it is likely to be uncomfortable to hold unless you are quite physically mature.

There are a range of student tenors available at reasonable prices, though they are more costly than student altos.

PROS
CONS

BARITONE

Trevor James
Classic II
Baritone Saxophone
Good entry level baritone
$ 3,700
/£2,600
  • Level: Intermediate/advanced
  • Ideal for: Experienced amateurs/students
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

The baritone is the largest and lowest of the regular saxes. It is a rarer choice for beginners, because its weight makes it quite physically demanding, and its size means it needs a lot of air to produce a sound.

However, it is not as technically challenging as the soprano, so if you yearn for a low sound and are in good physical shape you could consider it as a beginner.

Be prepared though, baritones aren’t cheap and not many student instruments are manufactured of this type.

PROS
CONS

What To Consider When Buying A Saxophone

Your size

As they are made of metal, saxophones are generally too heavy to hold just with your hands as happens with other woodwinds like clarinet and oboe. So most saxophonists use a neck strap or ‘sling’, which distributes most of the weight on the neck.

Obviously it’s important not to put too much pressure on this area for health and posture reasons, so choosing a sax that is suitable for your size is very important. In general, alto is best for beginner children, and adults/older beginners can choose between alto and tenor.

saxophones for beginners

For particularly young children (approx. 7-10) for whom even a standard alto sax is a bit too heavy, there are special lightweight altos called Alphasaxes which make playing much more comfortable for these ages. One of the main ways the manufacturer reduces the weight is by removing the keys for the highest and lowest notes, which players don’t tend to learn until a few years in. This means that if you start on an Alphasax you will eventually need to swap it for a standard instrument – but this is normally not for 3 years or so.

Price

When you look at the range of alto saxophones on music shop websites, the prices can range from around £300 to over £8000. How can the prices vary so widely for what seems like essentially the same product? The answer is mostly to do with design, precision of construction and the materials used, but the important thing to know is that you can get an excellent student instrument for between £500-900.

You shouldn’t really spend any less than this if you’re buying new – instruments that are significantly less than £500 tend to be badly set up, meaning there will be leaks and other issues that might even stop the instrument from working properly right out of the box. They will also be made using worse quality materials, meaning the pads can deteriorate faster, the keys can bend and the overall wear and tear will be much more significant over time.

You also don’t need to spend more than £900 unless you really want to. The benefits of more expensive instruments are mostly to do with improved tone and more precise tuning, which are nice to have, and important for professionals and advanced students. But as a beginner there’s minimal chance you’ll be hitting the upper limits of your first sax’s capabilities for at least four or five years, and probably longer than that.

price of beginner saxophone

New vs Second-Hand vs Rental

All of these are valid options, but there are some things to be aware of.

New instruments are the most hassle-free choice – you buy a saxophone from a reputable supplier, it is properly set up so will work well straight away, and it comes with a warranty in case there are any problems. But of course it is also the most expensive choice, and if you later decide the sax isn’t for you, you’ll take a hit when you sell it on.

Second hand saxes are where the best value can be had, but there are potential pitfalls. Saxes can in theory last for hundreds of years, but certain crucial parts will deteriorate over time and need replacing or fixing. The pads, for example, which sit inside the keys and have the all-important job of sealing the holes to allow notes to speak, are normally made of leather, and over time they can harden and leak, split or go mouldy. This can be fixed, but the cost of an ‘overhaul’, where a saxophone repairer strips down and replaces basically all the perishable parts of the instrument, can run north of £500.

Evidently then, it is important to know that the instrument you are buying is in good condition, and not due an overhaul or other expensive work. If buying on eBay or a similar site, it is very hard to do this, so the best option can be to buy second hand from a good music shop. Often larger shops will have a repairer on site, meaning they are able to ensure second hand instruments are in good condition, and offer a warranty to give you some added peace of mind.

The final option is rental. This allows you the flexibility to return your instrument if you later decide it isn’t for you, but can be expensive in the long run. Again, using a reputable music shop is a good idea, as they will provide instruments in good condition and repair them if problems occur. Some shops offer ‘rent to buy’ deals where a percentage of your rental fees can be credited towards the cost of a new instrument, which can be a very good option if you don’t want to commit to buying straight away.

