The alto saxophone is a highly versatile acoustic instrument through which you can explore a variety of styles, including classical orchestral music, blues, rock and roll, and smooth jazz. You can start by learning the correct position of the body, hands and mouth and, after mastering it, move on to playing the basic notes. Then, when you've mastered them, you can memorize the major and minor scales to expand your skills.
Part 1 of 3: Getting into position
Step 1. Learn to play seated
You should sit in a chair with a straight back with which you can place both feet on the floor. Slide to the right side of the seat so that your right leg is hanging slightly over the edge. In this way, that side of your body is free to hold the saxophone and prevent it from hitting the chair.
- While it is possible to play the saxophone standing up, it is easier for beginners to learn it sitting down.
- You don't sit in comfortable chairs, like reclining ones. These make it difficult for you to maintain good posture.
Step 2. Sit up straight and relax your neck and shoulders
With good posture, you can play comfortably and avoid injury. Sit upright with your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. You may find it helpful to move towards the front of the seat rather than reaching back when sitting down. The head should remain level, not leaning to the right or to the left.
You shouldn't hunch your shoulders, stiffen your neck, or sit too far back in the chair
Step 3. Pull the neck strap over your head and adjust the length
When you are comfortably seated in the chair, you should pick up the saxophone and place the neck strap over your head. Next, gently place the saxophone to the right of your lap and pull the plastic adjuster until there is no slack on the strap to adjust it.
When the saxophone is on your lap, there should be tension on the strap
Step 4. Make a C with both hands
Bring the 4 fingers of each hand together and curve both thumbs so that your hands resemble the letter C (the right hand will look like a letter C upside down). These letters C should be large enough to surround the neck and base of the saxophone.
You may need to adjust the width of the hand position according to the size of the saxophone
Step 5. Place your right thumb under the lower thumb rest
The lower thumb rest is the curved piece of brass on the back of the saxophone that sits just below the neck strap. Rest the saxophone on your lap and, with your right hand in the shape of a C, place your right thumb under the lower thumb rest. Then gently wrap the fingers of your right hand around the saxophone and rest them on the three lower keys.
With the lower thumb rest, you can move the saxophone around and hold it firmly in place while playing
Step 6. Place your left thumb on the upper thumb rest
You will see a small button at the midpoint of the back of the neck of the saxophone. Place your left hand so that it forms a C and rest the thumb of this hand against this button. Then, wrap your fingers around the neck of the saxophone and place them on the three keys at the top of the neck of the saxophone.
The upper thumb rest stabilizes the saxophone and gives the fingers freedom to press the keys
Step 7. Hold the saxophone on the right side against your right leg
Rest your thumbs firmly on the holders, and then let the saxophone hang gently from the neck strap. Position the part of the bell (that is, the curved bottom of the saxophone) that has no keys so that it rests directly against your right leg.
Step 8. Put the mouthpiece in your mouth
With your right hand, push the body of the saxophone up and slightly forward so that the mouthpiece can reach your mouth. If you've adjusted the neck strap correctly, the mouthpiece should be right in front of your mouth.
If the mouthpiece does not quite reach your mouth, this means that the neck strap is too long and should be adjusted as necessary
Step 9. Place your lower lip on your lower teeth
Keep your lower lip taut but relax your mouth, jaw, and face. Rest the tip of the mouthpiece against your lower lip and close your mouth over it so that your lips form a tight seal. Then gently rest your upper teeth against the mouthpiece.
- You should not bite with your upper teeth, but rather keep them relaxed.
- This is the correct position for the mouth to play the saxophone and is known as the "embouchure."
Part 2 of 3: Play Basic Notes
Step 1. Blow air into the nozzle without pressing any key
You should aim to produce a clear and consistent sound when blowing into the mouthpiece. If the sound you get is out of tune and has a lot of air, your lips should form a firmer seal around the mouthpiece. You will know that you produce a sound out of tune if it is weak and incomplete. If you hear a vague and unclear sound, you should put more of the mouthpiece into your mouth.
- Adjust your position as necessary until you can produce a clear and consistent sound on the saxophone.
- You will know that the embouchure is correct when you get this sound.
Step 2. Place your left index finger on the second key to play the note if
Find the second key from the top of the neck of the saxophone. Place your left index finger here and press gently. Then, blow through the mouthpiece and you will hear the sound of the note yes.
Step 3. Place your left middle finger on the third key to play the note a
Leave your left index finger on the key of the note yes and place your left middle finger on the key just below; that is, the third key from the top. Hold down the note key while pressing the third key with your left middle finger and blowing through the mouthpiece. You will hear the sound of the note la.
Step 4. Press the fourth key with the left ring finger to play the G note
Leave the left index finger on the key of the note if and the left middle finger on the key of the note a, keeping them pressed. Hit the fourth key with the left ring finger. Blow through the mouthpiece and you will get the sun note.
You must place the fingers of the left hand on the top three keys to play the notes si, la and sol
Step 5. Play the notes F, E, and D with the fingers of the right hand
These notes are played with the fingers of the right hand on the three lower keys. To do this, you must press and hold the three upper keys with the fingers of your left hand while you blow through the mouthpiece. Take care that when you blow, the embouchure remains correct.
- To play the note F, press the first lower key with the right index finger.
- To play the E note, press the second key with your right middle finger, holding down the F key.
- To play the D note, press the third key with the right ring finger while holding down the other keys (the upper part and the lower part).
Part 3 of 3: Learn Advanced Skills
Step 1. Incorporate advanced notes into your repertoire by learning the major scales
All the basic notes you just learned are associated with a corresponding major scale. To play a major scale, you must hold down that key and then play other keys in a certain sequence. You can find the most common scales in an alto saxophone book for beginners online and then practice them all until you can play them from beginning to end producing a clear and pure sound.
- You can start with the G major scale. This is often considered the easiest.
- Major scales are the most common scales for beginners and with them you can play notes in succession.
Step 2. Learn more challenging progressions by practicing the minor scales
To play a minor scale, as with major scales, you must play a succession of keys, although minor scales sound much lower and are more difficult to play. You can get the key charts for minor scale progressions either online or in a beginner's book. You should practice the minor scales until the progressions are comfortable and familiar to you. and you can play each note with a constant pitch.
- Minor scales are very common in alto saxophone songs, including many jazz songs.
- In case you are interested in playing with a band later on, knowing the minor scales will help you improvise.
Step 3. Learn your favorite alto saxophone songs
You can get sheet music at a local music store or online, and practice your favorite songs. In case you can't read sheet music, you can look up fingering charts to guide you. After you become familiar with your favorite songs, you can compose your own songs or start jamming with a group of other musicians.