“3 Songs Perfect for Beginner Saxophone Players
If you are a beginner saxophone player you might think it will take you a while before you’re able to play any songs.
Guess what? Watch this video now because I’m going to show you 3 popular tunes that a beginner saxophone player can learn today and you don’t even need to read sheet music (but you can if you want).
Jay Metcalf here from BetterSax.com I want to quickly thank the sponsor of this video TomPlay. We’re going to be using their fantastic app for the accompaniment on these tunes.
Most beginner saxophone players learn with sheet music on day 1. There’s nothing wrong with that, but having to learn to read the sheet music definitely increases the time it takes to be able to play songs.
If I asked you to sing any of the 3 songs we’re going to learn today, you could probably do it easily already because you know the melodies.
We are going to use a quick hack to be able to do the same thing on the saxophone so as soon as you know your notes and how to get a consistent sound, you can start learning songs.
This is way easier than you may think and makes playing the saxophone a lot more fun believe me.
Each one of these melodies is pentatonic scale based.
That means that just about every note comes from the 5 note pentatonic scale.
I know you can handle 5 notes right?
“Hallelujah” – Leonard Cohen
Let’s start with the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah. Everyone knows this tune unless somehow you never watched Shrek.
We are going to do this one in the key of concert F which will be D for alto saxophone or G for tenor saxophone.
Step 1: Let’s play our major pentatonic scale
Timeout. If I’ve already lost you on the pentatonic scale thing, no worries, I’ve got you covered.
Watch the rest of this video and then Check out my free Play sax by ear Crash Course linked in the description to get up to speed.
Step 2: Know the melody
Know the melody, Whatever song you want to learn, you need to be able to sing the melody and it really helps if you know the words, so go listen to whichever version is your favorite a few times if you need a refresher.
Step 3: The starting place
Find the key and the starting note. We already said we are going to do this one in concert F.
You can learn this tune in any key you want, the process will be the same.
Our starting note is the 3rd. So for alto saxophone that is F# and for tenor saxophone it is B.
Step 4: Use your ear
Next, use your ear to play the melody limiting yourself to the 5 notes of that pentatonic scale.
So I’m going to play my first note.
Then I’ll sing the first line, taking note of the direction the melody moves in.
Now I’ll play what I just sang.
Since I have a very small number of notes to choose from it’s pretty easy to find them.
If you’ve never tried this, you need to see for yourself. it really isn’t difficult and that’s because the pentatonic scale is so consonant that even total beginners will be able to hear which note should come next with a high degree of accuracy.
Moving on to the next part of the song…
“It goes like this” just like the first notes… “The fourth the fifth”
On the word fifth, we get a note that is not in the pentatonic scale. For most pop songs, you will find a note or two that are not in that pentatonic scale. But your ear is going to be able to hear those notes as the odd outlier. This note is the 7th scale degree of whichever key we’re playing the song in.
Now we can play the rest of the melody sticking to the major pentatonic scale notes.
Another thing to note is that most of the time the movement is in steps. Meaning we are either going up or down to the next note of the scale. Occasionally we will have a skip but once again your ears will pick up on those outliers.
Then the chorus which I’m sure you will pick up very easily on your instrument.
Here we can also add a melodic embellishment note which is the 4th degree of the scale. If you trust your ears, your fingers will intuitively start playing these things.
This is how so many popular song melodies work. You’ll have 85-95% of the notes straight out of the pentatonic scale and the occasional outlier notes that will be very easy to identify and remember.
If you think of songs like this as pentatonic based, you don’t really need to memorize the thing note for note. Just knowing the scale will allow you to play the melody accurately.
This is how musicians are able to recall dozens of song melodies on their instruments. It’s a combination of knowing the melody in your head, and using the scale it’s based on as a guide.
The more songs we learn in this way, the better and faster we get at doing this.
Now for the fun part, using the Tomplay app to play the melody with accompaniment.
Using the Tomplay App for Beginner Saxophone Players
The Tomplay app is also great for anyone looking to read sheet music, especially beginner saxophone players. You can see there’s a whole arrangement of Hallelujah written out. You can play along with the recording if you want. For a lot of tunes they even offer different levels of difficulty.
Use this link to try the Tomplay app on any device for free for 14 days and try learning this song or any of 1000’s of others. It’s a really cool practice tool that’s a lot of fun.
“Feeling Good” – Nina Simone
The next beginner friendly tune we are going to learn is Feeling Good by Nina Simone and every note in the melody comes from the pentatonic scale.
We are going to play Feeling Good in the key of D minor, which is B minor for alto saxophone and E minor for tenor.
Step 1: Play the scale.
This time it’s a minor pentatonic scale which basically has the same 5 notes as the major version, but just starts in a different place. It’s all in the free course I mentioned earlier if you need help.
Step 2: Know the melody and the words to the song
I’m going to listen to the original version by Nina Simone, but there are countless others to choose from.
Step 3: Find the starting note
Feeling good starts on the root or 1st scale degree.
Step 4: Use your ears
This tune is even easier than the first one since we know that every note comes from that pentatonic scale.
As before, almost all of the movement is stepwise with the occasional skip that is easy to identify.
Most of the time we will be going to the next note up or down in the scale.
Now let’s try this one out over the TomPlay accompaniment.
Now you’ve already learned 2 tunes by ear so the process should be getting easier.
Let’s learn the 3rd great song for beginner saxophone players, Stand by Me.
“Stand by Me”
Another classic to continue this lesson…
Step 1: Learn that pentatonic scale
We are going to learn this one in the key of concert Bb, which is G on alto saxophone and C on tenor saxophone.
Step 2: Know the melody and words
If you need another refresher, again check out one of the amazing iterations of this song.
Step 3: Get our starting note
Stand by me starts on the 3rd just like Hallelujah.
Step 4: Use your ear
Stand by Me has more skips in the melody than the other 2 songs, but it is still mostly stepwise motion.
You’ll notice that the verse of “Stand By Me” only uses notes from the Pentatonic Scale, and the chorus has one little outlier passing note which is the 7th scale degree of the key. That happens on the second Darling.
So another melody that is about 98% pure pentatonic scale.
Let’s try it with the Tomplay accompaniment:
If you are a beginner saxophone player or coming back to it after a long break you really need to watch this playlist of videos right here. It’s all my best information to help you build good playing habits from the start so you get the maximum results from your practice time and more enjoyment from playing the saxophone.
Also looking for more solo breakdowns? Check out my analysis and lesson on “I Will Always Love You.”
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And don’t forget to check out the BetterSax podcast too!