Whatever stage you are at with your saxophone playing, it is often frustrating trying to get to the next level.

Everyone goes through periods of feeling stuck.

Whether you’ve just picked up the saxophone recently or have been playing for a while, there are some solutions that I’d like to share with you that work for every saxophone player.

In this article I’m going to give you a general overview of what you should be doing daily to get better on the saxophone. This is basically what every serious saxophone player does more or less. The details can vary greatly from one player to the next based on skill level, musical goals and more, but the overall process is the same for all of us.

Can I Learn to Play Saxophone from YouTube?

Unlike many other things in life that can be learned from a 3 minute YouTube video, playing the saxophone or any other musical instrument is all about the work, effort and passion you put into it.

I use YouTube videos to learn how to do things almost daily. It is an amazing, world-changing tool.

There is much about music and playing instruments that can also be learned from watching YouTube videos, and there are tons of people making great content.

By all means, watch the videos that seem interesting and helpful to you, and make up your own mind about the content.

Yet, I would like to offer this important observation to everyone out there that wants to learn the saxophone or any other “discipline“. Your success or failure is directly related to what you do personally with your time practicing that discipline.

I could give you all the “answers and secrets” to being a great saxophone player right now, and it would be totally useless information without knowing how to apply it to suit you personally.

There is one and only one way to learn and master a discipline.

Mindful, consistent and guided practice.

The Big Picture

You need to know how to practice the saxophone (or golf, or kung fu, or painting) to get significantly better.

Tricks and secrets are useless if you aren’t practicing on a regular basis in a mindful, consistent and guided manner.

This approach to teaching may not get me as many views on YouTube as if I made videos about how to play some slick lick or another, but I’d rather share what I think is the truly more useful (if less popular and less immediately gratifying) information first.

How I Discovered The Process

I first learned how to practice when doing my bachelor’s degree in classical saxophone performance. I had been showed some very basic warm-up exercises before by some private teachers, but until that point, I had only worked on learning one piece of music at a time, and I just practiced that piece of music from beginning to end over and over, until it sounded somewhat acceptable to play in front of an audience.

This is an example of mindless, inconsistent and unguided practicing.

As you can imagine, the results from practicing in this way are slow to come, unreliable, and generally not very good.

At university, I was quickly informed that from now on I was expected to do a whole slew of warm-up exercises to improve my sound, build my embouchure strength, clean up my technique and finger movement, correct my lousy timing, and fix several bad habits I had developed from my unguided practicing.

I did these exercises dutifully and over time, I learned to “practice” in a way that actually helped me improve with each and every practice session.

I have since gone through periods where I had not practiced in this manner for long stretches of time, and my playing stagnated and ceased to improve. Some old bad habits crept back into my playing at different points in my career as a result of this neglect.

These days I’ve managed to keep a semi consistent practice schedule which means putting in at least an hour and a half most days and the days I don’t is usually because I’m busy with performances and rehearsals so I make sure to at least put the horn in my mouth every day.

I have also doubled down on practicing certain fundamentals that I have mostly ignored since my college days, and as a result have seen some very pleasing progress in these areas.

What I’m trying to say here is that practicing the right way works for everyone at every stage in their development.

There’s an App for That?

One of my other semi regular activities is Yoga. I am definitely no better than an amateur/hobbyist at this. I’m also terribly inflexible so I have a long way to go before I’m any good.

For my yoga workouts I use an app that has a woman on the screen demonstrating the poses while giving tips along the way, and telling you when to move on to the next pose.

Here’s a link to my favorite Yoga app: Yoga Studio – Gaiam, Inc.

I highly recommend practicing yoga to anyone who wants to feel healthier, more relaxed, and better overall. Yoga is a fantastic complement to practicing saxophone. The great saxophonist Sonny Rollins has been practicing yoga for 50+ years.

One day it occurred to me that this would be a great tool for saxophone players who don’t know The Process of practicing fundamentals to learn this essential part of improving on the saxophone.

So I created my own version of this app on bettersax.com

Core Essentials

It is a new program called Core Essentials which is a series of videos demonstrating exactly how to practice several warm-up exercises that are the core of what all serious saxophone players work on to improve daily.

You don’t need to be an advanced player to use these.

You don’t need to be a novice player for Core Essentials to be a huge benefit to you.

I practice these exercises and many other similar ones daily and so do just about all other serious saxophone players.

I give these exercises to all of my private students, and when they do them as instructed, their improvement becomes exponential.

Our two main areas of focus are Sound and Technique and the videos are grouped into these categories.

If you are not working on improving your sound every time you play the saxophone, start today. Chances are, your sound has a lot of room to get better.

If you want to sound good, develop a good sound.

In this first section of the program there are videos demonstrating exactly how to perform 3 exercises that you can and should do for the rest of your saxophone playing life. Viewers are shown exactly what notes and even the fingerings I’m using while being given pro tips.

What to Practice, Exactly…

We cover these three areas in this Sound section using the entire range of the saxophone:

  • Long Tones (sound)
  • Overtones (harmonics)
  • Articulation (tonguing)

The Technique section is devoted to improving your hand position, efficiency of finger movement and grasp of crucial must know
scales. Over time, these exercises will help you play faster and with solid rhythm.

