The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Saxophones

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Saxophones

Saxophones are glamorous instruments, made famous by jazz legends and US presidents alike. They look beautiful, elegant and, most of all, incredibly complex. Even the thought of learning how to play one might seem impossible. However, once you get to know them better, saxophones are not as intimidating as they might seem at first.

In this article, you’ll learn all the vital information about saxophones, their history, the way they work and how to start playing one. If you’re looking to start diving into the saxophone world, this is the best starting point.




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A Short History of the Saxophone

The saxophone is a relatively recent invention – it was invented in 1840 by a man called Adolphe Sax, and it was named after him. He patented the entire saxophone family in 1846 with 14 different variants of the instrument divided into two series of seven instruments. However, only certain models achieved widespread popularity.

The most common type of saxophone encountered today comes from the original series that was pitched in B♭ and E♭ and originally intended for use in military bands. The other series, designed for orchestras, was pitched in C and F but it never gained much ground and most orchestras today use saxophones from the more popular series.

Saxophones occupy a unique place in-between the woodwinds and the brass instruments, being woodwind instruments made of brass. Due to their unique sound and versatility, they started being used even before the patent was filed. The French military adopted them in 1845 instead of the bassoon and French horn, and there was already a dedicated saxophone school formed in 1847,

Through its use in military bands, the saxophone eventually found its way to the US and New Orleans. This is where it would see its most widespread use yet – in jazz music. Early jazz bands used instruments from military bands and that included the saxophone. The first wave of popularity hit the saxophone in the 1920s and continued through the decade.

This is what led to the saxophone becoming a staple of other music genres. First, its soulfulness seeped into blues music, through which it spread into Rhythm and Blues, Motown, Doo Wop, Rock and Roll and finally Pop music. Despite never gaining much foothold in orchestral music, it’s still used in that field and classical music.

How to Pick the Right Saxophone Reed for a Beginner

One of the most important parts of the saxophone is the reed. It goes into the mouthpiece, which you blow into.

Since it’s made out of a natural material, usually out of cane, no two reeds are exactly the same. The reed is the part of the saxophone responsible for making the sounds in the first place, which is the reason it’s classified as a woodwind instrument. Due to this, picking the right reed before you start playing is immensely important.

Saxophones use a single-reed mouthpiece, so you have to pick that reed with care if you want your sax to sound good. Here are a few tips on that.

How to Start Playing the Alto Saxophone

Here’s the meat of the matter – how to play the alto saxophone, the most popular type of saxophone, as a beginner. Here’s where you’ll learn how to start your saxophone-playing career.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive guide, but it is a good starting point if you want to start learning quickly and effectively.

The Correct Posture

o start playing the saxophone, you need to assume the correct posture. You can play while standing or sitting down, but it is recommended that you start in a sitting position. It’s easier for you to maintain the correct posture in the sitting position and once you learn a bit more, you can also start playing while standing. It’s almost the opposite from singing postures.

Here’s how to get into the correct playing posture while sitting:

Preparing the Saxophone

Now that you know how to sit properly you’re still not set to start playing. You also need to know how to prepare your sax correctly. If you don’t assemble it properly, you might damage it.

First, there’s preparing your saxophone and gear:

How to Hold Your Saxophone the Right Way

If you assembled your saxophone, you need to take hold of it properly before you start playing. Only then can you start playing your first tunes. For lefties, everything mentioned here goes the other way around, if you’re playing a left-handed sax.

Playing your Sax for the First Time

Now that you’re in the right form, it’s time for you to start playing your first notes. It’s not unlike singing your first notes.

Going Beyond the Basics

Once you’ve got a handle on how to play the basic notes, you can start learning more to advance your skills and start playing some real tunes.


That’s about it for this guide, and it should be enough to get you started, but there will be more in the future – stay tuned for that. Until then, feel free to pop into the comments and ask any questions you may have, or just offer additional tips and tricks or trivia about the saxophone. If this article was helpful to you – share it around and stay musical.

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