A Decades Long Saxophone Journey
Original 6/13/22. Updated 4/2/2023

Swab and Pad Saver
Ear Plugs
Reed and Mouthpiece
Sheet Music and Books
The Learning Process
    This is kind of a point by point summary of some of my important findings.
Playing Saxophone by Ear Initial Thoughts
    For My Full Page on Starting to Play the Saxophone by Ear, go here

Back when I was 19-20 I lived in far Northwest Chicago.  Occasionally my friends and I would go down to Lake Michigan to roam around the parks or beach.  One night we were on the Northwestern University campus, right next to the lake.  There's a park there between some of the dorms on the South.  As we were just roaming around, sitting on the big rocks piled up to keep the shoreline from eroding, and contemplating life, I heard this saxophone.  I looked around and I could see a guy sitting in the window of his dorm, half hanging out, just belting out a mellow tune.  The sound filled the air.  It was beautiful.

Fast forward about 10 years, I still remember that saxophone and decide to buy a used sax.  If I recall it was Bundy II.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I bought a beginner book and started teaching myself.  But I was still working and raising a family at the time, and started a Masters program, so didn't spend much time, and didn't get much better.  I could play some songs (I knew how to read music from my guitar background), but I felt frustrated, and I gave it up and sold the sax.

Fast forward another few years, I end up buying another sax, off Ebay, but same thing happened.  Frustration set in and I sold it.  Thinking back on it, it was still lack of time, and that produced frustration because I wasn't progressing as fast as I wanted to, I don't think there were any online classes at the time!

Fast forward 30 years, yeah that makes me 60.  Kids are grown and doing their own thing.  I retired at 57 to prepare for a motorcycle trip around the world, take off in December of 2019, get only as far as Colorado to Honduras before COVID closes all the borders, I get stuck in Honduras for three months, and 7 months after leaving, I'm back in the US, hoping it all just goes away... It didn't.  Having sold everything before the trip I had to reestablish myself and ended up on 8 acres in Alabama.

I realize I have a lot of time on my hands, which brings me to January of '22, COVID is still a thing, and I decide it's about time I try the saxophone again, because I finally have time, and the prospects of traveling through the land of COVID bureaucracy is not appealing, and that sound drifting across the park at Northwestern that one night hasn't gone from my head.

So, seeing as I'm not going to spend a lot of money, I get myself on Ebay and see what's selling.  I settle for a new China made Tenor for $550 (can't really beat that).  Got myself a couple beginner lesson books, a couple beginner song books and I'm off.  Made pretty quick progress for a couple weeks until the sax got annoying.  The pads were sticking to the holes, and the G# key would stay stuck, and no matter how much I tried to clean the pads, first with Zipo lighter fluid (that's recommended) and then a leather conditioner, they still stuck.  Then I also noticed that the octave mechanism on the top of the neck was bent.  So started the process to return the sax. 

Soon as I knew I was returning it I started looking for a replacement.  Again Ebay, but figured I'd need to spend a little more if I wanted decent quality. Clearly $550 was not going to cut it. Looked like at least $1000 gets you something decent. I found a fully rebuilt Cleveland, from the 70's.  Rebuilt by a guy who has been doing instruments for 40 years.  It looked good in the photos but, that didn't turn out so well.  You can definitely see that technology made some leaps from the 70's to the China model.  The Cleveland was very hard to operate, especially the table keys, and actually there were some corks missing, and then the G# key got stuck open, and another cork fell off... So, I started the return process again.

Then I found
Reverb.com.  Found a Selmer Aristocrat TS600, discontinued, new, under warranty for just around $900.  It was a pleasure to play compared to the previous two.  Everything worked and although made in Taiwan, the build quality was obvious.  In the mean time I had signed up for Scott Paddock's Saxophone classes online and started following his program.  Along with other videos, I was making good progress, practicing 1.5-3 hours per day.

While I had been looking for that Selmer I had come across some information on Rose Brass saxophones.  More copper and added phosphor, that makes the material harder and stronger, and gives it a rosy copper look, and a "darker" sound.  It kept bugging me, so I figured as long as I saved some money on the Selmer, why not get it and keep the one I liked better, or keep them both!  I ordered a Rose Brass Tenor off Ebay from Eastern Music after I saw a very positive review video on YouTube.  But honestly, it was the look of the thing that really caught my eye. We all like our shiny stuff, right?

Well, when I got it, it didn't exactly look like that.  Problem being that the company showed pictures of one thing, but described a different thing.  The main issue was appearance.  Yes, there was a hint of that rose color but it wasn't all polished and shiny like the photos in the ad..

The actual finish was dull, nothing was polished, and the bell and body were actually a different color.  Hard to tell in the above photo, but it was also more of gold than rose.  To make a long story short, I did order an unlacquered natural rose finish and that's what I got, but the photos they posted were of a lacquered instrument.  And after some discussion with the manufacturer and on a sax forum, it turned out that the instrument was acid dipped to impart a uniform "patina"/discoloration/oxidation.  This is what it looks like two months later:

It's more of a gold color with still a little tinge of rose.  After getting all this clarified, I decided to keep it, because it did seem to play well.  There were some other minor issues related to description versus actual and I compromised with Eastern to give me a small discount. Getting over that initial disappointment in appearance was rough, but I did want an unlaquered instrument, and one guy on the forum said if I don't keep it, don't ever order another one, because this was actually a very consistent color, and it will probably change with time.

Anyway, after two months of playing both, 1.5 to 3 hours per day, most days, and going back and forth between the Eastern Music the Selmer, I actually much prefer the Eastern.  The Selmer is up for sale.  I thought I'd keep both, but there is a slight difference in key placement between the two and I don't see the point of switching back an forth when I prefer the Eastern. The Eastern is more free flowing, less stuffy than the Selmer.  Also, it actually has a brighter sound and resonates much better, more freely, than the Selmer across the entire range.  Some of the keys on the Eastern Music have less travel than those on the Selmer, which feels more natural.  If I sell the Selmer I may just get another Eastern! Because if one is good, two is better, right?