Exercises covered in the Technique section:

  • Chromatic Trills
  • 5-Note Chromatic Scale
  • Major Scale to 9th (all Modes & Keys)
  • 5-Note Major Scale (all Modes & Keys)
  • Pentatonic Scale (all Modes & Keys)

Once again we cover the entire range of the instrument.

Several Lessons Worth of Material

In private lessons, I give all of my students these exercises over the course of several weeks. It is a lot of information to cover and demonstrating each exercise takes time. I also play the exercises together with my students so they get the feel for them and hear how they are supposed to sound.

The Core Essentials program allows you to play all of these exercises along with me as many times as you want. You can even change the tempo of any of the exercises to adjust your skill level.

This is really a much more efficient way for me to pass this information on to my students, and make sure that they are learning the material correctly while saving their lesson time with me for other topics.

More importantly, by using the Core Essentials program, a student can discover the process of guided and mindful practice for themselves. This discovery will change your saxophone playing forever and lead to consistent improvement over time when used as shown.

This is accomplished with the bonus Playlists feature of Core Essentials. I’ve created some warm-up playlists lasting 10, 20, and 30 minutes to suit various practice session lengths. By playing through an entire warm-up routine with me in real-time, a student will get the full experience of warming up properly, and will feel and hear the results for themselves.

Just like me and my Yoga app, being guided step by step with visual and audio aides is the ideal way to learn to practice saxophone.

The exercises included in Core Essentials can be practiced daily by all saxophonists at every stage of development. By varying the tempo of the technical exercises, the difficulty can be increased or decreased to suit everyone’s level.

It is important to point out here, that this kind of practicing on its own will get you limited results. The Core Essentials program is meant to be used in conjunction with other methods like the Pentatonic Foundation Course and the Pentatonic Patterns for Improvisation eBook.

I recommend students spend about one-third of their practice time on fundamentals, and then move on to other things. You could spend another third of your practice time working on playing melodies by ear as we learn to do in the Pentatonic Foundation Course followed by a final segment of practicing improvising using pentatonic patterns over the backing tracks from the Pentatonic Patterns for Improvisation eBook.

This final third of your practice session should be time for having fun while trying to apply all of what you worked on in the earlier portion of your practice. I usually play through some of the songs I’ve worked on and improvise over the chord progressions. I like to end this way, as it leaves me with a very positive feeling.

If you’d like to learn how to get the most out of your practice time, and develop the skills and technique that will help you sound better and better on the saxophone, I invite you to get the Core Essentials Program.
I’m offering Core Essentials at a special introductory price of just $29. This includes the Sound Building videos, Technique building videos, and the bonus Playlists for all saxophones.

Click here to get started.

Share Your Thoughts - Please Comment Below

Thanks for reading this article. We'd love to hear from you if this information was helpful for your motivation and practice habits. Please leave a comment below and tell us about your experiences.


Jay Metcalf
Jay Metcalf

is a saxophonist who has performed and recorded with some world renowned musicians including Booker T, Graham Nash, Madeleine Peyroux, Larry Klein, Ashford & Simpson, Huey Lewis, Ben Taylor, Chuck D and others.
As the founder of BetterSax.com his 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.

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    5 replies to "It’s All About The Process (Of Practicing)"

    • Gene Festa

      Your core essentials has given me more structure to my practice and should serve me well for years to come. I also have been joining some friends on Thursday nights for jam sessions. They are all guitar players with one drummer so I’m a welcome member to the group even though my improve is rudimentary but it’s something that is needed to progress.
      Thanks Jay!

    • jim moscoso

      Jay I just got the pentatonic foundation which I’m still working on great course by the way.Which course would be good to go with it or do next?I would like tips to work on long tone and overtones

      • Jay Metcalf

        Jim,
        You will definitely want to get Core Essentials first in that case.
        Jay

    • Mark Holland

      Having now played for two years self taught I look for anything that helps with focus. I found the Pentatonic foundation course about a year ago and have used a couple of patterns as a daily warm up ever since and actuallly will go back and complete more of the ear training in the next few days, as progression also comes from experience and in the early years it’s nice to return and see how one has improved. The Pentatonic course enabled me to start and enjoy improvisation, developing rhythm as I went, no other lesson had such an impact in this direction whatever I play now I look to the Pentatonic in that key as a starting block in fact I have the p scales on a laminate on my music stand at all times.
      Now I feel that I need practice structure so I am looking forward to incorporating core essentials into my daily routine, I know where I want to be and know what’s missing so with Jay’s help once more, I can move forward, I subscribe to another on line School that helps building a repertoire and playing music, but Better Sax without doubt helps me become a better musician, so once again Jay thank you.

      • Jay Metcalf

        Mark,
        Thanks for that. Great to hear how the Pentatonic Foundation helps students. Definitely a good idea to go back over the lessons weeks, months and even years later. As you improve, you will get more out of the same learning resources when you revisit them. Core Essentials will definitely help you improve measurably and steadily. Of course, you have to put the time in yourself. Keep up the good work.
        Jay

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