Welcome - you're in the right place.
Whether your style is the roaring sound of King Curtis, the virtuosic mastery of Charlie Parker or the smooth tones of Kenny G - if you're like most newcomers to the saxophone, you've got questions, and lots of them.
That's where I can help!
My name's Jeremy, I'm a professional saxophonist and founder of SaxTuition.
Below is my Ultimate Guide to Starting the Saxophone - including what gear you'll need, what sax to choose, addressing the most common beginner concerns, and a bit of info about learning the saxophone here at SaxTuition.
If you've got any questions, don't worry - I'm here to help!
Simply email me anytime at email@example.com
Good luck on your saxophone journey!
Jeremy is an award winning saxophonist who has played at Coachella, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Conan O'Brien, The Today Show and many more. He holds a Masters in Music from the University of Southern California and is based in Perth, Australia.
SKIP OR READ ON...
Short on time? Skip to exactly what you need!
- 1 - ALTO, TENOR OR SOPRANO?
- 2 - BEST BEGINNER SAXOPHONE BRANDS (2022)
- 3 - ALL THE GEAR YOU NEED (AND DON'T!)
- 4 - COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS
- 5 - START YOUR FIRST SAX LESSON
- 6 - THE SAXTUITION BEGINNER SERIES
UNDERSTANDING THE SAXOPHONE TYPES
Alto, Tenor or Soprano: What's the best saxophone to start on?
Did you know that there isn't just one common type of saxophone? In fact - there's 4!
Leaving aside the baritone (which sadly is too large and expensive for most newcomers) that leaves 3 enticing choices for the budding saxophonist.
Small and sultry, this is the saxophone used by many smooth jazz artists such as Kenny G and Dave Koz.
Beginners should know this is the most difficult saxophone to learn on, as its small size can make it quite unforgiving from a technical standpoint.
An added drawback is that with the exception of a few generic branded saxes on Amazon and eBay, few brands actually make soprano saxophones at a beginner price point - given that it's not generally considered a 'beginner' instrument.
Still, many committed newcomers and those with previous woodwind experience tackle the soprano because quite simply - they love it too much not to!
Classic, versatile, affordable - there's many reasons why the alto saxophone is the most popular saxophone on the market.
You've heard it on thousands of records, on radios, televisions and stages everywhere.
Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Dave Sanborn, Candy Dulfer and Paul Desmond are just a few legendary alto players.
For many, the alto hits the sweet spot for size, weight, ergonomics and tone, which is why more beginners start on the alto than any other type of saxophone.
Plus - being the most popular saxophone has another added benefit - it's also the cheapest!
Put simply - if you start your saxophone journey on alto - you can't go wrong.
With it's deep, commanding sound and impressive tonal flexibility, the tenor saxophone is the 2nd most popular choice for a beginner saxophonist.
Think Michael Brecker, King Curtis, John Coltrane, Lenny Pickett (SNL), Sonny Rollins and Stan Getz for just a few examples of this legendary saxophone.
Although the larger size makes for a slightly heavier instrument, the tenor is actually no more difficult to play than the alto saxophone.
So then - what's the downside?
Well, due to the difference in size, you can expect to pay around 50% more for a tenor compared to a similar alto.
For many beginners, that's a small price to pay for the instrument they love.
SAME TECHNIQUE, DIFFERENT SAXES
Although the saxophones mentioned above are pitched differently and have their own unique tone/s, the fingerings and techniques of each of these saxophones is the same.EXPLAINER VIDEO
Whilst you can expect an 'adjustment phase' when switching from one saxophone to another (it takes time to get used to the size differences) generally speaking if you can play one type of sax, you can play the others too!
That means you could start on alto and switch to tenor or soprano further down the track if that's what your heart desires...
BEST BRANDS OF SAXOPHONE (UPDATED 2022)
What saxophone should you actually buy?
Choosing the right saxophone for you is a straightforward process - once you settle on a budget. Here are my picks for best beginner saxophone in 2022!
Please note: This page contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using the links provided, SaxTuition may receive a commission for the referral.
BEST BEGINNER SAX
($500 USD approx.)
JEAN PAUL USA AS-400
For around $500 USD, there's no other saxophone I've seen brand new that can compete with this handy sax at this price point.
In my review of this saxophone, I found it to play in tune with an impressive, bright tone, be well set-up for a beginner and have a great list of inclusions (including a fantastic case!)
Better yet, each and every Jean Paul saxophone gets professionally set up and checked by expert woodwind technicians in Florida before shipping to the customer.
