Too Old to Play the Saxophone? – Better Sax

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Many people often think they’re “too old,” to do something new.

Do you know how many people have always wanted to play the saxophone but don’t, or maybe played it back in high school, put it down and now wish they were still playing?

A lot…

But there’s also tons of people who have started playing the saxophone later in life, or who have picked it back up after decades of not playing.

I know this because I get messages like this one from Ken every single day.

Hello from New Jersey. 

I’ll be 69 very soon and consider myself a beginner in music. In the 1980s I tried learning to play the sax but, after several years of self-teaching and lessons from a couple of instructors, I wasn’t progressing and I never felt I knew anything about making music. So I chalked it up to lack of talent and the horn went into the closet for 30 years. 

Six months ago I stumbled upon Jay’s YouTube videos and wondered “Why didn’t anyone tell me this stuff years ago? Maybe I can learn to play after all.” So I joined this site, and here I am, chugging through the courses. 

I wish I’d had instruction like this 35 years ago.

– Ken

If that sounds at all like you, read the rest of this post. I’m going to tell you exactly what you want to know and help you to get started or restarted on the saxophone.

Are you too old to start playing the saxophone?

People ask that all the time.

I think the answer is pretty obvious though. 

If you can breath and move your fingers there’s not much holding you back.

I think people, maybe you reading this right now, ask that question not because they don’t think they are able to, but because they are worried they won’t be any good.

So, If that’s you, I’ve got good news for you. Nobody is very good at the saxophone when they start. In fact everyone sounds pretty much the same in the beginning.

Those who play a lot over a long period of time sound better and better. 

I can’t speak from personal experience since I started when I was 10 years old, but I can share with you messages I’ve received, and forum posts from some of my students on the BetterSax members website. The majority of whom are grown men and women with a certain amount of life experience.

I think hearing from others in your exact situation can be extremely encouraging. So please add your story in the comments section below. If you have recently started or come back to music or have just been thinking about it. 

Learning & Re-Learning

I’ve been wanting to make this video for a while, and I’d like to thank Frank who started a forum discussion on this in the BetterSax members area which kind of got me moving on this. Frank writes:

 It does seem that there is a very high percentage of seniors here (old people like me – I am 70) learning or re-learning to play sax. 

It would be interesting to have a discussion on topics unique to being a senior and learning to play Sax. I am certain there are things both good and bad about it. It would be interesting to see Jay make a video about the topic. 

For me, begin retired, I have time to study now, that I did not have 52 years ago when I stopped playing to join the Marines, or for that 52 while I was working to support my family. Now, empty nest, and all my time is mine. I am focusing on learning wood working, Cello and Saxophone. And loving it.

– Frank

Benefits of Being an Older Learner

If you are retired, you now have a lot of time that you didn’t when you were working. You may also have a home that doesn’t have kids sleeping and studying and playing and keeping you from your hobbies. If you’re lucky, you have the resources to get yourself an instrument, get saxophone lessons, and maybe even purchase an online course or two.

From Dennis…

I have also just turned 70 and have just started on alto sax. I’m pleased to see I am not the only one of our age group here. Apart from that I think older people may be better at understanding how to learn and can relate to the pedagogical approaches in Jay’s courses. When I was younger I was too impatient to practice properly.

– Dennis

Another Good point. If only we knew then what we know now right? As I get older, and my own capacity for patience increases, I get more and more out of my practice time.

From Warren…

I shattered my adult learning fantasies first on guitar and then piano, so when I got the sax bug I was realistic and while I can’t help but be frustrated at times, I’m also astonished at my progress and my current level of ability, and my solid plan to steadily progress.

Nearing or at-retirement age folks who have had a lifetime of advanced learning in various fields and success in professions and activities may expect that once they seriously commence music learning they will make rapid progress. After all, look at those kids tearing it up–how hard can it be?

Hardest thing I’ve ever done, I’m both humbled and pleased to say.

Adult learners may have resource advantages such as time, funds for equipment, and a comfortable practice space. And they may possess mature strong motivation and be able to discover and implement great personal habits in music learning and practicing.

And I think we all know that a lifetime of learning makes a good learner, and on-going learning keeps the mind supple and quick.

Music is the mind at play. What a gift to yourself to take it up!

– Warren

I’m going to have you guys write more of my content from now on, because I certainly could not have said that better.

From Kevin…

I turned 61 this year and pretty much started taking my sax playing seriously in the spring. That said I am no stranger to being a musician having started and played the trumpet for 9 years from the 4th grade. When I picked up the sax for the first time it didn’t take much for it to be ‘intuitive’ to me and so I self taught, but didn’t really have that much time to spend with it due to career obligations.