Materials and Finish

Most saxophones are made of brass with a thin layer of lacquer on top, which prevents the metal from tarnishing and keeps it looking shiny. Instrument manufacturers do experiment with other finishes and materials, ranging from different colours of lacquer to silver and gold plated, unlacquered and even solid bronze, silver and gold construction. Most of these will be more expensive than the standard finishes, and they don’t provide any really tangible benefits for a beginner saxophonist. There is nothing wrong with them, and if you’re willing to pay more for cosmetic reasons then be our guest – but they are not necessary.

Extra Options

New saxophones very commonly come with the most important accessories, such as mouthpiece, reeds, sling and cleaning cloths, and some come as a ‘beginner’s pack’ including things like books and instrument stands. Apart from the crucial accessories I’ll discuss below, these additional elements are not strictly necessary.

Saxophone material and finishes

Our Top 3 Saxophones

ONE

Trevor James
Alphasax
Eb Alto Saxophone
Gold Lightweight alto sax for younger beginners
$ 700
/£500
  • Useful for: beginner - ABRSM grade 3 level
  • Age range: 7-10
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

This is basically an alto with some of the keys removed to make it lighter. These instruments are great for younger beginners, approx. 7-10 years old, for whom a full-size alto is a bit too heavy. They also come with a ‘harness’ type sling, which can be fiddly for younger students to put on, but does spread the weight across the shoulders and torso rather than concentrating it on the neck, which is also helpful for smaller beginners.

The missing keys are only really needed above ABRSM grade 3 level, which means students are unlikely to outgrow the Alphasax for at least 3 years in most cases. The keywork has also been tweaked to make it more comfortable for small hands, which is a nice touch.

In our experience these saxes are well made, easy to play on and are a very good choice overall. The only downside is the need to switch to something else a few years down the line.

PROS
CONS

TWO

Yamaha YAS280 Alto Saxophone
Excellent student saxophone
$ 1,300
/£900
  • Level: Beginner/Intermediate
  • Ideal for: Beginners, students
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

Yamaha have been making excellent student saxophones for years, with previous models including the 23, 25 and 275, and they also make a range of more expensive professional instruments.

The YAS 280 has good build quality and an excellent tone. They are on the pricier side for a beginner instrument, but you are getting a lot of sax for your money, and if you buy one, you won’t need to upgrade unless you’re seriously thinking of turning professional.

PROS
CONS

THREE

Trevor James
‘The Horn’
alto saxophone
Reasonably priced student alto
$ 800
/£550
  • Level: Beginner/Intermediate
  • Ideal for: Beginners, students
7/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  7/10

As well as the Alphasax, Trevor James make a range of full-sized student (and professional) instruments. Whilst they don’t have quite the same pedigree as the Yamahas, these saxes are well built and will work very well for a beginner, whilst being a good bit cheaper than the Japanese brand.

PROS
CONS

Essential Accessories to Also Spend On

Mouthpiece

Yamaha 4C
Saxophone Mouthpiece
Available for both alto and tenor sax
$ 47
/£33
  • Designed for: beginners and students
  • Material: plastic
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

It should be said that if you are buying a new sax, a mouthpiece is often included, and if it is a good quality saxophone then the mouthpiece will likely be fine to get you started. But if you are in any doubt, this small additional purchase will likely make all the difference.

PROS
CONS

Reeds

Juno by Vandoren
Alto Sax Reeds

Good quality reeds
$ 9
/£6
  • Designed for: beginners and students
  • Material: cane
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

The vibration of the reed against the face of the mouthpiece is what produces the sound on a sax. So as you might expect, this is not an area where you should economise. Bad reeds will lead to bad sound.

New saxes sometimes come with a few reeds, but reeds are natural products (they are essentially just very thin bits of wood) so will degrade over time. When you are a beginner, they are also likely to break quite a lot – the tip of a reed is very thin, and even brushing it gently against your clothes as you check your finger positioning on the sax will often be enough to break it. So buying at least three additional reeds to get you started is advisable. You will definitely get through them.

The two important reed variables for beginners are quality and strength. Quality is relatively easily achieved by buying an established brand such as Rico or Vandoren. Strength just means how flexible the reed is, and how easily it vibrates. Most reed companies measure strength on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the softest.

