Guide to Alto saxophone notes for beginners

How to Play Alto Saxophone Notes for Beginners

If you're a beginner looking to learn how to play the alto saxophone, one of the first things you'll need to master is the basic notes.

Learning how to play Alto Saxophone notes is essential to being able to play songs and melodies, and it's a great way to get started with your saxophone practice.

I've put together some resources to help you learn the alto saxophone notes as a beginner in an easy and fun way. Watch the step-by-step tutorials for every note on Saxophone for more detailed video instructions.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when learning how to play the alto sax is to take your time and practice regularly. This is fundamental to your success and as a saxophone teacher of 20 years I can attest to this.

Learning any new skill takes time and dedication, and playing the saxophone is no exception. With patience and persistence, however, you can become proficient at playing both the basic notes on your alto sax as well as more advanced lines and melodies.  So that you can play your favorite songs with great control and tone.

Parts of the Alto Saxophone

The alto saxophone  can produce a wide range of notes, from low to high. Before you start playing, it's important to know the different parts of the sax and how they work together. Here are the main parts of an saxophone:

  • Neck – The curved part of the saxophone that connects the mouthpiece to the body
  • Mouthpiece – The part of the saxophone where the player blows air to produce
  • Ligature – The metal clamp that holds the reed onto the mouthpiece
  • Reed – The thin piece of wood (or plastic) that vibrates when you blow air into the mouthpiece, producing sound
  • Body – The main part of the saxophone that contains the keys and tone holes
  • Bell – The flared end of the saxophone that amplifies the sound

When playing the alto saxophone, you hold the instrument with your left hand at the top of the body and your right hand at the bottom. The fingers on both of your hands are used to press down on the keys to change the pitch of the notes.

See the complete fingering guide for alto sax here

It's also important to keep the saxophone clean and well-maintained to ensure it works properly and produces the best possible sound.

Regularly cleaning the mouthpiece, reed, and body of the saxophone can help prevent buildup of dirt and debris that can affect the sound quality.

Additionally, storing the saxophone in a case when not in use can help protect it from damage.

Getting Started with the Saxophone

If you're a beginner to the alto saxophone, getting started is both exciting and can seem daunting. But with the right approach, you can quickly learn the basics and start playing simple melodies.

Here are my basic tips to help you get started:

  • Start by assembling your saxophone. This involves attaching the neck and mouthpiece to the body, and then attaching the reed to the mouthpiece.
  • Learn how to hold the saxophone properly. Your left hand should hold the upper part of the saxophone, while your right hand should hold the lower part. Your left thumb and right thumb should rest on the thumb rests, and your fingers should be positioned over the keys.
  • Practice blowing into the mouthpiece to produce a sound. Start by blowing gently and gradually increase the force of your breath until you produce a clear, sustained note. It's sounds easy but can take some time to master. You'll start to develop your saxophone embouchure over time and as long as you stay consistent with your practice routine you will see great results.
  • Learn the basic fingerings for the notes on the saxophone. Start with the notes in the middle register as they only requires you to use the keys in your left hand. Expand to include notes using both your right and left hand as you get more comfortable. Gradually work your way up from there to the higher notes.
  • Practice playing simple melodies, such as nursery rhymes or folk songs. This will help you get used to moving your fingers quickly and accurately, and will also help you develop your “ear” to hear what the notes sound like. It's also good for getting a sense of rhythm and timing.

I've already mentioned it but it's worth repeating. Learning to play the saxophone takes time and practice. Don't get discouraged if you don't sound great right away. Keep practicing, and soon you'll be playing more complex melodies. It's all a part of your journey of becoming a better sax player.

Finger Placement and Note Production

Proper Finger Placement

Before playing any notes on the alto saxophone, it is important to have proper finger placement.

The left hand should be positioned on the upper part of the saxophone, while the right hand should be on the lower part.

The thumb of the left hand should be placed on the thumb rest, while the right thumb should be on the thumb hook.

The fingers of both hands should be curved and placed on the keys with the fingertips.

It is important to use the pads of the fingers to cover the keys completely, without pressing too hard. This will help produce a clear and smooth sound.

Producing Sound from the Saxophone

To produce sound from the saxophone, it is important to have proper breath control. Take a deep breath and then blow into the mouthpiece with a steady stream of air.

The reed should vibrate against the mouthpiece, producing a sound. To produce different notes, different finger combinations should be used.

A beginner saxophone fingering chart can be helpful to learn the fingerings for different notes. It is important to practice the fingerings slowly and accurately, gradually increasing the speed as you become more comfortable with them. It is also important to maintain a good embouchure, which is the position of the lips and mouth around the mouthpiece. The corners of the mouth should be slightly pulled back, while the lips should be firm around the mouthpiece. A good embouchure will help produce a clear and focused sound. In summary, proper finger placement and note production are essential for playing the alto saxophone. By practicing proper finger placement, breath control, and embouchure, beginners can produce clear and smooth sounds on the saxophone.

Playing the First Notes

Playing the First Scale

Playing the first notes on an alto saxophone can be daunting, but with practice and patience, it can be done! Before you start playing, make sure you have a properly assembled saxophone and a reed that is moistened and ready to use.

To start playing, place the mouthpiece in your mouth and position your lips around the reed. Take a deep breath and blow into the mouthpiece while pressing down on the first three keys with your left hand. This will produce the note G.

Next, press down on the first four keys with your left hand to produce the note A. Finally, press down on all six keys with your left hand to produce the note B.

