1. Listen to Soprano, Alto, and Tenor saxophone music. Decide if you like higher or lower pitched music. If you can't decide, get an Alto. I like the lower sound so got a Tenor right away, but it is harder to blow; not as easy for a beginner.
2. What to buy? The Sax: To just try it you can get a $300 Alto on Amazon, like the Eastar AS-Ⅱ Student Alto Saxophone. Or you can buy a sax on E-bay. My Eastern Music worked out well (you can see photos and my thoughts on it here). The advantage of Amazon is that if there's anything wrong with it you can just return it, no hassle. Eastern Music comes from China, so if you have to return it, you're waiting weeks both ways. Luckily mine worked out for me. There are some on E-bay that are from China or Taiwan, but they ship from the US. Obviously there's all sorts of name brand instruments also and some people will tell you you're better off getting a used name brand student version of a Selmer or Yamaha and spending some money to get it tuned up. You can buy some nice instruments on Reverb. A Book: Get a Level 1 beginner Saxophone Method book, also on Amazon or E-bay. I used "Play Tenor Saxophone, Step One" . If you're getting a saxophone you care to keep clean then get a "Hodge" silk swab. Works way better than other types of swabs.
3. While you're waiting for that you can start listening to the melodies below. Get them into your head, so that they will be easier to play once you begin. I have you start slow, and you can't really do much with just seven notes. Listen to the songs, make sure you know the melody and that you can sing it or at least hum it. You don't have to be a professional singer.
4. When your saxophone comes, it should have some reeds and a mouthpiece. Look on the back the reeds and see what hardness (there's a number from 1 to 5, or an H, M, S (for hard medium soft). I'd recommend starting with a 1.5 or 2.0, the softer end. If would be nice to have both to try. But either one should be fine. A 2.5 or higher would be too stiff for a beginner, but it can be done. There's no shame in playing on a light reed either. I have a whole section here talking about my journey with reeds.
5. Toss the reed in a glass of water, and go look up how to assemble the reed to the mouthpiece. My Teacher, Scott Paddock has a good video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TjwidIa6kw . In the video Scott's ligature has the screw on the bottom. Most beginner ligatures will have the screws on the top (same side as the reed). The ligature and the mouthpiece are tapered, so figure out which way you should slide it on. Always put your ligature on the mouthpiece first, and then slip the butt end of the reed under the ligature. If you put the reed in place first and then slide the ligature over it, you're likely to damage the reed.
6. Now that you have a reed in the mouthpiece you need to learn how to blow into it. Scott has a great video on how to form your embouchure (how you hold you lips). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3LFr5pYuWY . I suggest you do it with just the mouthpiece and neck. Forget about the saxophone for now. Here's a video by Jamie Anderson talking about how to put the thing together. Put a very light film of cork grease (hopefully you got some with your beginner sax, or get some chapstick) on the cork first, and use a twist and push motion when assembling the mouthpiece to the neck https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGYJ1enK32w.
It will take a while before your lip muscles get stronger. Maybe several times a day use this setup and try to make a steady sound. You won't be able to do it for long because your lips will get tired out. Then, nothing you do will sound right and you'll start compensating by biting too hard. Now after playing for 11 months, 2-3 hours per day, I finally feel like my lips are strong enough to give me full control,
Now let's back up a minute. Put down the MP and neck. Sing two sounds, one high, one low. Try to make the high one, almost the highest you can reach, and the low one, the lowest you can reach. Close enough. You don't have to sing anything, just make an Aaaaaaaa sound. When you're doing this, put your hand around the front of your neck. You should notice that the different sounds produce a noticeable movement; something is going on in your throat. Now do the same thing, but think about making the sounds, don't actually make the sound. You'll notice the same thing; your throat is getting set up to make the sound you want. Your body just knows what to do. This is one of the ways your control the sound that's coming out of your mouthpiece and saxophone. It's called voicing. You're not actually using your voice, but you will change the sound coming out of your sax.
One of the misconceptions about making low and high sounds on the sax is that you tighten and loosen your embouchure, your lips. Yes, you do that very slightly when you go from the highest notes to the lowest (highs may require some tightening, lows some loosening) but actually most of the change in pitch comes from a combination of sax and your throat and what you do with your tongue. Especially with the early notes, you should be able to hold a steady pressure with your lips, and make the note go slightly higher or lower just by thinking about a higher or lower sound. Your throat will do the rest. May take some practice.