Fast forward to now, and I have made *phenomenal* strides in basics, tone, technique, embouchure and playing stamina (sometime going for 3 hours straight!)

A lot of my fast progress has been due to 1) my musical ability since a young age, and 2) Jay’s content is very well structured for a more mature population of sax players.

– Kevin

What I Learned From Teaching Saxophone to Adults

When I started teaching private lessons, it was mainly for kids that played in their school band. However, I did have the occasional adult student. In their lessons, I noticed right away that using the same learning materials and resources that were commonly used for kids, was uninspiring, boring and a big turn off for these adult learners. So I started teaching them the way I would want to learn. There really weren’t any beginner method books out there for adults that want to play the saxophone.

That was a big part of why I created my courses and who I created them for specifically. 

Incidentally, I also started teaching my young students in the same way throwing out all the boring band method books and the results have been fantastic. Motivated kids love to learn in a more sophisticated way and really respond well.

Just turned 66 in October and having the time of my life playing in a rock band. We get together and practice every Thursday night and play out once or twice a month. My only regret is not picking up an instrument when I was younger but I didn’t have the time or money.

– Glen

I love this comment from Joel:

YouTube Has Eliminated a Convenient Excuse

I have noticed that being an old learner is a curiosity. The few times I have played outside of the house I’ve gotten lots of questions about, my age, how long I’ve been playing, what made me want to start. 

From there, some people will lament saying they always wanted to play this or that. My response is, there has never been a better and more opportunistic time in all of human history to try. 

– Joel

YouTube has eliminated so many convenient excuses people have always made. Please take advantage of it. 

Turned 66 this year, and finding these courses online a year and a half ago gave me the motivation to carve out an hour a day to practice with a clear understanding of what my practice needs to consist of. this has made my weekly improvisation in my church’s worship band so much smoother and more confident.

– Gary

You Deserve the Credit, Not Me

I want to emphasize that for all the credit my students give me, I don’t take any of it. You clicked on a YouTube video about learning saxophone, enrolled in the course, went through the lessons and practiced. You created the opportunity for yourself to play in the community band or the church group or just at home for your family. That’s all you, not me.

I’m thrilled that all this kind of worked out as planned. I made some courses designed for adults who wanted to have fun playing the music they listen to. Not kids songs, and not necessarily academic jazz and classical music either.

Get Started/Restarted With My Free Courses

Now there are thousands of students enrolled in BetterSax courses. If you’re not yet one of those, I invite you to start with my 2 free courses. The first is a beginner/refresher course. It’s perfect if you’re just starting out, or if you’re coming back to the instrument after a long break.

The other free course is my Play Sax by Ear Crash Course. This is basically an introduction to my teaching style and method so you can get an idea if it’s a good fit for you.

If you’re on Instagram, be sure to follow BetterSax over there. Just like Facebook was for the kids in the beginning and now it’s for everybody. Instagram is a great place for saxophone content. Don’t go just to follow me, there are amazing sax players from around the world posting on there every day.

Please comment below with your story. You are never too old to play the saxophone.

More from BetterSax

Looking for more inspiration? Check out “How Consistency in the Practice Room Results in Solid Improvement.”

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

17 thoughts on “Too Old to Play the Saxophone?”

  1. Mr. Ariel Lerner

    Hi Jay;
    As I previously wrote you, I have been a flute player for 47years, (I’m 57), and I always wanted to try sax.
    Finally last month I got one. I actually thought I’d pick it up and play at the same level that I play flute. (I was led to believe that the fingerings were the same, and I didn’t take into account the vastly different blowing technique working with a reed.)
    My first few days were a real struggle, then I discovered your courses. I did the entire beginners course, (swallowing my pride, because I thought my music level would put me above the level of a beginner), and it helped me tremendously.
    I don’t think I would have figured out on my own how to use the octave key, so I indebted to you for teaching me.
    I’m playing an hour a day now, my sound is improving as is my stamina.
    I’ll keep you informed of my progress.
    Thank you for all your help.

    1. Great to hear this. I realize that Beginner Course is not entirely appropriate for those lessons since a lot of it is stuff that gets taught much later. But for me, I want my students to build good habits from day one. Glad you went through those Refresher lessons.

  2. Hi Jay,
    I received a John Paul tenor sax for Christmas (my husband watched your sax reviews). I haven’t played in 40 years. I signed up for some lessons through a university community Ed program with a sax /clarinet teacher, mostly for tone. It’s amazing how the fingerings come back! Sloppy, but still there. I’m watching your videos and then getting live feedback and advice from him, to prevent me from getting into bad habits. I plan on purchasing a course from you once I’m done with live lessons. Thank you so much for providing such a great resource.

