Is saxophone easy to learn, and how long does it take to play your favorite songs? The quick answer is from a few months to get the basics to a few years to master it.
The learning process includes controlling your breath, facial muscles, fingerings, notation, and tonality. All these factors ultimately converge in defining your own unique playing style.
In many ways, learning the saxophone is like learning a new language. You can quickly catch a few words and create a simple sentence in a language you don’t know much about. But becoming proficient in it is a different story altogether.
Arguably, the saxophone is one of the easiest instruments to learn among others in the woodwind instruments family. However, there are a few caveats you should keep in mind before starting your journey.
In this post, I will cover the essential things you should consider when choosing to learn the saxophone, the most common mistakes beginner saxophone players make, and how to avoid them.
Interesting enough? Let’s get started.
Choosing The Right Saxophone To Learn
The saxophone family consists of 14 different saxophone members, with 6 saxophones being widely used today in orchestra and band setups. These are sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophone, classified in their pitch, from high to low.
I covered the most commonly used saxophone types, tonal ranges, repertoires for each instrument, and buying advice in detail here.
One of the most important aspects when choosing which saxophone to start with is the ease of learning. The easiest to start with is the alto, followed by the tenor saxophone among the sax family.
The alto saxophone is smaller in size, therefore, having the keys closer together. This is an advantage for tiny hands [such as children], making the keys easier to grab therefore learning the finger articulations faster.
Because of its smaller size, its mouthpiece is smaller too, requiring less air to control the instrument. And, of course, the alto saxophone weighs less than its tenor counterpart so that you won’t get hand fatigue faster.
In contrast, the tenor saxophone is heavier due to its larger size, has the keys not as close together as alto’s, and has a larger mouthpiece requiring more air blow.
That being said, if you really like the deeper tone of the tenor saxophone, go ahead and start learning it first.
An important thing to remember is that the alto saxophone is written in E flat while the tenor saxophone is in B flat. But this is by no means a big deal, and most people eventually end up playing both as they have the same fingerings.
Once you get familiar with the alto or tenor saxophone, you can easily apply your skills to any other instrument in the saxophone family. Isn’t that awesome?
Learning The Saxophone
While you can get your first notes easily on the first day with some guidance, saxophone fingerings, blowing technique, and other things such as the right posture will require more effort on your behalf.
Though you can start learning the saxophone on your own, I highly advise you to look for a sax teacher. Basics are important as they create habits, and as you know already, bad habits are difficult to change.
Spare yourself of any potential frustrations down the road and get a sax expert to teach you the foundations first, then take it from there on your own. It really makes a difference!
Learning the basics will take you anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, your dedication being the main factor making the difference.
Many saxophone beginners chose to start playing by the ear. There is nothing wrong with that, especially if you are a hobbyist. You will eventually have to learn notation if you plan to take your saxophone outside your dorm to a band or orchestra.
Learning saxophone notation is easy as you don’t have to deal with chords or other complicated stuff [e.g., guitar, piano]. In return, it will help you learn new songs faster and in the right way – which is always appreciated among musicians.
Like everything in life, it is easy to learn something new but difficult to master. And with saxophones, it is easy to learn to play badly, especially when there is no one to give you proper guidance.
Mistakes To Avoid When Learning The Saxophone
So you decided to take this seriously, and you are ready to learn to play the saxophone. Since the distance between a beginner and an expert is almost always not a straight line, here are some important pitfalls you should keep in mind along the way:
1. Wasting Time On Gear
When I first planned to learn the saxophone, I spent an awful amount of time searching online on which sax type I should start learning first, which brand I should buy, what reed is best, etc.
I soon realized those were just excuses to procrastinate more. I leaped faith and eventually grabbed a second-hand Yamaha alto sax from a shop in my neighborhood.
While the gear can be relevant when you become an expert, it won’t help you learn faster when you are a beginner. Becoming a great saxophone player is not about gear but technique and the sweat and dedication that comes with it.
2. Being Defocused
This is a big one, and we have all been there. At first, things may seem relatively easy, and you may feel the need to learn too fast or, worse, skip some steps.
Be patient. Learn one thing at a time and give yourself enough window to train your muscle memory enough to become a reflex.
For instance, you may choose to learn a new major scale. Practice the fingerings until you get it right. Please don’t jump to another scale until you can really extract some quality out of it.
Go one step further, choose a few scores written on that scale, and see if your eyes and fingers listen to each other.
After a few weeks of practice, repeat the process with another scale. This way will make learning saxophone easy and avoid getting overwhelmed and giving up too soon.
3. Choosing The Wrong Songs
I am sure you have heard before about songs written for a specific instrument in a family. That applies to saxophones too.
If a song is written for tenor sax, it will never sound the same, though possible to play in on an alto. If you play both, try not to mix songs that are particularly written for a sax.
This allows you to get much more intimate with the tonality and nuances of a specific instrument and transmit the right feel to the listener.
4. Wrong Reed Placement
The saxophone is considered an aerophone woodwind instrument therefore requiring a reed to vibrate to generate a sound. The reed is the thin blade of cane placed on top of the saxophone’s mouthpiece.
The type of reed varies based on the type of saxophone you are using. For instance, you cannot use a reed designed for an alto sax on a tenor or any other type of saxophone.
The reed needs to be perfectly aligned with the mouthpiece edges. If you struggle with getting the right sound out of your sax, check if the reed is placed correctly – not too low and not too high.
Also, make sure the reed is tightened in place and is not moving under your lips.
5. Not Practicing Your Muscles
Learning the saxophone requires a bit of fitness as well. No, I am not talking about your biceps but the embouchure muscles. These are the muscles that control your lips, for example, when you’re smiling.
If you choose an expert to teach you the saxophone basics, this will likely be part of your first lesson. Why? Well, because this is probably the most important aspect in getting a beautiful sound out of your saxophone.
Stay fit by practicing your embouchure 2-3 times per day, every day. I can’t stress enough how important this is.
6. Not Keeping Your Sax At Hand
Practicing your muscles often requires your saxophone always to be somewhere you can see it. Unless you are a very organized person, don’t always place your instrument in the box on top of your closet, or it will soon become a collectible.
Get a saxophone stand and place it in the room you spend the most time in. This way, your eyes will inevitably fall on the instrument, and all that is left is to grab it and show it some love. It will soon reciprocate.
So, Is Saxophone Easy To Learn?
If you ask me if the saxophone is an easy-to-learn instrument, I can tell you that it is miles away easier than a violin, guitar, or piano – having learned to play all of them.
However, there is something magic about saxophones.
From harsh and aggressive to smooth and delicate tones, saxophones can express feelings in a way nothing else will.
And it is not only the sound. Saxophones portrait a beautiful and expensive look, dressed in their shining armor, making them even harder to resist.
But how difficult the saxophone is to learn ultimately depends on you! The time, dedication, and passion you put in it will reward you in ways hard to describe in words.