In total, after four months of playing I'm happy with my progress. I'm no expert, but my previous two attempts did significantly reduce my learning curve. I would say the big difference is in what I learned about embouchure, from Scott and Jamie Anderson, who also has a Youtube channel. Scott explained the tonguing well, and Jamie explained the use of a "fish"/fat lip embouchure, which seems like it works better than the tucked, tight lip one.  Also, his focus on not putting excessive pressure on the reed, but letting it vibrate as freely as possible was a good tip. I guess that's a big problem with students; biting down and cutting off air flow.

I can play quite a few songs now and between Scott's videos and his personal responses to my questions, along with other videos, I've got a much better grip on the instrument than I had either time before.  I did also buy into the lessons on https://www.infinitemusician.com/.  These are classes by David Liebman, who's suppose to be a legend.  Having never followed the saxophone world, I'm not familiar with him, but I'm finding his lessons useful.

I'm still learning to play in different keys, but I'm not sure how far I'll take that.  I can always transpose songs into different keys if I need to, so why learn all the keys?  I get it if you're going to play in a band and need to play and improvise in any key, but I have no plans to do that, so for me it's more a matter of just working on my tone, smooth transitions, overtones, finger speed and precision, and learning songs I like. 

I really don't plan on getting into improvisation.  Honestly I like a cleaner, less busy melody.  Trying to squeeze more notes in than needed doesn't really appeal to me.  I hear some people improvise and you can't even recognize the song after all the embellishment thrown in.  It's kind if like when a lead guitarist starts improvising; yeah there's a lot going on and it's busy, but how many times can you hear the same types of riffs?  I have written a few of my own songs, on guitar, and I find that more rewarding.

Another thing I decided was not to spend a lot of time on using a metronome and trying to accurately count 1e&a2e&a, etc..  Scott is very good at doing that counting to a beat, but he has to be, because he plays professionally.  Me, if I know what the song should sound like, I can make it sound like that.  Also, trying to play with a metronome is just distracting to me. Even a song that I can play well, I'll mess up if I'm trying to listen to the metronome at the same time. If I'm off the slightest bit it messes me up, but if I'm not playing in a band it doesn't really matter.  If I need to play smoothly in a song I make an effort to do that, but close enough is close enough.  I could see myself spending hours writing beats under the notes trying to hit them exactly, for what?  I enjoy playing, my significant other says she likes listening to it.  So, what more can I ask?  I'm going to stay with Scott's classes and pick and choose out of them what I find useful.

Swabs and Pad Savers
The first sax I bought came with one of those pipe cleaner fuzzy pad savers.  Figured out pretty fast that the cheap one's fall apart and leave bits behind  Then I bought an HW Pad saver, which was much better, doesn't fuzz or come apart.  But what I really like is the "Hodge" silk swab  .  A silk cloth you pull through the saxophone to pick up moisture.  Wow, what a job it does.  it's a bit of a pain to drop the guide rope down the bell, then tilt the instrument so that rope comes out the top, but other than that, it's all you need to keep your instrument dry.

With the neck off the sax, I drop the string into the bell, tilt and drop the rope out the top, grab the robe, tilt back upright, pull on the rope, when the silk just starts to show out the top, I stop there and let it sit for 15-20 seconds, so it absorbs, then I pull it out slowly, stopping every three inches or so.  Don't just pull it through, it will not absorb as much.  Amazing how much spit comes out.  No way a pad saver does that.  I then take the reed and ligature off the mouthpiece, wipe the reed off (wash with water if cane), grab the mouthpiece with my hand (with the swab covering my hand), pass the sting into the other end, and shake it until I can pull it out the mouthpiece.  I pull it almost all the way through, but stop while there's still some swab showing at the large end.  Then I pull the mouthpiece off about an inch off the neck, and use the exposed section of swab to dab that end of the neck.  I then pull the neck off the swab, while still holding the mouthpiece and swab with the other hand.  Now the neck is dry.  I then pull the swab all the way through the mouthpiece, wipe the outside, and it's also dry.

Next.  It's also great for cleaning the pads and getting trapped spit.  If you buy a used saxophone, generally the worst corrosion is at the top of the neck, because those normally closed pads and ports still have moisture in them even if you run the swab through the instrument.  But because the Hodge swab is thin, you can take a section and run it between the body and the pad to absorb the spit that's still stuck there.  Same for the other normally closed ports (like the sticking G and low D#). It is crazy how much spit is absorbed by running the silk swab under the keys.  It totally make sense why a used saxophone is the most corroded around the highest keys; a lot of spit gets caught in there.  Of course it will also depend how you hold your saxophone as to what holes and pads the spit will accumulate in, but those top one's always have spit in them; dripping. 

The Reed and Mouthpiece

I've settled on a Legere synthetic reed 2.25 (Scott Recommended) and a Yamaha 5C mouthpiece.  The Selmer came with what seemed like a 4C equivalent and it was just too stuffy.  I felt like I could blow a lot harder and it was just holding my air back.  I've also tried from 1.5 to 3.0 cane reeds and even a metal jazz #6 (tip opening more like a #7 Yamaha actually) mouthpiece.  But, with the wider opening, I found the high notes much harder to control (I can flatten and sharpen them over a wider range), which at this point is probably not good for me.  The 5C seems to work really well with the 2.25.  I can hit the highs and lows and it has good volume, and there's no licking and wetting needed.  Put it on and play.  It's not cheap to replace if you nick it or something, but it's a perfect compromise between a 2.5 (getting to stiff) and a 2.0 (too flexible).

8/10/2022 Update: 
I've purchased a metal #5 mouthpiece, which is a 1.9mm tip opening, from the same eBay reseller I got the #6 from (which is a 2.03 opening).  With the 2.25 reed it's really a nice combination.  Good volume, not muffled, and plays across the whole range without excessive pressure, while still relatively easier to control than the #6 from that supplier. 

