Is the Saxophone Hard To Play? Understanding Why the Saxophone Can Be a Difficult Instrument To Learn

Is the Saxophone Hard To Play? Understanding Why the Saxophone Can Be a Difficult Instrument To Learn

how hard is it to play the saxophone

So, you have an aspiring saxophonist on your hands?

Learning to play the saxophone would greatly benefit the development of your child, but you know that instruments take a lot of time to learn and some instruments can be very complex. You want to encourage your child’s interests but maybe you’re worried that learning how to play the saxophone may be too difficult for them. 

Before you worry too much about whether the saxophone is hard to play or not, let’s take a peek into the more and less challenging sides of learning to play the saxophone.

This article will help you better understand the various difficulties someone may have when learning to play the sax. We’ve also included a few tips on how to encourage and support your ambitious melophile. 

Table of Contents

is the saxophone hard to play

A Look at the Ways Playing the Saxophone Is Both Easy and Challenging

Is the saxophone hard to play?

Learning how to play the saxophone is a little like riding a bike. Rarely will anyone be great at it on the first try. It’s always easier when you have help. It takes practice. Sometimes you may become frustrated. Sometimes you might fall and have to pick yourself back up. 

But when you finally get it — it’s like you can go anywhere. 

Learning how to do anything can be easy in some ways and harder in others. You might breeze through some challenges and become stuck on others. It takes diligence, forbearance, dedication, cooperation, and practice. Lots of practice. 

But like riding a bike, the cool thing about learning how to play an instrument is that you don’t have to do it on your own. There are communities, schools, bands, etc. where you can learn amongst your peers, make friends, become inspired and motivated, find support, and so much more. 

Northwest School of Music provides the ideal environment for budding saxophonists of any age to find and explore their passion. 

The Easy Side of Learning To Play the Saxophone

Several factors make saxophones one of the easier instruments to learn. These include:

  • Keys: The music scales run up and down the keys and they’re spaced to naturally fit the shape and curve of the human hand, making the saxophone one of the most intuitive instruments.
  • Octaves: A small press of a button is all you need to change octaves, so you only need to learn one set of fingerings as opposed to many different ones like brass or orchestral instruments. 
  • Effort: With a mouthpiece and reed, the saxophone makes it easy to produce sounds. Big deep breaths are not a skill beginners will need to master.  
  • Ambidexterity: You don’t need to buy a special instrument if you’re left-handed or right-handed. Saxophones suit whichever of your hands is dominant as well as it would the other. 

It may be easier for some to naturally pick up the saxophone than others. 

If you have prior woodwind experience, you might have an easier time learning how to play the saxophone. Since the keys are scaled like a piano, prior experience with pianos may also ease you into the exciting world of the saxophone.

Everyone has a different way of learning. 

What some students find hard might be easy for others and vice versa. Music, like other art forms, has fluidity in its learning curve. There will be challenges, but overcoming those challenges is half the fun of learning how to play the saxophone.

The Challenging Side of Learning To Play the Saxophone

You might be surprised to learn that while these challenges seem big and opposing — they’re easy to overcome with practice, patience, and passion. Be realistic, but don’t be discouraged. 

Selecting the Instrument and Understanding the Equipment

There are four different types of saxophone that come in different sizes and produce different pitches and tones. Because of this, some types of saxophone may be a little harder for beginners to play.

The types of saxophone along with their ideal skill range are:

  • Alto: This is the smallest type of saxophone which makes it great for beginners. Its small size combined with its versatility in sound makes this type of sax accessible and comfortable for any level of player.  
  • Tenor: This type of saxophone has an expressive and rich sound which has made plenty of beginners fall in love with jazz. It is slightly larger than the alto sax, but this type offers a great balance of control and flexibility.
  • Soprano: With a distinctive sound and challenging nature, the soprano saxophone is the most advanced type. 
  • Baritone: This is the largest type of saxophone. The baritone saxophone’s size yields a low, resonant sound that with great deep breaths yields the command of any ensemble. Due to this, it may take some practice in wind instruments to proficiently handle this type of sax.

Finding a saxophone that best fits your size and skillset will greatly help you out as a beginner. There’s no shame in playing a beginner sax, everyone has to start somewhere. More difficult-to-master saxophone types like the soprano or baritone are great motivators to keep practicing and advancing. 

Reading Music

When starting, you may be able to play the saxophone without having to read music. However, the sooner you begin to grasp the concept of music theory, the sooner you will move toward advancing your understanding of the saxophone.

Learning technique allows you to operate your saxophone. Learning how to read music allows you endless possibilities. You may eventually understand music theory so well, you can play by ear. 

The best way to learn how to read music is through a guide. An instructor can make learning music theory fun and engaging. It’s also easier to have someone to answer your more obscure questions than spend hours scouring the internet only to still be left confused. 

Northwest School of Music is composed of a team of skilled instructors. They have spent years studying and playing and now they want to share that gift with you. 

Whether you are interested in learning how to play the saxophone or have a child who wants to learn, we welcome anyone with a passion for music to come and learn with us. Schedule a free trial today. 

learning to play the saxophone

Committing to the Expense

Music is known for being a hobby with some larger expenses involved. 

Before you type “saxophone price range” into Google and become blinded by dollar signs, consider that beginner saxophones do not have the same price ticket as professional instruments (which oddly enough, like to show up first on a search engine). 