Congratulations, you've played your first three notes on the alto sax! Now that you've played your first notes, it's time to practice playing the first scale. The first scale on the alto saxophone consists of the notes G, A, B, C, and D. To play the scale, start by playing G, then A, then B, then add your right hand to play C, and finally add your right hand pinky to play D.

Tips for Playing the First Notes

Here are some tips to help you play your first notes on the alto saxophone:

  • Make sure you have a proper embouchure, which means positioning your lips correctly around the reed.
  • Take deep breaths and use your diaphragm to blow into the mouthpiece.
  • Practice playing each note separately before trying to play them in sequence.
  • Use a metronome to help you keep a steady beat while playing.
  • Don't get discouraged if you don't get it right away, playing the saxophone takes time and practice.

With these tips and some practice, you'll be playing your first notes on the alto saxophone in no time!

Basic Music Theory for Saxophonists

Understanding Note Names and Values

Before we dive into playing the saxophone, it's important to understand some basic music theory concepts. The first concept to understand is note names and values.

Each note has a letter name, which corresponds to a specific pitch. On the alto saxophone, the most commonly used notes are written on the treble clef staff.

Each note also has a specific value, or duration. The most common note values are whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes.

A whole note lasts for four beats, a half note lasts for two beats, a quarter note lasts for one beat, and an eighth note lasts for half a beat.

Reading Sheet Music

Now that you understand note names and values, let's talk about how to read sheet music. Sheet music is written on a staff, which is made up of five horizontal lines. Each line and space on the staff corresponds to a specific note.

The notes are written as symbols on the staff. A note head is the oval-shaped part of the note symbol, and it is placed on a specific line or space on the staff.

The note stem is the vertical line that extends from the note head, and it can point either up or down depending on the note's position on the staff.

The duration of each note is indicated by the shape of the note head.

Whole notes have a solid oval-shaped note head, half notes have a hollow oval-shaped note head, quarter notes have a solid oval-shaped note head with a stem, and eighth notes have a solid oval-shaped note head with a stem and a flag.

When reading sheet music for the alto saxophone, it's important to pay attention to the key signature, which indicates which notes are sharp or flat throughout the piece.

It's also important to pay attention to the time signature, which indicates how many beats are in each measure and which note value corresponds to one beat.

Practice Tips for Beginners

Learning to play the alto saxophone can be challenging, especially for beginners. However, with consistent practice and dedication, you can master the instrument.

Here are some tips to help you practice effectively:

  • Set a regular practice schedule: Consistency is key when it comes to learning a new skill. Set aside a specific time each day for practicing, and stick to it. Even if it's just 10-15 minutes a day, regular practice will help you progress faster.
  • Start with the basics: Before moving on to more advanced techniques, make sure you have mastered the basics. Practice scales, arpeggios, and simple melodies to build a strong foundation.
  • Break up your practice sessions: Instead of practicing for long stretches of time, break up your practice sessions into shorter, more focused sessions. This will help you stay focused and avoid burnout.
  • Record yourself: Recording yourself playing can help you identify areas where you need improvement. Listen back to your recordings and take note of what you need to work on.
  • Practice with a metronome: A metronome can help you develop a sense of rhythm and timing. Start with a slow tempo and gradually increase the speed as you improve.

Remember, learning a new instrument takes time and patience. Don't get discouraged if you don't see progress right away. With consistent practice and a positive attitude, you'll develop your skills over time and can become a real pro if that's the goal. Or just play for fun which is awesome too.

Common Sax Beginner Mistakes to Avoid

Learning to play the alto saxophone can be a bit challenging. I've taught 100s of saxophone students over the past 20 years and have seen these things over and over again. However, this is all part of the journey and with practice and dedication, anyone can master the instrument.

Still, there are some common mistakes that beginners make that can hinder the progress. So, to help you avoid them I've compiled a list for you here:

  • Not practicing enough: Consistent practice is key when learning any new skill, including playing the saxophone. Make sure to set aside time each day to practice, even if it's just for a few minutes.
  • Incorrect posture: Sitting with your shoulders raised or your head tilted can affect your breathing and tone. Make sure to sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor and your head level.
  • Incorrect hand position: Placing your fingers incorrectly on the keys can result in a muffled or incorrect sound. Make sure to place your fingers on the correct keys and use the correct fingerings for each note.
  • Not using proper breathing techniques: Proper breathing is essential for producing a clear and consistent sound. Take deep breaths from your diaphragm and exhale slowly and evenly.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can improve your playing and progress more quickly. Remember to be patient with yourself and don't get discouraged if you make mistakes. With practice and dedication, you can become a skilled alto saxophone player.


Congratulations on completing this guide on how to play alto saxophone notes for beginners! By now, you should have a good understanding of the basics of playing the alto saxophone and be able to play a variety of notes.

Remember to keep practicing regularly to improve your skills and build your confidence. With time and dedication, you can become a skilled saxophonist and enjoy playing a wide range of music.

Don't be afraid to seek out additional resources and guidance, such as online tutorials, sheet music, and lessons from a professional instructor. The more you learn and practice, the better you will become.

Playing the alto saxophone is both fun and rewarding. It's been my main instrument for the past 35 years and once you get into it you will be hooked too. Get started playing now with my beginners guide and make sure to download the Saxophone fingering PDF here as it will help you learn how to play all the notes on your saxophone. I hope this guide has inspired you to move forward and start playing alto saxophone.