It’s All About The Process (Of Practicing)

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

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.

I’m going to give you a general overview of what you should be doing daily. This is basically what every serious saxophone player does more or less. The details can vary greatly from one player to the next. Whether it’s based on skill level or musical goals, 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. There are tons of people making great content.

By all means, watch the videos that seem interesting and helpful to you. Feel free to 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. But 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 shown 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. All to improve my sound, build my embouchure strength, clean up my technique and finger movement, correct my lousy timing. Plus I had to fix several bad habits I had developed from my unguided practicing.

I did these exercises dutifully. 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

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. That way, they get the feel for them and hear how they are supposed to sound.

Core Essentials

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. You’ll 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.

Pentatonic Foundation Course

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. Then 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. 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.

Interested in more practice tips? Check out “Are You Practicing the Right Stuff?”

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.

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Gene Festa says:

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 says:

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 says:

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

Mark Holland says:

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 says:

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.

Daniel Gaddi says:

I’m really enjoying my progress following your coaching. It’s been at least 30 years since I picked up a horn but now I have a passion to pick up where I left off 30 years ago. I feel it’s a good track of practicing your method

Jay Metcalf says:

Great to hear. I’m glad my lessons are helping you.

chris chan says:

Been working through the pentatonic exercises, making sure to go slowly. It’s quite amazing that after a week I feel my fingers moving quite a bit better than they were. For fun, I tried the E major pentatonic – even though I was mainly practicing in G I think it helped me pick up the E faster. Slowly works! Also really helped to focus on relaxing my fingers.

Chase Riley says:

Hi Jay,
I was reading your blog post on “It’s All About The Process (Of Practicing)” and it spoke to me. At the end the Core Essentials Program was offered for $29. I was pretty excited to see this as I recently bought the Pentatonic Foundation Course which, oddly enough, has caused me to see how unfocused my practice sessions are. I’m really enjoying the Pentatonic Foundations and would love to get Core Essentials but, and here’s the problem, when I click the link for the $29 offer, it says the course is $58. I’m on a tight budget these days and have my eye on the Core Essentials course but if the $29 offer has expired and it’s now $58, I’m going to have to wait. Please inform. Thanks

Jay Metcalf says:

Chase, that sale has ended, but I forgot to edit this post. I’ve sent you an email with a coupon code for the discount.

Chase Riley says:

You’re a gentleman. I just purchased the course. Love your stuff.

Bob weller says:

Hi Jay still haven’t subscribed yet 70 years old played soprano,tenor,and baritone for 9years during early school and 1 year at college. Lets face it, it has been 50 years since I have touched a sax sold them all to buy downhill ski equipment. Now that I’m semi retired I want to start over on tenor sax what about saxquest’s tenor sax for $1595 have you heard anything

Jay Metcalf says:

Bob, I haven’t tried them myself, but have heard good things. If that’s your budget, then I’m sure it will be a great horn to get back into playing.

Landis Maitland-Whitelaw says:

Hi Jay, I have purchased and gone through the Pentatonic course and am now going back and using it in my practice. When I started this course I thought that it would be great if you offered a fingering chart etc. I then i saw the free mini courses in the members area and they covered everything from the chart, to putting the reed on correctly to gear. That was fantastic. Now that I have a little more knowledge .. thanks to you. I am needing a course like what you described in the core essentials. If that course goes on sale again please let me know and I will jump on it.
I also play the clarinet and I am finding that the sax and the clarinet in regards to the embouchure and what you do in your mouth are very different indeed. So you have taken another mystery out of my playing.
I am plodding along having a ball.
Thanks Jay.

Jay Metcalf says:

Great to hear. thanks for the comment.

Angela says:

Hi, i took the pentatonic Fundamentals course..great stuff..started zu improvise with c pentatonic zwing the backing tracks..this is fun. Also practice Long tones and scales over the full range ( this tip was very usefull). I practice 1,5 – 2 hours every Day Brause i have so much Fun and want to have a great sound as soon as possible..playing since 1 year so i m on ny way ??

Jeff Nimmer says:

Greetings Jay,
Thank you for providing a useful set of tools to help me navigate my saxophone journey which began 6 weeks ago. My long term goal is to perform to make others happy. I am really drawn to jazz ballads and rhythm sax playing. I am practicing 1-2 hours every week day and 30 min -1hr on Sat/Sun. I started by learning by ear how to just get a good sound while starting to learning the fingering using online videos of great players I’ve discovered that really speak to me – (like Ben Webster). Yesterday I started learning the pentatonic patterns in 3 keys working towards all 12 eventually.
If I had to choose to start between your course on Core practice and The Full Play Sax by ear which would you recommend and why?



Jay Metcalf says:

Jeff, Glad you are finding the resources helpful. The Pentatonic Foundation Course is the best place for you to start. I designed that course specifically for people in the same place as you. It will get you started on the right track. Core Essentials is meant to help everyone take their sound and technique to the next levels. It can be studied at the same time.

Jacob Darocha says:

I’ll be using your Core Essentials Program to help improve my sound, use of harmonics, and articulation. Thanks!

Fadil says:

Jay, is it ok to get practice just only with your Core Essentials? Using a whole time for practice just in Core Essentials?

Jay Metcalf says:

Fadil, It is okay to spend an entire practice session on the Core Essentials course in the beginning if you are trying to get comfortable with that material, but it’s not something that you would want to do for a long period of time. It’s important to vary the stuff you practice if you want to improve.



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