Jump to content

anybody play the saxophone?


Recommended Posts

sweet. ok. should i rent one during lessons? or buy? how much should i pay? new? used? alto? tenor? how long would it take for lessons to learn the basics? will it hurt my lips? fingers? how loud is loud? will it cause a divorce? how hard is it to play? to play well? will i lose interest? do dogs like saxes?

i know nothing about them other than i think they are cool things and i like them.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

You should have a pretty good one to learn on - lots of people start on cheap, difficult to play instruments, to their peril. Alto or tenor would be good to start on, not too big, not too small (Pat would have more practical advice on that). There are no basics really, and any instrument takes a lifetime to learn (and most people ultimately find that the attraction). It will hurt your lips. You will lose interest. They are very loud and unpleasant to listen to when you are starting out.

But when it starts coming together it'll give you a feeling you've never felt before.

If you're willing to work hard to have crazy fun, learning the sax is for you.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

ok.. this is going to be lengthy.. I apologize in advance..

should i rent one during lessons? or buy?

This is dependent on the quality of the instruments available for you to rent. If you've ever tried to learn to play an instrument you should know that the better the quality of the instrument the easier it's going to be to learn on and the great the satisfaction you'll get as you learn.

I know here in Ottawa there are a couple good shops that have great rental programs and provide decent quality instruments. Their main target audience is high schoolers.

The advantage of renting is that if you don't like it and bail quickly you aren't stuck with a sax rusting in your basement.

The disadvantage is that if you do love it you'll have spent all this money renting and now you want to purchase. Maybe a shop near you has a program where you can rent and then use that money you spent towards a purchase.

I'd be weary renting from a big name shop like Long & McQuade, but that's probably me just being prejudice rather than them actually not providing you with a quality instrument.

one thing to avoid is a "student grade instrument". Those are crap and not worth the money, either for purchase or renting.

how much should i pay? new? used?

saxophones are not cheap (at least ones worth purchasing). My horn was $3000.00 just for the horn (the mouth piece I play I bought used and it cost me $300.00). And to freak you out even more, that was the sale price.

I play the bari though, and it's more expensive (due to size and less demand).

You should expect to pay around a grand for a decent quality used horn. You can get cheaper but the quality is going to suffer and it will be harder to get a good tone. As a beginner I feel you should do everything to make your life easier as you learn.

Also, the resale on a quality instrument is always better, so if you ultimately decide it's not for you you'll get more money back if you end up selling.

Any horn you purchase will come with a mouthpiece (unless you buy used, then it might not, though it likely will). For the most part, as a beginner, you'll be fine with whatever stock mouthpiece comes with your horn.

The mouthpiece discussion could go on for days and there is no point in worrying about that now.

You'll also need reeds, which again is a discussion that could go on for days, but the best place it start is to get a box of a middle of the road reed like Rico Royale at a strength of maybe 2 or 2.5. Reeds come in different thicknesses. The general rule is, the thicker the reed, the harder it is to play (needs more muscles and air to get it vibrating). Also, the thicker the reed the "fatter" the sound. This is generalizing a bit, but it's a decent rule of thumb to start with.

You'll want to start lighter as you build the muscles in your mouth and get heavier as you go (if you want that tone).

At one point I was playing 5s, which is akin to strapping on a tongue depressor. Sure I had a unique tone, but it was killer on the mouth. Eventually I calmed down and have moved to a more manageable 3.5. I still have a fat tone, but holy cow is it easier to blow :)

alto? tenor?

Saxophones range from the Sopranino to the Contra-Bass. I've seen pictures of both of those horns but never seen either in real life.

The "meat and potato" horns are the alto and tenor. The soprano is the one that gets butchered by Kenny G, the bari is my pride and joy (the same one Lisa Simpson plays) and the bass is something you only pull out on special occasions when you really want to impress the ladies (or so I've been told).

Between alto and tenor, the tenor is the one you tend to see the most as a stand alone sax in rock and blues bands.

One could argue the tenor is a little bit easier to play in that your embouchure doesn't have to be as tight as it is on a smaller horn. It's a bigger horn though so it will take up more space, be heavier to carry around, and cost a bit more.

