Is Saxophone hard to learn - The beginners guide to how easy saxophone is to play

Is Saxophone Hard to Learn?

🎷 Written by: Greger Hillman, Your friendly saxophone teacher online

I've taught several hundred saxophonists how to play the saxophone as a saxophone teacher and if you are thinking about picking up the sax yourself you may be wondering “Is saxophone hard to learn?”

Well, I've got some great news for you. The saxophone is easy to learn.

However, it does come with a few caveats which I'll cover in this article so that you can make an informed decision wether to start playing the sax or not.

What's the best age for beginner saxophone?

Many saxophone students start taking saxophone lessons at an early age. From my experience as a saxophone teacher it works well to teach children as young as 8-9 years old to play the saxophone.

However, the age is not a hard line here but rather if the child has grown enough to be able to hold the saxophone and finger the notes.

It also depends on what type of saxophone the child (or you) use which I'll cover more in detail below.

Depending on where you are in the world you may have the opportunity to signup for lessons in your local town. Some elementery schools even offer instrument lessons as part of the curriculum. That's how I got started playing saxophone some odd 35+ years ago.

If you are in the US you may also find opportunities to start playing saxophone in High School. I recall being a foreign exchange student in the 1990's (yes, I'm old) and there where several students that joined the marching band at my High School in Covington, Louisiana, who did not have much prior experience playing instruments. But I think that was great and a great opportunity for those students.

You can also look for a saxophone teacher near me on Google to see if there are any in your city that you could take private lessons from.

If that doesn't work out you can still learn saxophone on your own with the help of online courses for saxophone.

So, to answer the question about what's the best age to beginner saxophone? I'd say, right now!

Can I learn Saxophone at 40?

Maybe you've been thinking about learning saxophone but then life gets in the way and now you are 40-50 years old or older and finally got the time for you which is great.

The good news is that it's not too late to learn saxophone at 40. As a matter of fact, there are many late bloomers that get started playing saxophone way later in life. I'm talking 60+ or even in there seventies.

One of the things I like about playing music and saxophone in particular is that it's not restricted to a single age group. You can start playing saxophone when you are 70 or 80 years old if you want to. It doesn't matter. The best time to begin is right now. 

Music is also a universal language which makes it possible to meet other sax players from all over the world and play together. Even if you do not speak the same language.

If you put in the time you will find it to be both easy and fun to play the saxophone so don't let anything stop you from getting started playing the sax.

Choosing the right saxophone for a beginner

This comes down to more than just choosing a saxophone brand and buying a saxophone. There are a few things to consider and it also depends on the age of the sax player to some extent.

If you are looking for a quick answer then the Alto Saxophone will be your best choice as a saxophone beginner, generally speaking. That is one of the four types of saxophones you will find in most big bands and orchestras.

When you are looking to buy a beginner saxophone you need to make sure to get a saxophone that will fit the sax player. If that is you, a child or a teenager will depend on what you should buy.

Obviously budget also plays a role but even before that you need to know what to look for when buying your first beginner sax.

As I mentioned earlier, most saxophone beginners start with the Alto Saxophone and it works great for children, teenagers and adults too.

The Alto Saxophone is one of the smaller saxophone types and that's also the reason it works so well for all ages. It weighs about 5.lbs (or 2,5kg) and the fingerings on the Alto are within reach for people with both small and larger hands.

For teenagers and adults there's also the option of starting with the Tenor Saxophone, which is larger and heavier (approx. 4kg or 8lbs) that the Alto sax, or the Soprano Saxophone which is lighter than the alto sax.

However, the Tenor sax requires the player to have full sized hands in order to be able to reach all the fingerings.

Does that make the saxophone hard to learn? Well, most beginner saxophonists will find the Tenor Sax harder to learn as it also requires more air through the instrument in order to get a good saxophone tone.

Soprano Saxophone require less air to move through the body of the saxophone in order to get a solid sax tone. You'll find that most soprano saxes have a straight body (like the clarinet) but in comparison with the alto sax the soprano is way harder to play in pitch. 

The slightest adjustments to the Saxophone Embouchure on the Soprano makes for big changes in the tone and that can be a bit harder (and frustrating) for a saxophone beginner to handle.

That brings me back to the question about choosing the right saxophone for a saxophone beginner. If you want to play it safe you should go with the Alto Saxophone.

How Long Does it Take to Learn the Saxophone?

It doesn't take long to learn the Saxophone basics. By that I mean how to hold the saxophone, place your fingers, position the mouthpiece correctly and start playing a few notes on the sax.

Becoming a good saxophone player on the other hand requires you to put in the time and practice. You cannot just pick up a saxophone and expect to be a great player within weeks.

It takes an effort and hours upon hours of practice and I realize that can sound a bit daunting, but what's great with Saxophone is that it's fun to play and practice no matter where you are on your saxophone journey.

5 steps to Learn how to Play The Saxophone

If you focus on learning the saxophone basics and practice on a schedule you can make great progress on your sax within a few months. That's not saying you will master the saxophone and it's kind of that question of “how long is a piece of string”. You cannot really tell exactly, but here's 5 steps to learn how to play the saxophone to get you started.