When you can make a steady sound on the MP and neck consistently, (or even better, when you can make a lower sound and gradually raise it to a higher sound, by using your voice), then you can move on to the full instrument.
One tip about how far you should put your lower lip over your lower teeth; make the "f" found, like you're going to say "four". Notice how much of your lower lip hangs over your lower teeth. That's about what it should be like when you're playing . Also, notice where your top teeth hit your lip, that's where the reed should contact your lip. Also, don't spread out the corners of your mouth like you're smiling, bring them in, like you're puckering. In his video Scott also explains where on the mouthpiece, and reed, your lips should be. You can experiment by sliding it more into your mouth, or less. It will give you a different sound. But there is a "sweet-spot" where you'll be able to hit most of the notes well. Just a final note about puckering, when you do it, less off your lower lip will cover your lower teeth. That's ok. You can think of your lower teeth as just backing up your lip, with minimal lip being over your teeth. You'll have to experiment. And puckering will become easier as your lips get stronger. You can watch this video, you get some pretty good closeups of her chin and lips. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8h233P18Yc This is more of a flat embouchure and you can see her chin is slightly compressed and her lower lip is tucked in. You can pucker more and have less lip in your mouth.
If you want to make sure that your sounds are in tune, download Tonal Energy Tuner onto your phone and start it up. For the "Sound" setting at the bottom of the display, choose your instrument (Soprano, Alto, or Tenor saxophone). Then just under that, select the "Sound" circle. Now, when you play a note, it will show you what note you're playing and how close it is to perfectly in tune. Don't stare at it constantly. You play a note, get it steady, then look to see if you're close. If it's too high, think about making your voice lower, if it's too low, think about making your voice higher. (No, you're not singing with your voice, but your vocal chords do effect the pitch of the note.) If it doesn't work, don't worry about it, it takes practice. See the below step (7) also. But by occassonaly looking at the tuner, you'll start to get a feel for when the note is in tune. Newsflash: A saxophone is not in tune, you play it in tune.
It will take months to fully develop your embouchure and your tone, maybe even years. Just because it's not perfect doesn't mean you aren't making progress. That's how it gets better, you keep doing it. Keep at it, and think about what you're doing. Have fun, try different things. Review the videos to make sure you're remembering all the right stuff.
7. Once you can make a sound steadily, the next thing is to be able to stop the sound with your tongue. There are many videos on tonguing on a saxophone. Scott has one, but his method is a bit unorthodox. He uses anchor tonguing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqDtff6QoeQ One that shows a different approach, more common, is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ko5qsJAesY . Notice Jamie also talks about building pressure in your mouth. Breathing is important. Don't be afraid to blow harder. Most people don't blow hard enough or steady enough. Take a deep breath, and blow out steadily with force. You can try different amount of force/pressure as you blow. When it comes to playing notes the tongue also rises and falls and Scott explains that here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ7_zK2dssY. So, now you can practice tonguing, to start and stop sounds.
8. Now you're getting somewhere! A word of caution. The majority of students bite down on the mouthpiece too hard because they are trying to make up for not having enough lip strength to hold the mouthpiece firmly. Your upper teeth should be just in contact with the top of the mouthpiece. Use your upper lip to apply matching pressure to your mouthpiece, not your top teeth. Biting down is a hard habit to break once your start, and it chokes your sound, so just be aware of it up front. One way to be conscious of it is to try not to contact the top of the mouthpiece with your top teeth; just barely contact. That will force you to use your upper lip more to hold the mouthpiece firmly. Top teeth should be just lightly in contact with the mouthpiece. I encourage you to try it with very little pressure, and with more pressure, to understand what changing pressure does.
9. Ok, so now that you can make a sound fairly steady, assemble the mouthpiece (MP) to the neck and the neck to the body of the sax and use your neck strap to help support the weight of the saxophone, that's the first part of this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_xJYgZgSdI.
When he gets to the point where he says you're going to play the first notes, pause the video. Why? Because there's a note you can play with just your two thumbs. That's right, jut put your two thumbs where Jaime showed you, don't press down any of the other fingers, and blow. That's actually a C-sharp note (C#). Now, you can just follow along with Jamie as he teaches you the first few notes with all your other fingers.
