A Decades Long Saxophone Journey
Original 6/13/22. Updated 4/2/2023
Swab and Pad Saver
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
My Full Page on Starting to Play the Saxophone by Ear, go
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
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
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,
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
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
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;
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).
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
8/19/2022 BARI vs Legere Reeds
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
1. Top surface only.
2. First just the tip, maybe the front 1/8-1/4". Sometimes that's
3. If I want it to play lighter, then maybe sand the first half
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
I Just Called to Say I Love You,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
If You Could Read My Mind
I Believe in You
Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head
It Must Have Been Love
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
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.