And actually my 2.25 reed wore out.  I tried trimming the tip a little but it came out too stiff.  I tried going back to a cane 2.5 reed, but again, I just find it too stiff, and needing to wet them is kind of annoying now that I'm used to the plastic reed.  So, I'm experimenting again.  I could just get get another 2.25, but at $34 dollars a piece, that's a bit ridiculous.  I know enough about plastics that that I know there's maybe a couple pennies of plastic there.

I had previously purchased a Bari synthetic Medium, which they say is a 3+.  That was ridiculously stiff.  I took a shot at sanding it, but that did not work and I tossed it.  I now went and tried their Medium Soft which is supposed to be a 2.0-2.5.  Yeah, it's probably a 2.5-2.75.  Too stiff.  I tried sanding one of those down also to get it softer but it didn't play well, so tossed that also.  I now have an order in for the Bari soft, which is supposed to be a 1.5-2.  Judging by their other reeds, it's going to be a 2.0 or slightly higher, at least on my scale.  The Bari reeds are $13 each plus shipping, so I can get three of them for not much more than one Legere, figure in the long run, if it works it's worth the experimentation. 

I also tried some 1.5 Rico cane reeds, they were just too soft and didn't play well across the full range of the instrument. I still have a plastic Legere 2.0 that didn't play well with my Yamah #5, but with my #5 metal mouthpiece it plays amazing; easily across the full range.  Being that I'm waiting for the Bari, I've been using the Leger 2.0.  My hope is that the Bari Soft is close to the Legere 2.0; all the advantages of a synthetic reed, for a fraction of the Legere price.

I'm actually amazed at what a difference these reed strengths, and mouthpieces make to the playability.  The general principal is with a stiff reed you use a lower number mouthpiece.  Otherwise it will take a lot of effort in both air and lip pressure to play.  With a stiff reed I can't get through much of a song before my lips are Jello.  Also, it takes a lot of initial tongue pressure when you press and release to start a note, and I'd find I just get air flow, not the note.  Some combinations are relatively effortless, others can make it near impossible to hit certain notes consistently.

My teacher Scott recommended I get a Yahama 4C and the 2.25 synthetic or 2.5 cane reeds.  After only playing less than two months it became clear that the combination was stuffy and limiting my air flow.  I'm glad I took the time to try the metal mouthpieces and experiment with reeds.  Now at 8 months of playing, I'm starting to zero into the combination that I'll stick with.  If the Bari reeds don't work out, then it will probably be another Legere 2.0 or 2.25.  I don't see any weakness in those reeds, only the price.

8/19/2022 BARI vs Legere Reeds
Well, the BARI reeds didn't work out.  The Standard S is playable, but it's just not as playable as the Legere 2.0 Classic.  I then purchased an "Elite" BARI S from the manufacturer, and they also sent me an ECO MS (made from recycled plastic). From what I could tell the Elite was used and warped, so it played pretty bad, but that's what they sent me! I'm going to ask for my money back.  The BARI's are more effort; higher lip pressure needed on high notes, high notes difficult to get out, high F difficult to pop, and playing Overtones results in a lower range (can't hit as many high overtones).  The Elite also has a very narrow range starting at high B, where you're either quacking or choking it off.  And the low notes were harder to initiate. Maybe if it wasn't warped it would have been better, but the fact that they would even send me a reed that bad doesn't say much for them.

I'll also be returning the other BARI reeds that I have left over; two Original S's and one Star MS.  I'll use the money to buy a couple more more Legere 2.0 Classics.
8/28/2022 Update:
I tried the BARI reeds. I think the Elite reed was bad.  The reed was warped and had scuffs on the underside.  They also sent me an Eco reed, which is made from recycled plastic. Of the two, the Elite actually played worse.  At about high B it kind of starts to fall apart.  There's a very narrow range between choking it off and sounding like a duck.  The high E and F were also difficult and generally it required more lip pressure on the higher end.  The Eco was more stable but still more difficult on the high notes.

Played side by side with my Legere Classic 2.0, the Legere is significantly better than either one of them.  No ducks, no choking off, the notes pop over the entire range, high overtones come out easier.  Just easier to play overall.  I sent back those reeds, and some BARI's I had bought earlier and used the money to buy two more Legere 2.0's.  They came and they are totally consistent with my current reed.

I moved away from the metal mouth piece I was using, and back to the Yamaha 5C.  It takes less effort, it's not as loud, but more importantly it has a cleaner sound, deeper, more mellow, less shrill. High F is a little harder to hit, and the very low notes require less pressure, but the differences are minor. The sound is much more pleasing, less shrill.

I do have the plastic MP that came with the Eastern Music.  That was just worthless, because the sealing surface wasn't smooth.  I tried sanding it and got it so it plays, but still not as well.  It's a no name so, hardly worth the effort.  I see a Yamaha 6C in my future.  It actually has a slightly smaller gap than the metal mouthpiece, but would have the same deeper tone.

9/30/2022 Update:
Now that I've been playing the Legere's 2.0 for a month, my oldest one was starting to sound buzzy.  So, figured since I have two newer one's might as well try to trim it.  Used a heavy duty toenail clipper to trim about a mm off the end.  That makes a huge difference; too stiff actually, but a lot less buzzy.  It made it feel more like a 3.0 or higher.  I than sanded it against some 320 grit sand paper to try and thin it down, so it's not so hard to play.  It actually worked.  I'm going to keep shaving it down until I get it closer to the 2.0 stiffness, but a little at a time.  One thing that obvious is that a stiffer reed makes it much easier to play the high notes.  Now what Scott said in his altisimo training video makes sense.  You can't do altisimo with a worn out reed.  So, I've gone ahead and ordered a reed trimmer.  It will allow me to trim off with better control, and less at a time, and one reed trimming will pay for it.  I may trim a new reed just to get it slightly stiffer to start with.
11/6/2022 Update:
I bought a cheap trimmer for the reeds on Ebay. Meh.. it works. Not ideal; just a little too narrow. But it works, and sanding the reeds also seems to work.  So, I'm good for now.
Purchased a different trimmer.  Much wider than than the other one, and all metal construction. Seems to work well.