1. Choose the right type of saxophone

Nothing kills enthusiasm as a saxophone beginner like a bad instrument. Make sure you choose the right type of saxophone (as discussed above) so that you have the best conditions for learning the sax. If in doubt, got with the Alto Saxophone. 

2. Use Saxophone Reeds with good quality

The Reed (wooden or plastic) is what makes the sound as you blow air into the mouthpiece and the reed starts to vibrate. This is a single point of failure that you need to learn how to handle.

Just by making sure you have the right thickness on the reed will help you get a better tone. The normal range of thickness is from 1,5 up to 5 where 1,5 is the thinnest and 5 is the thickest. 

Most Saxophone beginner start with nr 2 or 2,5 reeds to make it easier to play. Many seasoned players stay on that 2-2,5 range while other players may move up to 3-3,5 or even more.

However, there's a common misconception that you have to move to a thicker reed when you've played for a few years in order to progress further. That is not true at all. In my experience changing reed strength, reed brands go together with the mouthpiece you play. 

3. Use a standard saxophone Mouthpiece

I always recommend saxophone beginners to use a standard saxophone mouthpiece like the Yamaha 4C or the Yamaha 5C mouthpiece. Those are easy mouthpieces to play even if you haven't got the embouchure (muscles around your mouth) fully trained yet, which beginners do not have.

The number 4 in 4C has to do with the size of the opening on the tip of the mouthpiece. For a child the Yamaha 4C will work the best. From my experience teenagers and adults can have better success with the Yamaha 5C as the slightly larger tip opening matches the size of the mouth better.

As you progress and become a better sax player you may want to look into getting another saxophone mouthpiece. It can help take your saxophone sound to the next level, but before you go hunting for another sax mouthpiece I commend you stick to a standard mouthpiece for at least the first year.

When you start looking into getting another mouthpiece you'll find that there are quite a few different brands to choose from. There's plastic and metal mouthpieces, different openings and the chamber can be shaped to either produce a sharper or more rounded tone. 

Choosing a new mouthpiece for your saxophone can be quite the task so you need to know all the basics of playing sax prior this to get the full benefit of the new mouthpiece.

4. Use the saxophone neck strap the right way

The neck strap should hold about 90% of the weight of the saxophone. The remaining 10% is split between the hand grips and thumbs around the saxophone.

However, the most important thing you need to look out for to adjust the neck strap so that the mouthpiece lines up with your mouth as us stand up (or sit up) straight.

This is one of the most common mistakes I see saxophone beginners make over and over again. If you do not adjust the neck strap you”ll end up having to hold the saxophone up with your arms instead of using the neck strap causing a lot of tension on your shoulders and arms which can hurt you playing the saxophone.

If you do not line up the mouthpiece with your mouth using the neck strap you'll end up bending down to reach the mouthpiece. That will make you crouch and that affects both your air flow, your embouchure and overall sound.

So, do not make that mistake. Adjust your neck strap and you'll notice that it gets a lot easier to play the saxophone. I promise.

5. Use the correct saxophone embouchure with your mouth

Te correct saxophone embouchure refers to how you position the mouthpiece in your mouth. Finding that sweet spot for the mouthpiece makes all the difference for your saxophone sound.

When you are practicing sax more consistently your beginner saxophone embouchure will develop and the muscles in your mouth and jaw will get stronger. This will help you develop a better sax sound and it's one of those fundamentals you need to constantly be working on throughout your saxophone journey.

Advice for saxophone beginners

My best advice to saxophone beginners is to seek the advice from a saxophone teacher, so that you learn the correct way of playing the saxophone from the start. A sax teacher can also provide more direct advice when it comes to buying or renting a saxophone. 

Find a saxophone teacher 

If you know of a good saxophone teacher in your hometown you could reach out and see if you can buy a  sax lessons directly from that person. That way you'll have someone that can help you out and see what adjustments you need to make to your embouchure, hand positions etc. All those basic fundamentals you need to learn in order to play songs on your saxophone.

However, there may not be a good saxophone tutor that you know about yet but simply searching for a Saxophone Teacher Near Me can pull up some useful suggestions on Google for you.

You can also turn to the internet and look for ways to learn saxophone on your own. My guess is that's how you found this website and we do have beginner saxophone lessons available on LearnSaxophone.com too.

Is Saxophone hard to Learn – The Conclusion

Saxophone is easy to learn when you have the right equipment and a saxophone teacher with experience who can point out what you need to work on and improve. Getting in the same room as a saxophone tutor could be an easy way to get started, but there are good options online as well.

To get you started on the saxophone we've put together a Free PDF Download with the Saxophone fingering chart you need to learn how to finger the notes on your saxophone.

About the author

Hi there. I’m Greger Hillman, your friendly saxophone teacher online with a passion for playing and teaching the saxophone. It’s been over 35 years since I picked up the sax for the first time and it was love at first sight.

If you are just getting started playing saxophone I’m really excited for you and I’m looking forward to helping you become a better sax player starting rigt now. Check out the articles below.

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Saxophone fingering keys video and PDF guide

Saxophone Fingering Chart