How to Use Headphones in the Practice Room – Better Sax

How to Use Headphones in the Practice Room

I’m always getting asked about the headphones I’m using in my videos. They are actually a really important part of my daily music work flow. So today, we’re going to talk about which ones I use, and some cool uses for them you may not know about.

Today we’re talking about high tech gear in the practice room.

Headphones and How They Help Me Practice

My most used set of headphones are these bluetooth in ear headphones from Bose.

Bose Soundsport

Bose Soundsport Bluetooth  Wireless Headphones
Bose Soundsport Bluetooth Wireless

I’ve been using the Bose Soundsport headphones for a while now, and they are awesome. Why? you ask… These provide the same function as my earplugs but with several other benefits.

Because these are very nicely sound isolating earphones, they block out enough of the volume of my saxophone to protect my ears. In fact, these have basically replaced my custom earplugs during my practice time. 

They cost $149 on Amazon

Using Headphones in the Practice Room

I start my practice with long tones while using the Tonal Energy app as a tuner. Using earphones allows me to use the drone note feature of the app to work on intonation.

If you’ve been working with any visual tuner, you may have noticed that when you are making adjustments to get in tune, you will tend to overcompensate. So if you see that you’re sharp, your adjustment will result in you going flat and vice versa.

A much much better way to work on intonation is by just using your ear. There’s a button on the app where if you click it, it will detect the note that I’m playing and automatically play the same pitch perfectly in tune which I hear in my earphones. I can then match my pitch to that note using my ear and trying to line up the frequencies of the notes.

You want to be relying on your ears for intonation and working on it in this way is more similar to what you need to do in real time musical performance situations.

When you are playing your note, listen for the vibrations or “beats.” When 2 notes are slightly out of tune it creates a wavering effect. Listen for that beating and adjust your pitch until the frequencies of the 2 notes line up and stabilize. This takes a little practice, but it’s not difficult to do.

Now I can do this same thing without the earphones, but it doesn’t work as well for me. 

Metronome & Drum Loop

I use the metronome all the time during my practice sessions. Using the earphones allows me to hear the click very clearly in my ears. Without the earphones, I would need to put the metronome through external speakers and turn it way up in order to hear it above the sound of my saxophone.

Listening to Music, Transcribing, & Playing Along

I am always learning new music by ear and for me I feel more of a connection with that music through good quality earphones. If I’m transcribing a song melody or solo, I always use the earphones. I just feel that the information goes into my brain more easily that way. 

Playing along backing tracks or play-alongs is also great and a lot easier when using headphones.

Now you don’t need bluetooth earphones, Normal ones will do the job fine. But not having a wire attached to a device makes a big difference. I am free to move around, and I don’t have a cable getting caught up on my saxophone and neck strap. 

Also I have one of those newer iphones without a headphone jack…

Earbuds will definitely reduce the volume coming into your ears from your saxophone, but if you want to really protect your hearing, I recommend going with something like this that fills your ear up and provides sound isolation.

Keep in mind though that these have limitations. There’s always a delay in the sound on bluetooth earphones, so they’re no good for recording.


Shure Sound Isolating Earphones/Headphones SE215-CL
Sony Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone | MDR7506

Recording myself is a very important part of my practice. When you’re working on becoming a better musician, you’re going to be spending many hours alone in a practice room. You need to be your own best teacher and recording yourself is an essential part of evaluating your progress and identifying the areas you need to work on.

When I am recording, I use wired earphones like these from Shure which are $100. What’s nice about these in-ear headphones is that they are small, very portable, and have a longer wire than typical earbuds. They also don’t have a built in microphone, which can be problematic when you’re recording yourself.

My favorite headphones are these over ear ones from Sony. They sell for $80. The sound is great and they are really well made. However, they’re just not as portable and practical for long daily practice sessions.

So each of these get used all the time. I have tried a few other bluetooth earphones, namely jbls and jabras, and there is an enormous difference in the sound quality and ease of use. I would not recommend either of those.

Sony Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones | MDR7506
Sony Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones | MDR7506

These Bose are far superior. I also own their noise cancelling versions from when I was constantly traveling on air planes. Now I just bring these though. They aren’t noise cancelling, but they isolate well enough on their own to block out noise. So the battery lasts a lot longer. They charge up quickly with a usb cable and can last me all day.

So if you’re not using some sort of headphones in your practicing, I hope I’ve given you some ideas on how they can benefit you.

Let me know what headphones you like to use and how you use them in the comments below!

Interested in more information on recording techniques? Check out “Easy Recording Setup and Tips for Saxophone.”

Also be sure to follow BetterSax on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube to stay up to date with us for news, giveaways, and other saxophone tips and tricks.

About the Author

As the founder of Jay’s mission is to help developing saxophone players break away from traditional music learning methods and discover a more efficient, practical and fun way to become a Better Sax player. The BetterSax YouTube channel’s videos have been watched by millions and thousands of students have made meaningful progress on their instrument thanks to BetterSax courses.

Jay Metcalf


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4 thoughts on “How to Use Headphones in the Practice Room”

  1. Once I started using in ear monitors on stage, felt my playing improved dramatically.
    Am now able to hear breath and slight nuances instead of just blowing my brains out over all the other noise on stage.
    Now use a stereo mix in the ears to put sax and flute front and center in my head with all other instruments and voices in the periphery.
    A big difference but takes a while to get used to it.

  2. Hi Jay, I am wanting to get a wireless microphone like the iSolo and use it with wireless studio headphones through my DAW, but I’m concerned about the combined latency of 2 times say 170ms for a total delay of 340ms. Won’t this mean I’ll hear each note I play a third of a second later? Would this be a problem? The combined cost is high so I want to be sure. The alternative is to buy long cables for both mike and headphones. What do you suggest?

    1. the latency of wireless headphones will be much more than with the microphone. radio frequencies are very fast and acceptable for recording purposes, bluetooth is not fast enough though. too much latency.

  3. Jay, would you recommend open or closed back headphones for playing with backup tapes and also for plugging into a digital piano?

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