As a saxophone player you know that there are always things to work on and to improve. It’s both exciting and at time tedious work to get a new technique or melody to the point where you are actually playing it and not just practicing it.
Spending time on different saxophone exercises are important for sax players of all levels. You should always have a block of time devoted to exercises within every practice session, so that you can keep perfecting your technique, sound and overall performance.
If you are a beginner saxophone player it’s probably a bit difficult to know what you should be practicing, so that’s why I’ve laid out a saxophone practice routine that works well at the beginner level of saxophone playing.
Note that these basic saxophone exercises still applies for intermediate and advanced saxophonists. However, there will be more steps added on to the routines at those levels.
Beginner and intermediate exercises
There are many things to learn as a beginner. Simply getting a proper sound out of the sax can be a challenge in the early days.
However, the main things you should focus on are Air flow, Tone Control and Embouchure. There’s a detailed step by step guide to these subjects that you can study more closely in the Definite Guide for Beginner Saxophone.
Warm up slowly for better results
Imagine if a sprinter would just go out and do a 100 meter sprint without any warmup to the muscles and body. That would be a sure way to get muscle sprains and maybe even worse inguries. No good, right?
The same thing applies for the saxophone as you need to warm up your muscles gently before you get into practicing and playing more aggressively.
So, with that background, lets take a look at a warm up exercise that will help you get ready as well as help you build your sound and make your playing better at the same time.
Long tones are very good for developing your sound and control of the saxophone tone. You’ll should take your time and do this exercise slowly. You can see the sequence laid out in the image and listen to the audio demonstration.
- Focus on these things while playing the exercise :
- Keep an open throat, so that the air can flow easily (*with feeling like yawning)
- Play with a good posture and steady airflow
- Maintain the same embouchure throughout each breath
- Play the notes in forte, which means not too loud and not too soft – but in between
* Playing with the feeling of yawning may seem strange and it should not be taken literally. If you try practicing when you are really tired you won’t get much quality out of that session anyway.
I’m referring to the shape of the inside of your mouth, which becomes open and wide when you yawn. Aim for that openness inside your mouth and you’ll hear the sound gets bigger.
Mini breaks that helps your focus
Taking mini breaks throughout your entire practice session will help you reset your focus. It also gives your body a chance to rebound if you’ve been working on long phrases or difficult phases in a song.
I always do and recommend short mini breaks during the warmup section of each saxophone training session. The main reason is to make sure your body and mind gets tuned in on what’s coming in the practice session.
That way you can avoid tension in your jaw, arms, back and shoulders, which in the long run could cause you some serious health problems.
Here are a few other reasons:
- It gives your body the chance to get into “play mode” and gets your air going and flowing
- By carefully stretching your jaw now and then you prepare it for the work ahead. (open wide – close – repeat)
- When you switch between standing up and sitting down you automatically get a mini break, that could be enough to prevent a static posture.
The tongue also needs warming up and a good way to do that is just to play a few notes and focus on using the tongue while changing notes.
That’s just to get the feel of it before you move on to a few more tongue exercises like the these:
- 3 -note tonguing exercise on saxophone
- 5 -note tonguing exercise on saxophone
Use the 3 and 5 tongue formula while working through the major scale, which we will cover next.
Finger workout with the major scale
As you may have already noticed in the tonguing exercises above, we are killing two birds with one stone as we work on both tonging and the notes for the major scale ( G-major in this case)
That’s a great way to optimize your practice session and compress the fundamentals into useful exercises. Here’s another example that you can use as another saxophone exercise to improve your playing. It incorporates both the tongue and the fingers while you practice on the major scale.
- First, do a of the major scale slurring (without any tongue), starting on the root going up and turn back down on the 9th note and end on the root again. (No need to rush!)
- Next, play staccato (use the tongue between every note) in the exact same sequence of notes from the major scale.
- Finally, if you feel ambitious to do more you can do alterations of the tonguing, which could sound something like this.
There are endless possibilities and variations to these exercises which you should explore more. Try to be consistent and always incorporate a few of the tonguing, fingering and scale exercises for each practice session. It WILL pay off big time as you progress in your playing.