The choice is yours though between one or the other, all depends on the sound you want.

how long would it take for lessons to learn the basics?

That's really dependent on how quickly it comes to you. If you have a good teacher and you commit to practicing I think you should be able to play some fun tunes in six months or so. You won't be Charlie Parker, but you'd at least be able to play along to couple simple rock or blues records.

One thing about learning a wind instrument is that your intonation is all up to you and how you are blowing into the horn. Unlike the piano, or even a stringed instrument with frets, it's not just a matter of pushing down the right combination of keys to play an A. Intonation is very important and is something you can't really teach but is something you have to develop by learning to listen to what you are playing and adjust accordingly.

A good teacher will be able to help you with this.

Just letting you know though, that even if you learn all the notes properly with your fingers, you may still sound like crap if you don't learn how to play in tune.

will it hurt my lips?

yes.. but that will go away as you build up the muscles.


if it does you're doing it wrong

how loud is loud?

while you will likely not need earplugs, people who live in the same physical dwelling as you (including neighbours if you live in an apartment) are not going to be very happy with you.

will it cause a divorce?

I think is dependent on how quickly you learn to play in tune :)

how hard is it to play?

Like I said earlier, learning the actual fingering is the easy part. Unfortunately, I've met players who feel this is all you need to know. Your intonation and tone all comes from your lips/tongue/throat (and your horn, mouthpiece and reed.. but mostly you). Learning how to play in tune and get a good tone can take a while. Some people spend a lifetime trying to get that tone they hear in their head.

The saxophone is considered the easiest of the reed instruments to learn to play, if that's of any help. Clarinet is a lot harder.

to play well?

see above

will i lose interest?

I dunno.. will you?

do dogs like saxes?

my dog doesn't.. but my dog is also afraid of my banjo, bass, guitar.. so that might be her :)

I hope that answers your initial questions. I wish I could provide you a good recommendation for a quality shop in your area. I do all my shopping in Montreal because there isn't really any good shops here in Ottawa (except for maybe one, where I get my reeds from).

It's a fun instrument for sure, unfortunately, it's not nearly as cheap or versatile as playing guitar. You don't tend to see people pulling out a sax for a singalong around a campfire :)

If it helps, here's some inspiration





Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow. THANKS Pat! Velvet is right, you know your stuff. This is enormously helpful and I appreciate the time it took for you to write it all up so nicely. Thanks to Velvet and everyone else for being helpful as well.

More than a grand is a bit steep, but it's good to know I could get the money out of it later. I think the tenor is the way to go for me, "easier" being important. It's also helpful to read not to get a student version ... I saw a lot of webstuff that said to go for the yamaha (23?) because it was the best student sax, and the cheapest ones on L&M are listed as student ones.

So, I guess I gots me some deciding to do. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

oh.. one thing I forgot to mention about purchasing a horn. The unfortunate situation is that you kinda need to know how to already play in order to make the best decision.

When I was shopping for my horn I tried many different brands and models. People talk all day long about what the best horn is and I liken it to the Fender vs Gibson debates in the guitar world.

For me, the best horn was the Yamaha mostly because the keys were spaced most comfortably for my big gorilla mitts that I call hands.

Personally, I love the tone I get out of that horn and I wouldn't trade it in for another one regardless of brand name or "value". That Yamaha has become MY horn. It's what I know how to play and I get the tone I want out of it.

Unfortunately, as a beginner, you likely don't know what you want. Here is a big argument for renting initially.

Just a thought :)

(I do like those Yamaha horns, build well, good strong tone, though arguably not overly unique, and priced well.. but I have to say, I'm biased)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

does your horn have a name, TPG?

Saxy? Horn Knee? Straw Bari?

ha! nope.. no name

Cool vids!

Pat - I bet you have seen a sopranino - Sandborn used to play one frequently (on Letterman and Night Music), and it looks so close to the soprano, it can be hard to distinguish from "far" except by tone.

well maybe.. but I think I would have remembered. I never followed Sanborn much so it's pretty likely I would have missed him playing that horn. I can't even remember ever seeing Sanborn play a soprano...

I got to jam next to a guy playing a bass sax once.. that was pretty cool. But holy cow that sucker looks like a bitch to carry around.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...