  3. Alan Adrian Mendoza

    Hi Jay,
    I am 64 years old and semi-retired in December of 2019. I have to say that I am an artist at heart. Both music and -visual art. I am semi-retiring to try my hand at being a Ceramic Artist.
    I also love music with a passion and listen to music and sing every day. But my heart reached out to an old passion in February of 2020 and I went out and purchased a new Selmer Tenor Sax.
    I started playing the Alto Sax when I was in elementary school and played in the school band through Junior High School. My parents spent hundreds of dollars on private saxophone lessons when I was a kid. I started practicing with my new sax on my own with an old book I purchased years ago.
    I stumbled on your you tube videos in the past couple of weeks and just saw your free courses today. I am going to start with your Beginner/Refresher course starting today.

    Thank you for offering this course, I will keep you posted on my progress.

  4. I havnt played for years and am retiring soon. I have a tenor, alto and soprano sax, which one should I try to re learn on?
    thankyou
    John Holmes

  5. Hi Jay,

    I’m working my way through your pentatonic foundation at the moment and really enjoying it. I’ve been playing flute off and on for 45 years but never played by ear or improvised. About 38 years ago a colleague persuaded me to buy an old Selmer alto (cigar cutter – 1935 ish?) that his friend had found and restored. He built me a smart new case and I tried to learn it for a year or two without making much progress. Jimmy Dorsey book etc. Since I discovered your courses I’m practicing an hour or two a day and really improving. Blues course next I hope …
    BTW I have heard people say it can be a problem learning on a vintage horn so what do you think? To me it seems OK, in that I can play over the whole range (no altissimo yet). The left pinky keys are a bit awkward but maybe that’s me. I had to get a more modern Selmer mouthpiece because the original one was very tight.

    Phil

  6. I seem to be the old boy around here but am not far past 75. I have always been very mechanically minded since childhood and have three White steam cars but over the last few months I have got going on the saxophones. Unfortunately, like the cars, they increased from one to four – two tenors – (a Martin and a White from Cleveland- like the cars) and two altos ( a Martin and a Tom Brown). As you may gather, I am about the youngest of the five of us!
    I found that working on a tenor and an alto was too much so I am concentrating on one tenor. I really have to concentrate on the basics, try to keep in time, get a better sound with the long tones and follow the dots on simple tunes to try to stop making errors. I am hoping to get into improvising while we have viral lock-down! oh for a better memory!

  7. Aged 64 I made a promise to myself after heart surgery , ” If the recovery was half decent I would learn to play the saxophone” Never having played any musical instrument growing up but having a life long interest in Jazz and the Tenor Saxophone. Well aged 77 here I am. I took up having tuition around 2yrs after surgery and the whole experience has been life changing in many ways but, the most important change was in my confidence. My present tutor does not allow sheet music you practice your scales, cords and 12 bar Blues along with theory work and in doing so we have fun. How good am I ? Well no where as good as Dexter Gordon, but a tad better than Franz Liszt.
    My tutor say’s there is no failure, you will take it as far as you want to, but along the way practice.
    My thanks to Jay for his hard work and bringing his experience to the attention of people of an older generation.

  8. I would just like to say a big thank you to Jay. I stumbled across his site just after learning to play with a local tutor.
    Although I have watched his free videos and found them very helpful, I have deferred purchasing a particular course as perhaps two different methods albeit perhaps slight might not be a good idea at the early stage I am at.
    I play guitar and piano but am classically trained so it was difficult initially to put the sheet music aside!
    I find Jay’s pleasant manner on certain free videos an inspiration. Getting on for 69 shortly as well!!

  9. Lawrence Gasaway

    I am 75 years old. I started playing the alto about 6 months ago. I needed a challenge in my life. I played trumpet from 6th grade through high school. I played Highland bagpipes for about five years but not played anything for 20 years. I love the alto. So I feel like I have to progress about five years of study in one year or else I am going to run out of time. I only want to play for my own enjoyment. No bands or gigs or anything else; blues, jazz, pop etc.

  10. Hi Jay, I happened upon your You Tube videos last week, (thanks to Coronavirus for the free time), and I happened upon this video this morning. Inspirational thanks.
    I retired from the army 20 years ago at the age of 40 at which point my wife bought me my Alto, and it has been my most prized ornament till last week, now at the age of 60 I have bought myself a ‘second retirement’ present of a Soprano, determined neither will be ornaments, and with time on my hands, you have inspired me to pick it up and register on your basic course.
    Thanks for your work, I will let you know sometime in the distant future how it is going.

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