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.

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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

Want to learn more about the music business? Check out our popular FREE eBook – Advice for Young Musicians: From Established Music Professionals.

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Published by Shannon Kennedy

Shannon Kennedy is a vocalist and saxophonist living in Southern California. She is author of "The Album Checklist" and the founder of Teen Jazz. She has been contributing articles to music magaizines and websites since 2004.