Top Ten Tips to instantly improve your saxophone playing

Updated: Aug 24, 2019

1. Get the best mouthpiece and ligature you can afford. If your sax is a lower cost instrument then get a professional quality mouthpiece and you will drastically improve your tone. If possible get one classical and one jazz mouthpiece for different types of playing. Ask me for advice about this because it’s difficult to find a shop that has a good range in stock and that will let you try before you buy.


2. Don’t penny pinch when it comes to reeds – there are cheap reeds out there but they are not worth the compromise in tone. In a cheap box of reeds you will get a lot of variation in quality and strength, so several of them might not be playable for you. It’s a false economy to go for a cheap brand. Vandoren have a much higher quality assurance process so I use them every time!


3. Check where your reed is on the mouthpiece when you’re getting a good tone, and make sure you take care to put it back there every time you set your instrument up. Do not leave your reed on your mouth- piece when you put it away! You could scuff and break it, but most of all you’d be leaving it soggy and mouldy and icky.


4. Focus on your mouth position when you realise you’re getting a really nice tone. To avoid overloading your brain, spend some time just playing long notes and listening to your tone. It’s really hard to focus on your tone whilst concentrating on learning a new piece.


5. Get a sax stand so you can put your sax down (in a safe place!) when you’re swapping the music on your stand, or taking a break mid-practice. It also looks better at concerts! Don’t leave it out all the time though – it’s an instrument, not an ornament and it’s safer in its case.


6. Improve your economy of movement – don’t press harder on the keys than you need, and don’t lift off the keys either. It’s really difficult to press gently when playing fast or loudly, but it’s even more important to be gentle with the keys to stay nimble through hard passages.


7. Become balanced with your instrument. If you have an aching thumb or finger you’re probably leaning the weight of the sax on them, which means that you can’t move that finger freely. Get a good strap and adjust it so your sax isn’t resting on your hands or mouth to impair movement.


8. Get your instrument serviced regularly. Over time, the springs and pads will deteriorate through use. It’s imperceptible day by day, but an annual service/checkup will help restore it. If you’ve bought a second-hand or antique horn then definitely get it checked over.


9. Partner up! You will come on massively by playing with other people. You will meet people with similar interests who will support you in your development, and perhaps give a little healthy competition to bring you on. You’ll be incentivised to practise more so you don’t let the side down. Alison can talk to you about the ensembles if you’re not already in one.


10. Have a target: obvious ones are to prepare for an exam or a concert. You will need to play something correctly in front of other people, and you will push yourself to be the best you can. This is great for motivating yourself when a passage seems a bit tricky.

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© 2019 by Alison McAusland.

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