At this point I have five Leger reeds. A couple 2.25 Signature, and the rest 2.0 Classic.  All except for the latest 2.25 Signature are modified.  Meaning they got worn out (started sounding buzzy), so I clipped the tip off, and sanded them as needed.  Basically clipping makes the reed act like a stiffer reed. I'm learning how to approach the sanding process to lighten them up if I want.  It's actually amazing how much of a difference in sound the reed makes.  Sand just a bit and there's a noticeable difference.  Key is to do it a little at a time:
1. Top surface only.
2. First just the tip, maybe the front 1/8-1/4". Sometimes that's enough.
3. If I want it to play lighter, then maybe sand the first half inch.
4. If that's not enough then try to sand even further back, but along the sides, to maintain the center hump.
5. The trick is knowing when to stop, because if you go too far then trim again and sand again.

It's definitely an art, and no two sound the same.  What's amazing is just what a sound difference it can make.  New the reeds are on the bright side.  The latest one I modified is significantly darker. Darker, but easier to play. It even effects the tuning of the instrument.  The new 2.25 requires more pressure or the notes are flat, so I slide the mouthpiece further on to sharpen all the notes and minimize the pressure needed.

I'm doing a lot of playing around with my embouchure.  Mostly keeping it as light as possible and very little lip over the bottom teeth, and very little contact of the top teeth on the mouthpiece.  Trying to do more tuning with my voice rather than changing lip pressure.  The loser lips definitely give a louder, complex tone (more of the overtones coming out).

I also ordered a Vandoren V16 Large Chamber mouthpiece, going for that darker sound I prefer.  We'll see how it works out.
The Vandoren V16 went back in the box and I've got it up for sale.  Honestly it just doesn't sound that much different.  It's definitely louder, but that may come just as much from the wider tip opening as from the "darker" large chamber design. You know what gets me about the "large" chamber design? It fits the same ligature as my non large chamber design.  Seems to me that's not very large, is it?  You'd think a large would need a different size ligature.

The other day I saw this MP comparison  https://www.neffmusic.com/blog/2022/11/theo-wanne-battle-royal-tenor-saxophone-mouthpiece-showdown-round-one-ballad/ .  Seriously, ok there are slight difference in the sound of these MP's but, not enough to really make a difference.  I've come to the conclusion that there are way too many mouthpieces in the world. 

You hear various people say forget about constantly looking for different gear.  I can now see why.  It really does not make that much of a difference.  It's all nuance and it's just more of the "looking is better than finding" reality.  We enjoy looking and searching for the next "thing" more than we enjoy what we have.  It's all ego based thinking, or lack of thinking. 
Tried the Vandoren again just to be sure.  Yeah, nothing really there for me.  Though I did move up to the Yamaha C6 from the C5, vs the C4 when I first started.  I then moved back to the C5, and the C6 is definitely freer blowing.  Also went back and tried one of my metal MP's with the high baffle.  Nope, don't like that bright sound at all.  I should probably sell those couple; no point in keeping them.
When it comes to mounting the reed in the mouthpiece.  Just about every instructional video tells you to line the reed up with the tip of the mouthpiece, leaving just a hair of the mouthpiece visible.  I beg to differ.  I find I get the cleanest sound if I slide the reed further down, such that if I press the reed tip down onto the tip of the mouthpiece I'm covering just a sliver of the flat that the tip of the reed contacts.  With a Legere reed being frosty, if I get the ligth over my shoulder I can actually see how much of the tip flat I'm covering.  With a wooden reed it will be more difficult, but once you find the spot, you should be able to repeat it.  Point is to put the reed as low as possible while the reed still seals at the tip.

Ear Plugs

I do play with ear plugs, the squishy foam one's, inserted just deep enough so I still get some sound from outside the ear.  First week or so I think I actually hurt my ears.  I play in a room and the sound bounces off the walls, and it's loud!

Carpel Tunnel Playing Sax

I use to spend a lot of time on a computer in my career and I developed some sensitivity in my wrists. I solved that problem with a split keyboard.  But when I started playing the sax, that pain was starting to come back in my left wrist.  After looking at the mechanics of what was going on, I concluded I was just too big, at 6'4", and my arms were longer than design parameters.  The angle that my wrist was making in order to hit the keys was all wrong.  I figured out a way to rotate the sax to the right by about 45 degrees.  That made all the difference and I no longer get those pains.


Muscore is a great music composition and notation program.  Free and it allows you to write music on a staff and play it on your computer.  I've actually used it to transcribe quite a few songs that I find on Youtube (sax sheet music wit a backing track).  I just put the music in Muscore and learn it.  I can also Transpose it to different keys there, so when I'm practicing a key, I can have songs in that key to practice on.  Also, transcribing music has improved my reading speed.  Great tool.

Sheet Music and Books

I don't like paper.  So, unless the songs are in the books I bought, I keep them in Muscore, and a use a very sturdy music stand that I can put my laptop on and read directly from Muscore on my laptop.  Save some trees!  And the laptop is up at eye level so I'm not cranking my neck down to see the music.

I started with the Step One: Play Tenor Sax.  It's a good basic book that I got through pretty quick. 

I then got the Rubank Elementary Method Saxophone.  That was definitely a bigger challenge.  Good book but, it's just a lot of exercises (booooring!) and I gave up on it after signing up with Scott Paddock's Saxophone classes .  As lesson books go it's probably a good choice for exercises.