For a child beginner, strength 1.5 is what we would recommend, and for an adult strength 2 should do the job.

Once you’ve been playing for a few months and have started to develop your mouth muscles and breath control, you can gradually increase your reed strength to give you a warmer tone and more control.

But initially, it is very important not to play on reeds which are too hard – the effort of producing a sound can cause excess tension to be embedded in your playing technique, and it can be very hard to shift that later on. So if your new sax comes with a strength 3 reed, keep it for later.

PROS
CONS

Sax Neck Strap

BG Sax Strap
for alto & tenor
Good quality standard sling
$ 15
/£11
  • Useful for: Alto and tenor players
  • Age range: 12+
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

Most new saxes come with a decent neck strap, but there are a few things to watch out for.

Bouncy neck straps are to be avoided at all cost. Straps made from elastic might seem more comfortable, but all they do is make the sax bounce around as you’re trying to play on it, which is a nightmare when trying to develop a consistent technique. Some padding for comfort is fine, but make sure your neck strap does not bounce or flex.

The other thing to check is whether the strap is easy to adjust. You should be able to adjust the strap to get the sax’s mouthpiece right up to your mouth, with no additional lifting with the hands or stooping with the neck required. If the adjustment is fiddly or broken, younger students often won’t bother, leading to compromised posture and technique.

Our standard recommendation is a BG sling. They are solid and relatively easy to adjust without being overpriced.

For younger students or those playing a heavier sax, you might want to consider a sax harness.

This goes around your shoulders and spreads the weight more evenly and comfortably. It is more inconvenient to take on and off, and can get irritatingly tangled, but if you are finding the weight around your neck uncomfortable it is a good option.

PROS
CONS

Saxophones For Beginners
Summary

There are a few things to consider when choosing your first instrument, and this might seem like a lot of information. But if you make the right choices on size, quality, cost and accessories of your new sax you give yourself the best chance of having a great playing experience right from the start.

The array of choice on music shop websites can seem overwhelming: alto or tenor, frosted silver or black lacquer, £20 mouthpiece or £200 mouthpiece. But don’t get distracted, stick to the fundamentals and buy good quality, and you won’t go wrong.

Do leave a comment below and let me know what you ended up purchasing!

Ted's List

Best All-Round Saxophone

YAS 280

The YAS 280 is the best alto saxophone for beginners that will give you great results for many years.

Ted's List

Best Value Saxophone

Trevor James ‘The Horn’

The Trevor James ‘The Horn’ is a solid instrument for students, at a very competitive price.

Ted's List

Best Beginner Alto Saxophone

Trevor James Alphasax

The Trevor James Alphasax is a very good instrument, and much less physically demanding for smaller, younger beginners.

FAQ's

What is the best saxophone for a beginner?

The best saxophone for a beginner is the YAS 280 alto.

Is it hard to learn the saxophone?

Playing a tune on the saxophone can be achieved within one lesson, but true mastery takes many years of careful practice.

How much does a beginner saxophone cost?

A good beginner saxophone costs between £500-900/$700-1300 for an alto, and more for other types of saxophone

What saxophone should I buy?

For a beginner, the best saxophone is a good quality student alto such as the Yamaha YAS280

Can a Saxophone be Too Cheap?

Yes. Saxophones are complex instruments that require precision construction to work properly, and a new saxophone for significantly less than £500/$900 is unlikely to be a good purchase.

 

How Easy Is It To Get Started Learning Saxophone?

Very easy. Buy or hire an instrument, and search for a good teacher in your area.

How much does a saxophone cost?

A good quality student alto saxophone costs between £500-900/$700-1300 new. Professional instruments start from around £2000/$2,800.

Which beginner saxophone is right for me?

For a young beginner ages 7-10, an Alphasax might be the best choice. For other beginners a Yamaha or Trevor James saxophone is a good choice.

Why is the Alto Saxophone the Best Type for Beginners?

Alto saxophones are lighter than the larger tenors and baritones, and easier to play than the soprano saxophone. There is also a wide range of reasonably priced student instruments available.

What are the Best Alto Saxophones Brands?

For students, Yamaha and Trevor James are excellent saxophone brands. For more advanced instruments there are a number of top makers including Conn Selmer, Yanagisawa, Keilwerth, Buffet and Yamaha.

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