Frankly, that's virtually unheard of for saxophones at this price point.
With only relatively minor drawbacks expected for the category, the Jean Paul AS-400 is an excellent choice for beginners venturing out into the saxophone world.
Comparable saxes in the Jean Paul USA range:
TS-400 (Tenor Saxophone)
SS-400GP (Soprano Saxophone)
(Both of these instruments are comparable to the AS-400)
BEST BEGINNER SAX
At around $1300 USD, if there's one drawback of the Yamaha YAS-280 it's that it's not exactly cheap!
However, what you get for your money is a saxophone that you could potentially play for the rest of your life - even professionally - if that is where your journey leads you.
Yamaha have a well earned reputation for quality, and whilst some will say that these new saxophones can't compete with their older, Japanese made forerunners, these new horns still have a level of finish and attention to detail that means they comfortably keep their crown as 'king' of the entry-level saxophones.
If you want the peace-of-mind of owning a beginner saxophone without compromise, you really can't go past the legendary Yamaha brand.
Comparable saxes in the Yamaha range:
YTS-280 (Tenor Saxophone) *
YSS-475II (Soprano Saxophone) **
* Currently unavailable on Amazon - check other stores.
** Yamaha don't offer a 'beginner' soprano as such, this is the intermediate model.
BEST BEGINNER SAX
Yamaha YAS-23 / AS-100
In my review of the YAS-23 / AS-100 I dubbed this instrument the "2nd most legendary saxophone" ever made.
Because, if you do a quick poll current of professional saxophone players, there is hardly anyone who hasn't touched this instrument in one form or another.
Many pro's have kept their YAS-23 as a reliable backup horn, and others still play theirs professionally. In fact, these instruments are a big part of why Yamaha have such a legendary standing in the saxophone world.
Made in Japan in the 80's, 90's and early 00's, these instruments are still in wide circulation today and can often be found pre-owned for around $500 USD - fantastic value for the horn you get - even if it's 20+ years old.
Don't be fooled by the lack of engraving, a few light scratches and an underwhelming carry case - if you can find one in good condition, these saxophones are still an outstanding buy.
Comparable saxes to the YAS-23:
YTS-23 / TS-100 (Tenor Saxophone)
Note: As this saxophone is no longer produced, there are no direct links to purchase. Keep an eye out on Craigslist, Facebook or eBay instead!
The YAS-23 / AS-100 and the YTS-23 / TS-100 are actually the same saxophones. There is no comparable soprano sax in this range.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THIS SAXOPHONE?
One of the most common questions I receive is "what do you think of [insert saxophone brand from Amazon/eBay here]?"WORLD'S CHEAPEST SAX REVIEW
The reality is dozens of new brands of saxophone appear online every year - and these brands often disappear quickly and without explanation. Apart from the seller who sold you the instrument, most of these brand names have no website, contact details or 'identity' - it is simply a stamp applied to the saxophone from a Chinese factory, which can be interchangeable at any time.
Whilst there are bound to be a few standouts in the bunch, unfortunately it's not feasible to review every brand new saxophone hitting the market. Should you avoid these saxophones completely? No - particularly if you have a very tight budget - any sax is better than no sax after all!
However, the very nature of the online marketplace makes it difficult to make firm recommendations on these instruments when they can change or disappear at any time. If you'd like to know more, check out my review of the "World's Cheapest Sax" below!
WHAT GEAR DO YOU NEED TO GET STARTED?
Don't get caught out - make sure you have everything you need before starting your first saxophone lesson.
Watch the video below or read on for a complete list of the essentials.
THE 'MUST HAVES'
YOU CAN'T PLAY SAXOPHONE WITHOUT THEM...
A 'WORKING' SAX
It might seem self explanatory, but if you're buying a second hand saxophone (or inheriting one) it pays to have your instrument checked over by a woodwind repairer before starting your first lesson.
There's nothing worse than a beginner trying in vain to play their first few notes, when the reason they can't succeed is completely out of their control!
MOUTHPIECE, LIGATURE & NECK STRAP
Don't worry, these are standard inclusions with practically every new saxophone.
However - if you're buying second hand, double check they come included to avoid an awkward first lesson experience...
Being a woodwind instrument, the saxophone won't make a sound unless you have a saxophone reed bound to your mouthpiece!Amazon
For beginners, I like the Vandoren Traditional or D'Addario Royal reeds, in strength 2.0
I would consider a basic cleaning kit to be an absolute necessity whilst learning saxophone.Amazon
A swab (a.k.a. pull-through cloth), polishing cloth and cork grease is all you'll need to keep your saxophone clean during your first few months of playing.