I also got a couple Hal Leonard song books;  First 50 Songs, and The Big Book of Tenor Sax Songs.  I'm still playing songs in these books and continuing to learn more of them.  Definitely good books.  But using Muscore to capture the sheet music available on YouTube I get to pick my songs.

Update 12/21/2022, General Discussion Regarding the Saxophone Learning Process

Playing 8 months now, I can play many of the songs in my two songbooks, Hal Leonard The Big Book of Tenor Sax Songs and First 50 Songs You Should Play on Sax .  And I've got another 20 I transcribed from various sources into Muscore, and whatever songs are in Scott lessons.  Not shy to try different tunes.  If I don't like them, or they seem too difficult I move on. 

I've working on, and can play pretty well, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.  There's a lot going on in that song, and I remember a few months back I heard a guy play it and was amazed.  I'm not quite as good as he is, but hey, I'm playing it!

The metronome is definitely a no go for me. Everything I read says use the metronome.  Timing is everything.  I agree, timing is everything.  With songs that I'm not familiar with, if my timing is even slightly off, it just sounds like a bunch of notes being played.  But there are also times when I'll start playing a song that I wasn't familiar with, and then as I play it by sight I realize I've heard it.  I've realized that my internal sense of timing is very accurate, and if I know a song I can play it very well; the timing is good, the rhythm is right.  Soon as I throw a metronome in, the slight differences between my playing and the metronome tics are extremely distracting; a lot of my brainpower then goes into saying "crap, I missed that one, faster, slower, crap..." They say everyone has like $10 dollars of attention, once the $10 dollars is gone, there's nothing left.  I find the metronome takes way too much of my $10 and I get no value from it. Could be I'm just too hard on myself noticing the slightest difference between the tick and my note.

What I find curious is that there is this huge focus on improvising, scales, licks, arpeggios.  So, the idea is, yeah take a song, make it your own add and take away notes as you see fit, but do it exactly on metronome time.  But when you look at some songs, they switch timing in mid song, play some notes long, switch keys, etc.. but play with the metronome.  Scott even talks about how some people play slightly ahead of the beat, some after the beat, as part of their style.  Guess what I've concluded is that you can have a lot of freedom in how you play a melody and have it still be recognizable, on the other hand you can also take that freedom too far and improvise so much that you can hardly recognize the underlying melody.  In the same way, lack of timing can make a melody non recognizable, so that's what I focus on, making it recognizable, the execution of the verses, the relative timing, not the ticks of a metronome.  More power to anyone who finds following a metronome second nature.  If you're playing in a band then obviously you have to time to the beat.  I wish it came easier for me, but it doesn't.  I'm also easily distracted...

I find that I'm now at a point there I can play a relatively simple song, by sight, the first time, fairly well.  It has me asking the question of where do I go from here.  I'm learning my seventh major key.  I'll probably stop there or learn the rest at a really low priority.  I'm doing Scott's chop shop which is patterns and builds dexterity.  I tried messing with altisimo notes, but I've concluded there's no need.  There's no song I can't play in the normal range of the Tenor, at least no song I care to play. The reason I bought a tenor is because I like that lower sound.  Even the same song played on a soprano is not appealing to me.  Learning chords and weird scales doesn't do it for me, I don't see any purpose to them right now.  I understand quite a bit of music theory, but if I'm not going to improvise or play in a band, so much of that is irrelevant.  Though I am starting to think about composing some songs.

I am playing around with overtones.  That seems useful in getting a full sound and having control.

I did sell the Selmer TS600 and kept the Eastern Music Reference 54 saxophone.  I would not hesitate buying another saxophone from Eastern Music.  From what they have told me my guess is they make the Antigua Saxophones, and they say they have worked with Peter Ponzol, though I can't confirm it.  Either way, a new TS600 use to sell for $2500-$3000.  The fact that I find the $700 Eastern Music a better sounding horn, says a lot. And I've read reviews on the Power Neck my sax came with.  Even professionals say it's impressive.

Breathing.  I've seen these videos that talk about three part breathing.  Breath in by extending your stomach first, then your lungs.  I find that completely counter intuitive, and I can't get nearly as much air in my lungs by doing that.  If I just breath in as much as I can, my chest expands and my stomach sucks in.  I get significantly more air in my lungs doing that, as demonstrated by my ability to hold a note significantly longer.  The proof is in the pudding.  If I can hold a note longer, than why is that breathing wrong?  The one thing I have heard is don't raise your shoulders when you take a breath.  That make sense, since it puts additional stress on your body, when you should be as relaxed as possible.  Just let your lungs expand naturally.

