Chapter 1: Beginner Saxophone "The Definite guide for beginner saxophone"

Beginner Saxophone: The Definitive Guide


The purpose of this beginner saxophone guide is to make it easy for you to get started playing the saxophone.

The guide is divided into 7 chapters covering all the essential information you need as a beginner saxophone student. That doesn't mean that you know exactly how to play the saxophone once you've completed the seven chapters, but you'll have a good understanding about the gear as well as the basics of how to play saxophone.

Experience come with time and I’ve made sure to incorporate my best tips into this guide, so that you can benefit from my knowledge of playing saxophone for 30 years.

I’m not leaving anything out and that’s why I call it Beginner saxophone: The definitive guide.

I hope you’ll like it. Let me know!
// Greger Hillman

The Getting started checklist

  • 1

    Saxophone in good condition

    A saxophone is a pretty complicated instrument as far as the mechanics goes. Therefor it's very important that you have a sax that's in good playing condition. Read about 4 things to look for below.

  • 2

    Saxophone Reeds

    The reed is a small piece of wood (cane) that vibrates when you blow into the saxophone mouthpiece. Without it there will be no sound and having the wrong reeds will not work well at all.

  • 3

    Saxophone mouthpiece and ligature

    The mouthpiece connects to the rest of the saxophone body. Along with the reed and ligature, which holds the reed in place, these will greatly affect your success with playing the sax.

  • 4

    Basic accessories

    You need a neck strap, cork grease and cleaning swab to be able to play and maintain your saxophone.

1. Find a saxophone in good condition

4 things to look out for when buying a saxophone

You should always make sure to check for and consider these 4 things before you buy a saxophone.

  • 1

    Are there any dents to the saxophone body?

    If there are, you should be aware that the saxophone may have been dropped and in need of repairs which can become pretty expensive depending on the damage.

  • 2

    Are there a lot of rattling noises when you push down the keys?

    This isn’t as important to the playability of the sax, but it’s also a sign of the need of maintenance by a saxophone shop. Again, this will cost you more money.

  • 3

    Are there lot of scratches or markings on the saxophone body, which gives it an overall used impression?

    This doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you are looking at a vintage saxophone, but as a saxophone beginner there’s really no need to invest in such an high value saxophone. So, if it’s a basic school model saxophone that looks banged up you should pass on it and find another one.

  • 4

    Is the saxophone manufactured by a well know saxophone brand?

    There are many noname saxophones out there which are simple poor quality. When you look for a saxophone you want to stick with a well known brand such as Yamaha, Selmer och Yanagisawa. These companies have been around for many years and have a track record of making quality instruments. You’ll find more details on recommended beginner saxophone brands further down in this chapter.

As you probably realized by now, there are quite a few things to consider when buying a beginner saxophone.

If you know somebody that is a saxophone player, maybe a local music teacher or an experienced musician, you should definitely reach out to that person to ask for a second opinion on any used saxophone that you are thinking about buying. 

2. Saxophone reeds

The reed is vital for getting any sound out of the saxophone. At the same time, with all the different reed brands and strengths to choose from, it is pretty difficult as a beginner saxophone student to know what reeds to buy.

Just know that this is no "exact science" and "the best reed" for you may not be the same as for the next beginner.

However, there are a few reeds that "simply works" and that's what you need as a beginner. Trying out different brands and strengths will come in time, but for now you just want to get started, right?!

I've listed 2 reed brands to choose from, so that you can focus on the actual playing for now. Choose either one or buy both. That way you have 2 "safe bets" to choose from.

Recommended reeds for the Saxophone Beginner

Buy at least a 3-pack of reeds. There may be some inconsistency in the quality of the reeds and you may accidentally break one. It does happen quite often in the beginning.

There's an entire section on how to handle the reeds chapter 3, so that you don't have to buy new reeds all the time as it can get quite expensive.


  • 1

    Rico Reeds, strength 2

    Rico is a very well known reed brand that has been around for many years. The company has many different reed products, but here I'm referring to one of there base product reeds. You'll find them in a orange box or 3-pack, which is a good starting point.

Buy Rico reedsHere's a link to Amazon: Rico 2 strength reeds

  • 2

    La Voz Reeds, medium strength

    The La Voz brand is owned by Rico. However, the "cut" of the reeds are a bit different as well as the strength scale. If you decide to try this reed I recommend that you choose La Voz medium strength.

Buy La Voz reedsHere's a link to Amazon: La Voz medium strength reeds

3. Saxophone mouthpiece

There are two main categories of mouthpieces (MPC) for saxophone. Metal- and Hard Rubber mouthpieces.

As a beginner I'd recommend a standard Rubber Yamaha 4c (child), Yamaha 5c or 6c (adult). This mouthpiece is easy to play and once you've played for a while you can start looking into getting another mouthpiece that will help enhance your sound.

If you already have a mouthpiece you should make sure it has a tip opening that will fit you. A wider tip opening will generally be harder to play than a smaller opening. I'd say that an opening between 4-5 is suitable for a child and 5-7 for most adults. I've personally been playing on mouthpieces with an 6 opening for the past 20 years.