This is where the classical learning approach splits from the Suzuki method. The Suzuki method starts you playing by ear. You hear a sound, you play it. Initially you'll have to search for the sound until you can match it. But the idea is that as you practice more, you'll be able to play what you hear and find the notes faster, not because you know their name, but because your brain has learned what keys to press to get that sound. Listening to sound clips is the other way. Just be prepared to do a lot of backtracking, stopping and repeating of sections. If you can find a Suzuki teacher, and afford one, try it. Buy really, with Suzuki, it's the parent that should be there with every practice.10. Let's get you prepared to play more than just three notes. You're going to play all the notes under your fingers, from top to bottom. Let's number your fingers so we can talk about them:
The classical approach is what you get in any other Book 1 Saxophone method, or sign up for a program like Scott's. You learn to read music (music notation) on the staff (the lines), you learn the names of the notes, think of the names, or read the notes off the staff, and then play that note with your fingers. It's like learning to type on a keyboard, with all your fingers, while looking at something already written. You also start to learn major scales, in different keys, and so on. The main difference is that in the classical approach you start with theory, learn to read sheet music and play as you read, but in the Suzuki method you learn to listen and play what you hear, and the theory comes later. The method allows young children to start playing without being confused by theory and reading music. Just like you start talking long before you ever study sentence structure in English class.
On the left hand: LT - Left thumb, 1-Index finger, 2-middle finger, 3-ring finger, 4-pinkyYou'll use 1,2,3 and 5,6,7. Place your fingers per the video. In that position, you'll play the notes under your fingers, bottom to top, as follows:
On the right hand: RT-Right thumb (it doesn't play anything, just sits there), 5-index finger, 6-middle finger, 7-ring finger, 8-pinky
To Play Note Hold Down Fingers Comment D 123567 All fingers down E 12356 And you just start lifting fingers F 1235
B 1 Just one finger down C 2 Just one finger down
And then play them in reverse order, going back down the neck; CBAGFED. That should keep you busy for a few practice sessions. When you can play up and down fairly smoothly, consistency is more important than speed, then you're ready for the next step. You do not think about finger numbers or note names while you're doing this. The numbers are just there until you understand the pattern you need to follow.My Personal Play By Ear Diary
11. Let's start with Mary Had a Little Lamb. It starts on the note A, and I recorded it with my Tenor (and I didn't spend any time recording and rerecording to try and get it perfect), so the notes will sound lower than on an Alto. Click to download it and save to your computer: 01 Mary Had a Little Lamb Get it in your head and play it from there. Don't try to play along with the recording.
The song should be played until you can play it smoothly without hesitation. If you like it and want to memorize it, than play it until you memorize it. Otherwise you can move on to the next melody. I'm going to put some songs from the Suzuki for flute book in the table below, but some are kind of annoying so I'll put others in there that you should recognize. Work through the table before you start trying to play other songs.
If you want to monkey around with songs you like, you can try, but the problem is you wont know all the notes to play it. It would be tough to play a song that uses notes you haven't learned yet.
One quick way to add a bunch of notes to your knowledge base is use the octave key (LT). If you press it and then play any of the notes from step 10 above, you're playing a note by the same name but one octave higher. To practice, start like in step 10, play all the notes from D to C, then repeat, but this time hold the octave key down for all of them. As in step 10, you'll want to practice going all the way up and down, with and without the octave key. Slow and steady. Speed will come as you get used to the fingering. In fact, one of your daily exercises should be to play each note steadily for 5-10 seconds (called long notes). This helps you breath and play better in general, develop your tone and embouchure (lips).
The second way to learn all the notes is look in your Saxophone Book1. It will have a chart in it that shows all the notes and all the fingerings for each (sometimes there are multiple fingerings for each note, pick one). In the same way you play the notes from step 10, you can start to play all the notes from bottom to top in order, so you get used to playing them all. The lowest notes will need some practice (remember the three tongue positions in Scott's video) and so will the high one's. Remember, stay lose and put only as much pressure with your lips as needed.
Fireflies Starts on B (Finger 1)
03 (Added 1/5/23)
When the Saints Go... Starts on G (Fingers 123). For this one you're going to need a new note. B-flat, which is finger 1 pressing two keys, the key it usually presses plus the small one right below it (bis key), at the same time.
Ode to Joy Starts on middle E (Fingers 12356 + LT-Octave Key)
Jingle Bells Part 1 and Part 2
Mona Lisa - Willie Nelson
Somewhere Over the Rainbow Part 1 Part 2 That's all you really need, the rest just repeats.
All of Me P1 P2 P3 P4 P5