So, in Summary things to focus on to get you playing faster:
1. Play lots of songs because that's the whole point of learning the sax, at least for me.  Playing a wide variety of songs exposes you to different song structures and improves your sight reading and rhythm.
2. Get those songs either through books, or better yet by transcribing them into Muscore from Youtube or other online sources.  Using Muscore to transcribe makes you a better sigh reader (it's like reading books makes you a better reader).
3. Play the major scales. In my book, the rest are optional, for now at least. (Slowed down and went back after 8 major scales.)
4. Experiment with mouthpieces and reeds.  It helps your understanding what influence they have, and you may just find something that does make you a better player.  You don't know how they may be limiting you until you feel the difference.  Yamaha 4C or 5C is a good start point with a #2 or 2.25 Legere reed.  Try up or down.
5. Embouchure.  Lot of schools on this.  Tried a double embouchure (normally you only wrap your bottom lip around your teeth with double you also do that with your upper teeth, that didn't work but I do use minimal pressure and I don't wrap my bottom lip much around my teeth, the fish approach.  Focus on playing with minimal pressure on the reed/mouthpiece.  So, in a sense I am using a double embouchure because my top teeth barely touch the MP.  But for some songs that require a lot of articulation, anchoring the top teeth keeps things in controll better.
6. Breath. Take deep breaths.  Not to fill your lungs up all the way, but to a comfortable point, because holding too much air that you don't need is counterproductive. Forget the "three part breathing", it's just a distraction.
7. Embouchure should start loose and tighten only as much as needed.  Fish lips seems to work better than classical "wrap the bottom lip over you teeth".  At this point (11 months into it) my top teeth are mostly not touching the mouthpiece, or touching very lightly.  I'm just putting pressure with my lips.
8. Experiment with how much of the mouthpiece you put in your mouth.  Pick notes and then slide in and out as you vary pressure.
9. The position of your tongue supports your notes.  Flat in your mouth for low notes, hunched up in the middle for high notes.  Scott Paddock has some good videos on Embouchure and using your tongue.  Over a year into it, I don't do tongue anchoring that he talks about.  But practicing tonguing to stop and start notes was important.
10. Practice playing by ear.  Pick simple songs you know and work them out without any sheet music. (11 months into playing but you could do it as the first thing.)
11. Use something like Tonal Energy Tuner, which allows playing any note so you can match it, and will also show you if you're in tune if you play a note.  Play a note, look and see if you're in tune, adjust it, look again. (This is 11 months into playing.)
12. I line the tip of the reed up to cover just a sliver of the flat area where the tip contacts (half to most of the flat area exposed above the reed tip).  This gives me a cleaner sound than pushing the reed up to line up with the tip of the reed (even or with just a hair of the mouthpiece showing above the tip).

Playing Saxophone by Ear (12/29/2022)
I have a whole separate page on this here.  But I want to say a few things in summary.  I was kind of frustrated by my inability to remember songs, play them from memory.  I can play them from sheet music, but attempting to memorize the music just didn't work.  I started a thread on SaxOnTheWeb (By the way, they suck.  I've been banned for using the words "jerk off") by asking if there was a method to learn to play by ear. Wow, what a discussion, but early on a guy says just start playing simple tunes that you know, by ear. The Suzuki method works on that principal.  In other words, kids start to play by just playing what they hear, not by reading music and learning a bunch of theory.  So, I tried it, I worked out Jingle Bell, Joy to the World, Can't Help Falling in Love, and Now I'm working on Shallow and Mona Lisa.  It works.  Shallow and Mona Lisa are probably a bit too complicated for a beginning play by ear song, but I'm getting through it. 

I can not say what a difference this makes.  Working on a direct inner-ear to fingers connection, just makes your brain work differently.  And I like it.  Because it's helping me to remember songs.  Anyway, read my page on it, but I highly recommend the approach.  You can forget all the theory.  Yeah, it's good to know theory, but with or without it, you can start playing right away, and you're effectively training your ear, and training yourself to play.

To play the song I have to know the tune and be able to sing it in my head.  There was definitely some trial and error, but it just keeps getting better.  I'm not thinking about the notes, A, B, C, etc.. strictly going by sound.  After the fact, I may recognize what note I've played but most of the time I'm moving faster than my thoughts.  As I hear it in my head, my fingers play it.  If the head singing stops, the fingers stop.  A direct inner ear to fingers connection.  I also have I Can't Help Falling in Love down, but that was mostly memorizing from notes.  But now I'm redoing it by ear.  Next will be Mona Lisa.

While I was practicing this morning.  I actually played a part of Joy to the World.  I can't remember when or if I've ever played that, but I just caught the sound and played a few measures. That's what I'm shooting for, to hear a song in my head and just play it.

Many of the experts on the SOTW say that it's the harder way to learn to play.  But I talked to Heath, that's how he taught himself and how he prefers to teach music.  Of course he does teach kids, and the thinking is that if you don't learn this way when you're young it would be difficult.  I did also order the first CD and book of Suzuki method for flute.  They don't have one for sax.  I was thinking I can write one as I got through the flute method and adapt it to sax.  Heat says I don't really need it, but figured for $13 I don't have much to lose.

I've also started using Tonal Energy Tuner when playing.  Sometimes I use the drone to match the pitch by ear.  Other times I play the notes of a scale and see when I'm on pitch.  My tendency is definitely to play things sharp, but if it's all on the sharp side, it's not a huge problem.  Still I'm trying to train my ear to know when I'm playing the note on pitch.

Tried playing with the metronome again.. Forgetaboutit.

I've gone back to the C scale and "Chop Shop", and I play all the "Chop Shops" in C instead of playing all the keys.  Gives me way more practice.  I'm going to nail the scale and exercises before I move on the the next.  I still play songs from sheet music in different keys, but focus will be on C until I nail it.


11/6/2022 General Update

I've come to a new realization of relaxation.  In the beginning my embouchure was tight, my hands were tight on the instrument.  The other day I looked in the mirror and my face was scrunched and tight. So, now I'm focusing on staying loose.  Immediately effects my sound.  Now it makes sense that I use to watch videos of some people playing and they looked like they just had the saxophone in their mouth and nothing was going on!

I'm making noticeable progress.  I can hear I sound better, and songs that I use to play months ago sound way better now.  I have better control, better tone, and I can read and play faster.

I'm still transcribing music off YouTube backing tracks, but I find I have a good ear for when the song isn't right to start with, both notes and timing.  I transcribed  If Tomorrow Never Comes by Garth Brooks.  I took the music and two or three times through it, I could play it pretty well.
I've got a good 35 songs transcribed and I can play them pretty well, including a version of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Doing scales and what Scott calls his Chop Shop, the keys of E Eb and A are slowing me down.  That's a lot of flats and sharps to keep track of and it can get confusing, which key I'm playing in. 

Playing overtones on the lower notes from Bb to C# comes pretty easy.  Can't seem to do it on low D.

I messed around with playing Altisimo G, but no, I don't like the high pitch, so forget the altisimo.

There's a lot of stuff on discussion forums about tuning by ear. And I watch videos where a guy will say, the F is sharp or something like that.  No idea how they can pick up these small variations.  I'm good with knowing if relative pitch is off in a song, though I'm sure some of my notes are a bit high or low, overall I'm content with where I'm at, and I keep working on trying to hit notes closer to true pitch.

