How to practice the sax on your own

How to practice the sax on your own
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Clearly, if you have a couple of sax playing lessons a week – to say nothing about just one weekly class, – that’s not enough once you crave for mastering your skills and techniques. What you need is concrete self-study – homework, if you like. To make such work productive and fruitful, I have got a few recommendations ready for you.

The first piece of advice concerns separating your training time into the following main groups:

  1. Warm-up (17% of the overall training time)
  2. Technique exercises (33%)
  3. Working on music pieces (33%)
  4. Playing for fun(17%)


No matter how much time you can allocate to training today, try to stick to this very ratio. It is working upon all the components that will let you reach maximum progress within shortest time possible.


I. Warm-up

You should start each class with a series of warming-up exercises, the most popular of which is playing long tones. That will allow you to:

  1. Teach yourself to breath properly and control air supply
  2. Heat up your embouchure and diaphragm muscles
  3. Experiment with the timbre, sound coloring and volume.


While doing the exercise, it’s important to track articulation, start and end of the sound, its time value and development. It’s advisable to play sounds in all registers, to start in the middle sound range and then go over to the high and low ones. I suggest you should start with sounding in piano and forte and continue to work with it in crescendo and diminuendo. It’s also vital to use a tuner to control your intonation through the warm-up.

II. Technique exercises

After the workout, you need to proceed with playing scales and working over technical skills. It is the backbone of your professional growth as a saxophonist. I recommend you mastering at least one diatonic scale in every class (yet, you’d better take two or three), not to forget about a chromatic scale. By scales I also mean doing various exercises – triads as well as their inversions, music intervals (thirds, fourths, fifths, and the lot), dominant and diminished leading seventh chords. It’s essential for educating your ear and better understanding music harmony.

Playing scales also aims at mastering articulation. That is why you need to pay attention to performing them in a variety of articulations.      

Also, it would be more productive if you played scales using the metronome. In the beginning, you needn’t strain after the speed of your performance since the quality is what matters most.

If you’re not a novice anymore, equipped with full-scale music pieces, then it’s high time for you to come over to exercises and etudes.

Exercises make for small parts (tricky spots) of musical pieces that require some polishing. An etude is a complete piece that serves for working over specific technique or patterns. I encourage you to choose etudes of the same key as the piece, which you’re going to play afterwards.

III. Working on music pieces

On having done the whole series of exercises, you should move on to the actual music piece. There’s no need to aim at playing in the original tempo right from scratch. It’s better to start with playing slowly, and gradually speed up your play.

At the primary stage of the piece review, I’d rather you didn’t play it all entirely – if you keep making mistakes. Why not master the difficult spots one by one, at a slow pace? These may be several notes as well as one bar or passage of a few bars. On having achieved good results, combine the successful episode with another one. The method of induction, that’s about the size of it!

While working on the music piece, pay special attention to phrasing, rhythmic groove, nuances and articulation. You need to clearly understand what, how and why you are exercising whichever technique it is.

Ponder over the storyline of your music piece. Do your best to picture the musical context. The more compelling and sensual your storyline, the more engaging your performance will appear for the listeners. So be creative!

IV. Playing for fun

After you finish your music piece work-out, it’s about time to treat yourself to playing things to your best liking. These may include performing compositions you’ve already learnt, playing by ear or improvisation. Just pick what gets you the time of your life – and something you take pride in!

This is the plan I usually follow while practicing on my own and that’s what I can recommend to you.

And, in conclusion, a couple of more ideas:

  • Practise on a daily basis
  • Try to spend not less than 60 minutes on every class – so as to cover all
  • Switch off all distracting devices such as your smartphone, laptop, and neighbors))))
  • Stick to the aforementioned time proportions for all the four components
  • Always use metronome and tuner in your practice


I am sure that these mere recommendations and pieces of advice will help you to allocate your time to studies and produce tangible results.

Have fun while practicing!

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