It usually takes a few weeks to get used to a new mouthpiece, even for an experienced player. So, you shouldn't worry too much about getting squeaking sounds while playing. At this stage it has more to do with the MPC position inside your mouth, which will be explained in detail in the next chapter.

The ligature affect on the sound

The ligature is the ring that holds the reed in place on the mouthpiece.  A common mistake I see with beginners is that they tighten the reed too much on the mouthpiece. You need to secure it without making it super tight, so that it can keep vibrating freely. You’ll learn more about this when look at how you apply the reed to the mouthpiece in the next chapter

4. Basic accessories

  • Neck strap - The neck strap is used to take the load of your arms holding up the saxophone. At the same time, it makes it a lot easier to hold up the saxophone and keep the mouthpiece and fingers relaxed and in the right playing position. You definitely should use one!
  • Cork grease - This maybe doesn’t seem like such an important thing to use, but over time it makes all the difference. The cork grease is applied to the cork on the saxophone neck in order to keep the seal tight between the mouthpiece and the neck of the saxophone. You’ll find out more about this as we talk about building embouchure and developing your saxophone sound in the following chapter.
  • Cleaning swab - This is an accessory that allows you to clean out the inside of the saxophone and it should be used after every practice session. That will help keeping your saxophone in good playing condition for a longer period of time. A good rule of thumb is to always swab in the direction of the airflow.Look at it this way: You blow air into the top of the saxophone, so you should be swabbing starting from the top of the saxophone body and downwards coming out through the bell of the sax. Note: this is just for the saxophone body and not for the mouthpiece or the neck.

Choosing the Best Beginner Saxophone

There are many different saxophone brands out there that works really well on a beginner and intermediate level. So, before you go out and invest a ton of money in a pro saxophone you should know that you can play just as well on a "school model" saxophone as a beginner and intermediate player.

A common misconception is that you need a Pro Saxophone Model in order to get "the same sound as ______" (read:Your favorite sax player). rather, the sound has very much to do with the way you build and use your embouchure, which we will look at in the next chapter.

There are 4 types of saxophones in the saxophone family. They differ in size and range in relation to the concert pitch, which relates to C-instruments like the piano.

The four types are: Soprano-, Alto-, Tenor- and Bari-saxophone (more info)

If possible you should get started with an Alto Saxophone, which also is referred to as the "School model saxophone". The size of the saxophone and mouthpiece makes this the best choice for beginners of all ages as it's a bit easier to get tone control on this model than the others.

The great thing with these four saxophone types is that they all use the same basic fingerings, which means that once you've learned to play the alto sax you'll be able to transfer that knowledge to the Tenor or Barisax.

The same goes for the soprano saxophone, but this sax type is probably the hardest to master due to the small mouthpiece and sensitivity to changes in the embouchure. (You basically sound out of tune!)

So, now you know a little bit more about why the alto saxophone is the best choice as a beginner saxophone.

Recommended Beginner Sax brands

You should be looking at a "quality budget saxophone", which basically means a good quality saxophone that will be easy to play, but isn't in the pro level. You'll be able to play this sax for many years to come. (I played my first school model alto sax for 17 years and it was great!)

So, with this in mind, first a word of caution:

Buying a saxophone is a bit like buying a car - You don't want the car with the glued on BMW logotype, right?
You want the real thing that was manufactured in the BMW factory!

Even if it can seem like a "great deal" buying a no-name saxophone on ebay, please don't!

The saxophone is a precision instrument and a no-name sax will be of poor quality and will not play well. I recommend that you look at quality brands like, Yamaha, Selmer and Yanagisawa instead.

Yamaha Saxophones

You may be associating Yamaha with motorbikes or boat engines, but they’ve been building saxophones, flutes and other instrumentss for a very long time. The quality of their instruments is good and they are affordable. The models range from beginner to professional models.

Here are 2 recommended models:

Selmer Saxophones

Henri Selmer Paris, one of the oldest and most prestigious Saxophone manufactures based in France. These saxophones are of very good quality and play great. They tend to cost a bit more than yamaha, but on the other hand they retain their value for the second hand market better.

  • Selmer AS300,  (Find them on Ebay)
  • Selmer AS500,  (Find them on Ebay)
  • Selmer AS700,  (Find them on Ebay)

Yanagisawa Saxophones

The Japanese brand that’s been around for over 60 years. They have several really good saxophones in their 900-series that could be an option if you’d like to put a little bit more money down on a saxophone. I consider these to be on the high end of the beginner-intermediate level saxophones on the market as they are more expensive than the Yamahas and Selmers listed above.

However, if you can find a used Yanagisawa Alto Saxophone in good shape then you are good to go.


Chapter 1: Beginner Saxophone "The Definite guide for beginner saxophone"

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I made this to help as many aspiring saxophone players as possible, so I truly appreciate your support. Thanks! ~ Greger Hillman