Saxophone Playing Tips and Practice Suggestions

Articulation and Style

  • When playing jazz, think of swung 8th notes as a triplet subdivision.
  • Accent downbeats (not heavily, but enough to help with the time and feel). With difficult passages, this will help you maintain a steady pulse.
  • Tongue with the middle of your tongue, not the very tip.


  • Always touch the pearls on your keys with your fingertips; don’t let your fingers “fly” around.
  • Sit with proper posture (no slouching, crossed legs, or leaning back).
  • Take full breaths and control your air from your diaphragm not your chest.
  • Practice everyday (even if it is only for 15 minutes).


  • Blow Strong, constant, fast, full air.

Embouchure and Mouth

  • Keep a firm embouchure and open your throat when you play (for jazz).
  • Think in terms of voicing the notes. Sing a high note and pay attention to the shape of your throat and mouth.
  • Sing a low note and do the same. Try to recreate those positions when you play low and high notes on your instrument.

Saxophone Care

  • At least clean the inside of your saxophone after use if you don’t feel like cleaning the entire instrument.
  • Don’t leave reeds on your mouthpiece (it ruins your reeds and your mouthpiece).
  • Dry your neck and mouthpiece out after use. Wipe down the outside of your instrument, that is, unless you want the lacquer to wear.
  • Take your horn in to be checked by a professional repair person every six months.


  • Get too soft if used for too long.
  • You can soak your reeds in mouthwash to clean them after use.
  • Try rotating two or three reeds at a time to give them a longer life. It also ensures you always have a backup reed that’s already been broken in just in case.

Music Listening

  • Listen to music as often as possible and to as many different performers as possible.
  • Steal ideas from everyone – it is how you build your music vocabulary (I am not endorsing copyright infringement).
  • Transcribe solos – technology now allows you to slow down songs so they are easier to learn. Take advantage of it!


  • Practice with a metronome. Time is a continuum – you can’t change it, stop it, or catch up to it – so don’t try. Just keep it.

Practice Habits

  • Practice as often as possible.
  • Practice things you can’t do, not things you can do.
  • Practice scales – major, minor, pentatonic, blues, and chromatic (for beginners), whole tone, diminished, and augmented (for high school and college). Learn them one octave first, then play them full range and all 12 keys.
  • Practice with a metronome.
  • Practice arpeggios.
  • Learn etudes – they help your sight reading, technique, and musicality.

Improving Your Sound

  • Mouthpiece exercises – try to create a consistent tone with just your mouthpiece. Soprano pitch is C for classical, Bb for jazz, alto pitch is A for classical and F# for jazz, tenor pitch is G for classical and E for jazz, bari pitch is D for classical and Bb for jazz.
  • Long tones – always play with a tuner and practice all ranges (low, high, middle).
  • Vibrato – done by moving your tongue as if saying “ya-ya”. Be careful not to overuse vibrato.
  • Overtones – are good for developing flexibility, voicing, intonation, and altissimo.

For the More Advanced Player

  • Altissimo – initially practice this with long tones, then work it into scales, melodies and your soloing.
  • Scooping – this can be done with your jaw or fingers.
  • Ghosting Notes – this is when you put your tongue on the reed, but the note still speaks.
  • Learn music theory. Take a class or read a book.
  • Experiment with composition.

Suggested Repertoire

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Published on: August 30, 2012

Filled Under: Lessons, Music and Career Advice

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