Just learn all the notes

Learn the Chromatic Scale and practice it regularly
(i.e. semitones all the way up).
Bottom 4 notes are really hard.
‘O’ shaped embouchure for Bb, B, C C#
‘ee’ shaped embouchure for D and upward
‘eh’ shape on upper register  (8:18)
May need more shape and control to get well supported notes in upper register
High D# is 2 left-palm keys
High E uses the top right-palm key
High F uses all 3 left-palm keys as well
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How can I get better at the saxophone?

How do I actually get better at playing this instrument?

Earlier in January, I had a look at various videos on Youtube. The common consensus is really simple to say, but actually hard to put into practice (literally!) – you just have to learn all your scales!

Learn the Chromatic scale (in plain English: “going up and down in semitones”). This, according to HelloSaxophone, is the only way to get better. It helps you to be more comfortable with every note – especially the sharps and flats you’re trying to avoid.

Saxophone on stage with mood lighting

Saxophone on stage (by Peter Jozwiak)

I also found that learning the Chromatic scale is helpful for getting my fingers around the lowest notes (on the left pinky) and the highest notes (on the palm keys). After a few weeks, I have a much better idea where they are! If you’re not sure, use a fingering chart. That’s what it’s there for.

Start slowly and concentrate on precision rather than speed, to let the muscles learn where each note is, and the transitions between them. Jay Metcalf says this is the fastest way to learn.

Getting familiar with the Major and Minor scales is also important. Just knowing the major scales isn’t enough. And I’ve found that songs I want to play along to are often in awkward keys, like C# or F#. I just have to get over the fact that I need to know them all.


(Creative Commons photo credit Peter Jozwiak:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/piotrjozwiak/3529871163)

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Are Chinese Saxophones any good – part 2

I took a bit of a gamble the other week, and bought a cheap (probably Chinese) saxophone on Amazon for about £200.

From what I’ve read recently, the quality of instruments coming out of China has been improving all the time. (See, for example, my previous article on Chinese saxophones and Stephen Howard’s article)

I’ve had my eye on a coloured Alto for a while, and finally decided to go for it when I saw this black-and-gold model on Amazon for a shade under £200. At the price, even if it only lasts 5 years, I figured it would be a better investment than a games console!


Unboxing the sax, I was surprised how heavy it was – clearly they haven’t skimped in metal on the body of the horn. I wasn’t able to tell if this was a particularly heavy horn, as I don’t have another alto to compare it to.

There were some slight sharp edges here and there – probably edges from machining that haven’t been eased off with a file (a task that would no doubt increase the price). Nothing to scratch you, but perhaps a bit uncomfortable.

The paintwork was a bit tacky (sticky) when I first unboxed the sax. This may have been caused by not leaving it long enough to dry before packaging for sale (maybe another cost reduction). I think this could be solved by letting it ‘cure’ in front of a radiator for a week or so, or it might have been because it was left in a cold place during transit.

After I assembled the sax, I was able to play it. Being used to a tenor, I found the fingering was a little close, but assume this is normal for an alto. But when I tested its tuning against a tuner, I found it was in D rather than E♭. This is, apparently, a known problem on new saxophones where the cork is a bit thick and can be addressed with a bit of sandpaper (see this great video by Nigel McGill)

A bit of cork grease allowed me to put the mouthpiece a bit further on, but it was still about a 1/4 tone too flat. Warning! Don’t push the mouthpiece on too hard, or you’ll crack it, and then you’ll have to buy a new mouthpiece sooner than you’d planned!

A few days later, I was practicing A-major scales, and discovered that the C♯ was about a 1/4 tone flat relative to where it should be, and not a semitone apart from C or D. This, I thought, was a much more significant issue, and can’t be easily fixed.

I was able to return the sax, as I’d bought it from Amazon (I would probably have had more difficulty if I’d used a different online provider) and I hadn’t yet attacked the neck cork with sand paper.

I should point out that my experience here may not be typical of other Chinese saxophones. It could be that this was a specific “bought online” issue rather than a problem with Chinese saxophones in general. After all, as a friend pointed out, iPhones are made in China, so the machining must be reasonable! I notice that sax.co.uk sell a Sakkusi for around the £300 mark; if they’re putting that on their website, it must be OK!

In conclusion, I would advise that you play a saxophone before you buy it (which means visiting a music shop, trying some out.)

Update: A few weeks later, went down to sax.co.uk and bought an Alto for around £750, which I’m very happy with. I recollect it feeling lighter to pick up, there were no sharp edges, the paintwork was properly dry, it was in tune with itself [1], but I still needed to sand a smidgen off the cork to get it in tune with the tuner.

[1]: Jay Metcalf has a great video about Playing In Tune.

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Abide With Me (in F)

A golden oldie, a wonderful Hymn. In F on a Bb Tenor Saxophone. (Starts on an A)

Play along with the words… (the quiet soprano solo works well if you play along in the upper register)

Also in F, There’s a glorious version sung by Hayley Westenra, although I suspect you may find yourself listening, rather than trying to join in!

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How Saxophones are made

A look inside the Selmer factory in france

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Are Chinese Saxophones any good?

In this video Richard Ross of RSR Sax explains the quality of Chinese-made saxophones, how things have changed since the 1960s, why the latest Chinese models are good, and how it changed his business model

Chinese Saxophone Quality

He also suggests why you should learn an instrument (as they’re doing in China, Taiwan and South America…), and what a good quality, cheap saxophone means (i.e. they’re practically disposable! )

Disposable Saxophones?

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Alternatives to Scales

Here’s a little trick if scales have got a bit boring;

Pick a scale as usual (I’m working on a web app for that!), then instead of just climbing up and down the stairs as normal, play some simple tunes. Here are some examples:

They don’t all start on the root note; Work out what key they’re in!

  • God I Look To You, you’re where my Help Comes From
  • Happy Birthday (starts on 5th)
  • Star Wars Theme (1st interval is a 5th)
  • Away In A Manger (1st interval is a 4th)
  • Once In Royal David’s City (1st interval is a 3rd)
  • Somewhere over the Rainbow (ist interval is an octave
  • Amazing Grace

Pick songs you’re playing regularly, or want to play regularly too. There are plenty of lists of “songs you must know”, just google for them

Idea from www.bestsaxophonewebsiteever.com/simple-songs-an-alternative-approach-to-warming-up-training-your-ear-and-learning-your-keys

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Saxuet website – music for lots of well known tunes

I just came across this site – http://www.saxuet.qc.ca/TheSaxyPage/Standards_In_Bb.htm, with a large listing of music scores for well known tunes for saxophone.

Thanks to Saxuet in Canada for making these scores available.

Band Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/SaxuetJazz/


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Mouthpieces now available 3D-printed

I just stumbled across this. It’s a 3D-printed mouthpiece!




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BeatBox Sax

Amazing sounds from a saxophone!

Every Breath You Take

Bach Cello Suite

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