SAXOPHONE FAQs

 

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I am in the beginning stages of creating a series of Beginning Saxophone question and answer videos based on some of the most frequent questions I've received from many of you. I'll post the videos here and in a playlist on my YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/saxtrax

I also have some answers to other frequently asked questions about learning to play the saxophone, saxophone maintenance, purchasing and renting a saxophone, saxophone reeds, saxophone mouthpieces, and more. These topics should be of interest to beginning - intermediate saxophonists. If you have a jazz saxophone or beginning saxophone question, send it to me.

Visit the homepage for information on my online beginning saxophone lessons.

 

Question: How Can I Improve My Technique?

 

Question: How do I practice jazz articulation?

 

Question: What is subtone & how do I produce with it?

 

Question: How Do I Breathe to the Diaphragm?

 

Question: What about reeds?

 

Question: How do I stop all this squawking?

 

Q: I am considering buying a used saxophone, do you have any suggestions?

A: First, I would suggest that you have a fair amount of hands-on saxophone playing experience. You really need to be able to play-test the sax from top to bottom, using a mouthpiece and reed that you are comfortable playing. That's why I usually suggest renting before purchasing.

It would also be wise to have the instrument in question inspected by either an experienced player or repairman. Often, used saxes need to have pads replaced. Depending on which ones and how many need to be replaced, this can become an expensive venture.

Finally, avoid purchasing a used instrument online unless you are buying from a music store that provides a money-back guarantee for the instrument. I have a student that recently purchased a quality brand used instrument online. The pictures were beautiful, and the price was right. He was very disappointed when the sax arrived and need $300 in repairs before he could play it.

 

Q: How often should I change reeds?

A: This can be a tricky one. Obviously, if the reed tip gets broken or split, it needs to be changed. You should learn quickly how to avoid most breaks, especially when reeds can be expensive.

One issue you'll face, is that some reeds play better and last longer than others. Some reeds may not even be suitable for playing when brand new. For this reason, I recommend having two, three, or even four reeds on a playing rotation. This way, you'll start to get a feel for what to expect from your reeds, and for when they start to wear out.

Some reed related issues can include excessive squeaking, difficulty playing high or low notes, and difficulty playing in tune. Of course, these can also be user or instrument malfunction issues. Again, by having several reeds on a rotation, you can get a feel for what is a reed related problem verses an embouchure, breath support, or mechanical issue with your instrument.

With all of the above taken into consideration, I would say that most decent reeds are good for 2-4 weeks, depending on the amount of time you practice.

 

Q: When should I change reed strengths?

A: I recommend that beginning adults play one number 2 reed for the first one to two weeks, unless it breaks sooner than that. At the first reed changing, move up in strength to a 2.5. Buy a box of cheap reeds at first. You won't know the difference until you develop some chops.

Once you've worn out this box of reeds, you may wish to experiment with some number 3's, or you may need to stay with the 2.5's. It really just depends on your personal embouchure strength and the mouthpiece you are playing. You can always try a harder reed, then back down to more 2.5's if necessary. I do think, however, that you should try to advance to number 3's within the first 12-18 months.

 

Q: How often does my saxophone need servicing?

A: If you have ongoing trouble producing tones such as a middle "D" or high "G," this can be a sign that your octave key is out of adjustment. In this case, you should have your instrument serviced immediately. Of course, if you have persistent difficulty with the low notes, have it checked out.

As far as routine maintenance is concerned, it would be a good idea to have your instrument serviced once a year.

 

Q: How do I clean my saxophone?

A: The mouthpiece should be cleaned regularly with a brush in the sink. There are special mouthpiece brushes you can purchase, or you can use a small child's toothbrush.

There are saxophone neck and body cleaning swabs that can be pulled through the instrument. Do this with frequency to avoid a slimy algae build-up inside your instrument. This will also help to dry the instrument on the inside, adding extended life to your pads.

 

Q: Should I purchase an upgraded mouthpiece or play the one that came with my saxophone?

A: In most cases, the beginner mouthpiece that came with your instrument should be good for at least your first year of play. As your embouchure and concept of the saxophone sound you want to have matures, you may wish to experiment with different mouthpieces.

Read reviews and do your research. Most sax players go through several mouthpieces before settling into one they play for years. Most serious players are on the mouthpiece hunt their entire lives.

 

Q: How long will it take me to get good?

A: That's the question most beginners have. That's also a very difficult question to answer, since "good" is relevant to your expectations.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are a sax player for life. It's not something you master and walk away from. One of the most enjoyable things about playing sax, and jazz, is the journey. You constantly learn more about music, and yourself, as you travel this journey.

With this being said, you should be able to play many basic tunes within a month. In addition to your "Beginning Sax" lessons, you could purchase books with easy saxophone songs - there are many available - and have fun learning to play pop hits or jazz standards in just a few months.

 

Q: How long and how often should I practice?

A: Practice is the key to success. The more you practice, the better you get. We'll leave it at that.

 

randy@beginningsax.com