I purchased a Yamaha 6C mouthpiece, but it's just louder than the 5C.  Will probably go back to it at some point, but for now I'm using the 5C.

11/25/2022 General Update
Well, it's been an interesting month.  I sold the B&S 2001, it wasn't anything special, and purchased an Antigua ProOne.  I wrote about that experience on a separate page.  Had to return it for a really bad sticking pad problem, and keys were really stiff.  Seller is sending me a new one now, with adjusted keys, so we'll see how that one stacks up. 

I got to what Scott calls his Chop Shop final.  The first exercises of the series.  You play patterns in every key, starting with C, then all the sharp keys to E, then all the flat keys to Eb.  I'd been doing it for weeks.  The problem is jumping form one key to the next is confusing and you start hitting off key notes.  So, I'm focusing on just the sharp keys now until I get those down.  Making progress.

I'm also paying more attention to my pitch, if I'm in tune from one note to the next.  I'm trying to train my ear to know the right pitch, relative and maybe even absolute pitch.  The whole thing about playing by ear instead of by reading music has crossed my mind, but I think that's too much to bite off right now.  Need to get the scales and basics down first, then maybe start trying to ear train again.

Still playing songs.  Just started trying to commit a couple to memory.  I read that when trying to remember songs, reading them off a music sheet requires a lot more repetition than if you work it out by ear.  It would take me for ever to work out a song by ear, so I'm trying to do it with the help of the sheet music.  But I suppose I could try to work out very simple songs.

It's interesting that with Scott's courses and so many other lessons online, you have to pick and choose to try and piece together things.  Like how should I ear train? Scott doesn't cover it, but there are some online tutorials that are just ear training.  There has to be a simple approach that anyone could do, and is guaranteed to work, that's also saxophone centered.

Anyway, enjoying the challenge, just messing around as much as playing songs, experimenting.  It's my kind of instrument; lots of variables to work out!

12/7/2022 General Update

Started using Tonal Energy Tuner, got it from the Apple store for $4.  It's nice.  Has a drone so you can hit a note exactly in tune and train your ear.  But I've always wondered about that.  It's relative pitch I'm training to, because it's a Bb instrument.  So, I'm going to train my ear to what a C is, but that's actually Bb in concert pitch.  I'll never have perfect pitch that way!  My tendency is also to play notes sharp by 10-15 cents if I don't focus.  But I'm not going to sweat it.  Playing a bit sharp is better than playing flat.

I've also taken a step back.  Moved my scales back to focus on C major.  Then I'll go through all of them again.  I found I was still getting confused when playing all the keys, one right after the other, so going to ease back into doing that again.  What's the rush.  Take my time.  I actually find I work that way better in general; hit a topic more than once.

12/21/2022 General Update

I'm now exclusively playing on the Antigua ProOne I purchased.  It is a higher quality instrument than the Ref 54, but I'm not selling that one.  Not sure I could get much for it anyway, and it's good to have a backup sax when I take one in for tuneups.

I've added side key and palm key risers to the ProOne and ordered some more for the Eastern Music.  It's $16 dollar for the risers and some Sugru (moldable putty that hardens) and it puts the keys in a much better position, especially the palm keys.  World of difference.  See the ProOne page for photos.

12/30/2022 General Update
Continuing to work on playing by ear.  Still working on Shallow.  Had to listen to it quite a bit to learn it by heart and so I can sing it in my head.  Some sections are really hard to work out must by listening to the singing on the original.  So, sometimes I look at the sheet music to figure out what's going on, and then I let Muscore play it for me, while I listen, so that I can play it back.  It works.

Been spending some time writing the Play by Ear page and putting together an outlined approach.

I wen through this phase where I was biting my lips and cheeks, a lot, like multiple times in one day, while I was eating.  I really think it's because my embouchure has gotten stronger and my face muscles are strong, and just get in the way more in my mouth.  Just sitting here I can feel my cheeks bulge into the space between my upper and lower teeth.  But I love the sound I'm getting out of the saxophone, especially when I put some serious air pressure behind it.  The notes come out really well, and the tone is amazing.  It's nice to be pleased with one's progress.

The play by ear thing is going well.  I've basically got Shallow, Can't help falling in Love, Jingle Bells, Most of Mona Lisa, a couple kids melodies, and now Rudolph.  Also working out a complicated version of Unchained Melody.  I've played that simple version, but there's a lot of neuonce in one of the sax versions I found on the web, so redoing the sheet music.  It takes time to work this stuff out, but it's more rewarding than just playing the sheet music, and it's building my ear.

3/7/2023: I've come to realize just how important copying sheetmusic from YouTube to Muscore and just playing a lot of songs is.  What exercise are you doing to do that will give you more variety of playing than playing completely different songs.  Sure, if you do an exercise you might get good at some series of notes, but how many times will you run across that particular series of notes.  And instead of trying to perfect some series of notes, why not just play music?  Isn't that the whole point?  The point is not exercises.  Maybe it's like the difference between working on a farm and going to the gym.  On a farm you do a lot of things which accomplish something, produce something you want, while keeping you fit and healthy.  Going to a gym you do a lot of work but produce nothing.  Your form is great, but the form is the end goal. Lifting at the gym may help you lift bales of hay, but why not just life bales of hay?  Put another way, what exercise is best to help you play a certain song? Playing that song is.

I have noticed that I'm now better at recognizing sheetmusic which isn't transcribed properly while playing it on the sax as opposed to just while putting it into Muscore.  I worked out a song the other day, took quite a bit of work.  When I started playing it on the sax, there was obviously more things not quite right, and it was easier to fix them just playing to find notes than in Muscore.