NOT CRUCIAL TO START WITH, BUT USEFUL TO TOOLS TO MAKE YOUR SAX JOURNEY EASIER.
METRONOME & TUNER
Considered a must-have for any musician (regardless of instrument), a metronome and tuner helps you stay in time and in tune.Amazon
The KORG TM-60 is my personal favorite for physical units, with a clear interface and solid construction
If you'd prefer to use apps instead, I'm a fan of Cleartune (tuning app) and Metrotimer (metronome app).
A 'NICE' NECK STRAP OR HARNESS
Although a basic fabric strap will be comfortable enough for most people, for long playing sessions or those with neck or back problems a padded strap or harness can really make a difference.Amazon
I like the Cebulla range of padded straps, or for the ultimate in comfort and weight distribution, the Jazzlab Saxholder.
Even a simple reed case (like the RICO Reed Guard IV) can help you maintain a simple but effective system for managing your saxophone reedsAmazon
For more information on managing reeds, you can check out this video!
At less than $10 USD on Amazon, this little reed case is a no-brainer.
Where do you rest your saxophone when it's not in the case? A sax stand!Amazon
A sax stand holds the saxophone firmly in place without putting any pressure on the delicate keywork. It's much better for your sax than placing it on a chair or table.
I like the Hercules sax stands - they're strong and exceptionally durable.
It's far easier to use a music stand for reading sheet music than a table, particularly whilst playing the saxophone.Amazon
I personally like solid back stands, as they generally hold more weight and are much sturdier than their wirey counterparts.
A good stand can also hold a phone or tablet, which is useful if you are learning sax with digital content.
HEY, DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY...
Once you start down the saxophone rabbit hole, you will soon discover a wide range of products marketed to saxophone players in their never-ending quest to improve their tone and technique.WHY DON'T SAX MUTES WORK?
Professional mouthpieces, ligatures and so-called "tone-enhancers" (dubious at the best of times) should all be avoided by beginners as they can actually make the saxophone more 'difficult' to play for those in their early stages of learning.
Saxophones mutes - whilst a novel idea - are also to be avoided as the vast majority are completely ineffectual due to very nature of the saxophone's design. For more information, check out my explainer video below!
Don't let a voice in your head put you off learning the saxophone. It's never too late, you've got this!
"I'M TOO OLD"
No, you're not! Whether you're fresh out of high school or deep into retirement, if you can blow up a balloon, you can blow into the saxophone.
Learning saxophone later in life can have tremendous benefits for your brain and wellbeing, as well as give you opportunities to make new friends and deepen your connections through music.
"I CAN'T READ MUSIC"
And that's OK! Learning how to read music actually goes hand in hand with learning how to play the saxophone.
A good instructor (or online course) will guide you through the process of learning to read music so that it's practical, natural and perfectly compliments the techniques you're learning about on the saxophone.
In short - it's easier than it looks!
"I WON'T HAVE ENOUGH TIME"
Practice makes perfect, and practice takes time - right?
Although practice is essential, what you practice is actually much more important that how much you practice.
It's possible to get as much done in 20 minutes of focussed, meaningful practice than 3 hours of unfocussed noodling.
So, if you're short on time, make sure you learn with a course or instructor who gives you clear guidelines on what to practice. If you do - you'll be just fine!
"THE SAX IS A HARD INSTRUMENT"
Although it may be 'hard to master' (just like any musical instrument), the sax is actually very beginner friendly!
It's ergonomic, responsive, has an intuitive fingering pattern, and most beginners will be able to play a simple tune right from their very first lesson.
"I CAN'T AFFORD LESSONS"
There's no doubt that in-person saxophone lessons can be expensive. The good news is, it's not the only way to learn!
Online courses (like the SaxTuition Beginner Series) allow beginner players across the globe access to high quality saxophone lessons, songs and exercises, and demo tracks for a fraction of the price of hiring a private tutor.
Better yet - the content can be accessed at any time - meaning you can always learn the saxophone on your schedule.
YOUR FIRST SAXOPHONE LESSON
You've got all the gear you need to start learning sax, so why wait?
Watch Lesson 1 of the SaxTuition Beginner Series and learn your first few songs!
Get all the content from this lesson, free.
Sign up to the SaxTuition mailing list to instantly get the PDF eBook and demo tracks from Lesson 1.
Plus, get a $20 discount on the entire series (valid for 1 week after sign-up).