Saxophone/Getting Started



Though this is an online guide to Saxophone, we recommend that you first seek a qualified and reputable saxophone teacher in order to monitor your progress. It is possible to self-study an instrument, however it is extremely difficult for an instrument such as the saxophone, where there are various aspects such as intonation and embouchure which are very difficult to self-monitor. That said, we hope you enjoy the tips from this book!

Getting Started


You may or may not currently own or have access to a saxophone. Whether or not you have one, and whatever type of saxophone it is (alto, tenor, soprano, baritone), there are some basic technical aspects you need to understand about the saxophone.



Many people wrongly consider the saxophone to be a brass instrument. Strictly speaking, the saxophone is a member of the woodwind family as a result of the method of sound production. Under the woodwind family, the saxophone is a member of the single-reed instruments, which include the clarinet and saxophone.


Two mouthpieces for tenor saxophone: the one on the left is rubber; the one on the right is metal

The fundamental sound-producing mechanism of your saxophone is the reed and mouthpiece. As you blow through the mouthpiece, the reed vibrates, which produces the sound. This sound resonates throughout the rest of the instrument and by changing the length of this resonating tube of brass (by pressing different keys), we achieve a wide range of pitches. When you first open your instrument, You should try to locate the mouthpiece, which should look like this. If it doesn't have one, you can try buying one from the music store; for starters you can just buy a cheap student mouthpiece which shouldn't cost more than about $20. Make sure the size of the mouthpiece fits the size of your instrument!!! For example, if you have an alto saxophone, make sure you buy an alto-saxophone mouthpiece. If in doubt, take the whole lot to the music shop and they should be able to help you. Next, if there is a reed attached to the mouthpiece, loosen the metal clamp (this is called the ligature) and remove the reed. This is very important for hygiene reasons, as we will soon discover! Avoid using a second hand reed at all costs. Again, reeds can be purchased at the music shop for about $2 each, or they also come in boxes of 5, 10, 20. When starting, we recommend using soft reed because these are the easiest to make a sound on. They will also prevent your cheeks from getting sore, which can occur for the beginner. Again, make sure when purchasing these that they are the right size for your mouthpiece and instrument! Reeds are highly fragile and special care should be taken when handling them.

Preparing the reed


The reed will only work properly when it is wet. To do this, soak the reed in a glass of water for about 1-2 minutes. This should get the reed soaked enough to vibrate freely. Alternatively, you can moisten the reed in your mouth by sticking it in your mouth while you assemble your saxophone.

Reeds come in sizes ranging from 1-5 and usually also come in half sizes. Some companies gauge the reed's strength with soft, medium, or hard. Be aware that these strengths are somewhat subjective and there is no definitive scale, so one vendor's 3 may be 'harder' than another vendor's 2.5 size. Beginners usually play with a size 2 or 2.5 reed, and as they progress and develop as a player may choose to use harder reeds. The higher the number, the harder the reed.

Harder reeds provide more air resistance at the mouthpiece, and therefore allow the player to play louder but require more control and diaphragm support. In general, it is easier to play low notes on a softer reed and easier to play high notes (especially altissimo tones) on a harder reed. It is common practice for a saxophone player to keep between 4 and 10 good reeds on hand and rotate their use so that their performance stays consistent and so that there is always an available reed in case of breakage.

A common practice by some saxophone players (particularly in pop and jazz music) is to keep their reeds soaked constantly in a water/alcohol solution (diluted mouthwash or vodka). This method requires harder reeds and more embouchure control, but the reeds' quality remains consistent and they are immediately ready to use. As with all aspects of playing music, every player has differing opinions and tastes as to what works for them, and the only way to find out what works best for oneself is to try it.

Positioning the reed on the mouthpiece


The reed should have a thick end and a thin end. The thin end should have a rounded edge which corresponds to the rounded edge of the mouthpiece. Place the reed on the flat part of the mouthpiece so it covers the rectangular hole and the top, rounded edge of the reed matches the rounded edge of the mouthpiece. Move the reed down slightly just so that there is 1-2mm gap between the top of the reed and the top of the mouthpiece. If the reed is too high up, it will block the air and you won't be able to make a sound. If it is too low, the air will flow too quickly and the reed won't be able to vibrate. Once this is done, pop the ligature over the ensemble, and tighten it, making sure the ligature has been put through the right way (wide end down), and the screws sit above the reed. Make sure while you tighten it that the reed doesn't move out of position. Tighten the screws just enough so they are finger-tight. Try blowing through this mouthpiece ensemble. It should make a terrible yelp. Congratulations, you have blown your first note on the saxophone (mouthpiece)!

Advanced tip: Positioning the reed slightly higher or lower on the mouthpiece will make the reed harder or softer respectfully.

edit has more information and articles.

Sax on the Web Saxophone Playing Tips and Lessons.

Sax Music Plus Beginner's Trouble-shooter.

[1] has exercises, transcribed solos and various articles.