In addition to The Big Book of Tenor Sax Songs and the First 50 Songs You Should Know on the Sax, I just ordered three more Hal Leanord Books:  Essential Songs for Tenor Sax (about 130 songs), The Big Book of Disney Songs (about 75), and The Best of the Beatles (over 100 songs).  That should keep me busy and give me variety.

3/13/2023: Songs I'm currently playing:
Bohemian Rhapsody,
Tennessee Whiskey,
I Just Called to Say I Love You,
Baker Street,
El Candor Pasa,
If Tomorrow Never Comes,
I Know I'm Not the Only One,
Right Here Waiting for You,
The Sound of Silence,
Stairway to Heaven (Difficult to play some of those parts smoothly because you're jumping through octaves or more.  Good practice!)

Also, baught some more Hal Leonard books; Disney Songs, Beatles Greatest Hits, and Esential Songs.  Many of the songs are pretty simple.  These would all be good books to have in the first year. 

I'm convinced the best way to learn to play at this point (600-700 hours into the learning process, almost a year and a quarter into it) is to just play a variety of songs.  When you run into a problem, work it out until you get it.  Beats doing exercises for hours on end.

3/18/2023: Been working on some Sheryl Crow songs over the last few days.  Can't find sheetmusic on Youtube, had to take what I could from piano tutorials, and then work through them.
If it Makes You Happy
First Cut is the Deepest
Soak Up The Sun

In general the pattern for working through the songs is:
1. Find something that can get me in the ballpart if I can't find decent sheetmusic.  It beats starting from scratch.
2. Put it in Muscore.  As I put it in and play the actual music video I correct what seems wrong.  As an example, If It Makes You Happy had some big corrections in notes and some rhythms that were off.
3. Start playing on the Sax.  This works better than just Muscore.  I can let my fingers hunt for the notes and then transcribe them.

3/20/2023: Been working on sheet music for You're Beautiful for the last couple days.  I started with a simple Piano Tutorial online.  Sort of sounded like it, but when I played the music video it was too far off, both in tone and tempo  So, I tried to use Muscore to match the video.  Got closer.  But it wasn't until I started playing it on the sax AND listening to the video that I finally dialed it in.  It was particularly hard because Blunt uses falsetto, and his voice is pretty high.  I was amazed how far off some of the notes from the piano music were, like one note shy of an octave.  I guess when you're almost an octave off it may sound close (octaves sound similar)?

I also realized how much intervals have to do with the sound.  Even when you've off by one note, the melody several notes away is changed, even if those are correct.

4/2/2023: Just keep playing songs, from the song books I have and stuff I like that I find on YouTube and transcribe.  I do some scales to warm up before I start playing songs, but not much.  Don't do any of the exercises that were in Scott's program.  Just change the key of the songs high or low to get exercises in various key ranges.

4/5/2023:  Wow, I'm doing more than a song a day sometimes.  Put it in Muscore, if it doesn't need fixing, I can usually play it same day.  Latest one's:
Have You Ever Seen the Rain
Izi version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow
You Needed Me
Just Another Woman in Love
Can't Buy Me Love
I Just Fall in Love Again
Always On My Mind

AND I wrote my own melody, with words.  What Good Would it Do.  The words are so so, but I like the melody.

4/28/2023: Been transposing, fixing, and playing sheet music like a wild man. 
Have You Ever Seen The Rain
Save Your Tears
Blinding Lights
Hotel California
The Dance
Billy Gene
Shallow (I've got that one memorized)
Aint No Sunshine
Sound of Silence (A favorite)
When We Were Young
Winner Take It All
Make You Feel My Love
Stuck On You
Here I Go Again

On top of that I'm going through the latest books I bought. 

I enjoy working out the melody when the original transcription isn't correct.  Let's say I get it from a piano tutorial, the song seems to sound fine when it's playing, but when I play it on the sax (don't forget to transcribe in Concert Pitch if you're transcribing music intended for a C insrtrument) it doesn't sound right, even when I switch it to the key for the sax.

Guess I should say this took me a bit to grasp.  In Muscore, if you set your instrument to saxaphone, then  if you enter a C note, it sounds like the C note on the sax, which is actually Bb on piano.  If you switch to Concrt Pitch and you enter a C  note, it will be C on the piano.  So, if taking music from a C instrument, you copy it in Concert Pitch mode, then switch that off to transpose it to the right key to get the same sound on the saxophone.  If you take sheet music notated for a C instrument, and don't enter it in Concert Pitch, it's not going to sound right.   Also, using the Transpose function in Muscore shows the keys in Concert Pitch.  Not sure I'm using the simples approach, or if there's any other way to do it, but it works for me, because some music I can find for Bb instrument, but others are for C instruments.

7/15/2023:  With a combination of what I've transcribed in Muscore, and the books that I've got, there are hundreds of songs I play.  My sight reading is much improved as well as my ability to work out the melody when an existing transcription is not right.

Latest songs:
If You Could Read My Mind
Daydream Believer
I Believe in You
Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head
It Must Have Been Love
Pretty Woman
Smooth Operator
A Million Dreams
You've Got a Friend
Don't Fall in Love With a Dreamer
Ride Like the Wind

The list goes on.  I'm running out of songs that I can think of and like enough to transcribe!  Has me asking what the next step is.

I haven't done much more with trying to memorize songs, or "play by ear'", but clearly my ear is getting better.

Today I just tried the Vandoren 2.5 Cane Reed I had.  Noticeably more difficult to play than the Leger 2.25 synthetic; my lips get tired playing a lot of high notes.  But I like the sound better, it's not as buzzy, more pure tone, darker I guess you'd call it.  Really brings out the power of the saxophone.  I think I'll stick with it for now.  Could be the new favorite.

I guess the next thing is to try to play to backing tracks, but I modify most of those.  Maybe I should just play along with my keyboard playing a generic background track?

Not doing scales with any kind of consistency.  I find the song playing is helping me with knowing the scales I care to play anyway.  Every now and then I do a few scale runs.