Saxophone price ranges can start as low as $250 and swing for as high as $35,000, depending on the brand, materials, and type of saxophone. Generally, you can expect the price range based on the model to be:

  • Student models: $250-$1200
  • Intermediate models: $1000-$2500
  • Professional models: $2000-$8000
  • Tenor saxophones: $700-$8000
  • Electric saxophones: $400-$800
  • Alto saxophones: $250-$5000
  • Baritone saxophones: $2500-$7500
  • Soprano saxophones: $600-$4800
  • Mini saxophones: $50-$100
  • Contrabass saxophones: $15000-$35000

It may be wise to rent or buy a used saxophone for beginners. Rentals are monthly and can cost anywhere from $20-$50, making renting a saxophone an excellent choice if expense is a challenge. 

Buying a new or big-budget saxophone is a great incentive to keep practicing and reward achievements. If the end goal is playing in a professional band or orchestra, you’ll have plenty of time to find a fine, pricier saxophone down the road. 

Playing the Notes

Saxophones have a minor reputation for being a little trickier when trying to play the right notes. As a beginner, no one is going to play every note right. Higher and lower notes can be difficult to play when you are just starting. 

This should not discourage new saxophone beginners. It takes practice to become seasoned with playing the sax. 

Perfecting Posture

Good posture is integral to learning to play wind instruments like the saxophone. Your body needs to be comfortable and able to easily take breaths.

When learning to perfect your posture you should pay attention to your:

  • Torso: The posture of your torso should be symmetrical and balanced while the rest of your body is relaxed and comfortable. This open position allows for easy breathing, which is essential to playing the saxophone. Avoid slouching or exaggerating your posture.
  • Arms and hands: Allow space between your arms, body, and instrument. Your arm should be comfortably away from your torso so that your ribcage has room to expand when you take breaths. Your shoulders should be relaxed and fall naturally so that when you take a deep breath your arms do not move. Avoid sharp angles with your wrists and fingers. 

Learning how to perfect your posture when playing the saxophone is easier with someone to help you spot mistakes that may be hard to spot yourself. 

At Northwest School of Music, we pride ourselves in helping our students perfect their playing posture in and out of the classroom. We believe music is a great way for young minds to learn physical and mental balance. 

Explore the benefits of music making and learn about our school today.

playing the saxophone

Fine-tuning Your Embouchure

Embouchure refers to the way a wind or brass instrument player applies their mouth to the instrument’s mouthpiece. Mastering your embouchure is vital to correctly play the right notes. It can sometimes be frustrating for beginners to fine-tune their embouchure technique. 

Some tips for improving your embouchure include:

  • Practice with the mouthpiece removed from the sax.
  • Rehearse puckering your lips without your instrument on hand.
  • Try the smile and whistle exercise.

Be patient when first becoming familiar with embouchure. It is a concept that can take time for improvement.

Bridging Transposition Intervals

Saxophones are transposing instruments. This means their pitches, also referred to as musical notations, are not written at concert pitches. Concert pitch is an interval on transposition that allows different instruments to play the same pitch. So a C note on a saxophone will not sound the same as a C from a violin. 

To account for this, saxophones are tuned to bridge the interval of transposition so that saxophones match the same notes as other instruments when played in a group.

Practicing for Progress

Developing an aptitude for music requires time, patience, enthusiasm, and practice. Practice may be one of the biggest hurdles when it comes to mastering any skill, and learning how to play the saxophone can take a lot of practice. 

But don’t get discouraged. Here are some helpful tips to consider when building a practice for progress:

  • Try to schedule a daily practice time that is easy to commit to.
  • Don’t break your chain of consistency — stay motivated.
  • Reward yourself for your successes!
  • Take classes with other students.
  • Create a practice outline detailing goals and what you need to practice to attain them.

Choosing an Instructor

While it is possible to learn how to play the saxophone on your own, it is far easier (and more fun) to learn how to play from an instructor. 

Other benefits of choosing an instructor include:

  • Developing a deeper understanding of music theory
  • Access to personalized help when honing your skills 
  • Catching and correcting mistakes early on 
  • Practicing more because you have an instructor
  • Having even more encouragement and support to help you along in your musical journey

Our instructors have dedicated their lives to making and teaching music, and most of them all started from the same place — in a classroom with someone who inspired them to pursue their dreams. 

What’s the Best Age To Learn To Play the Saxophone?

It is never too late to want to learn how to play the sax!

But it can be too early. 

How soon a child can begin playing depends on their height and the size of their hands. Typically, the best age to begin learning the saxophone is around 9-11 years of age, which is generally the age when a child is big enough to hold the saxophone properly. 

Saxophones can be heavy for smaller children. If your child wants to learn how to play the saxophone before they’re big enough, there are small, more lightweight options such as an Alphasax.

how hard is it to play the saxophone

How Long Does It Take To Learn To Play the Saxophone?

It depends.

For most people, it may take around two years to become adept with a saxophone. But with a lot of patience, hard work, and dedication, you might be able to become proficient in playing your saxophone in less time. 

After a few years (about 2-4), you’ll be able to read simple melodies with ease, improvise diatonic lines, and be able to play with an ensemble. Learning to play your saxophone may take time. So be patient — once you learn how to play, you and your saxophone will enjoy many years of music-making. 

Learn How To Play the Saxophone With the Experienced Team at Northwest School of Music

Now that we’ve addressed why the saxophone may be hard to play, it’s time to talk about the next step forward.

Learning how to play the saxophone is an excellent way for you or your child to connect with music and other people. Group lessons are a great way to have fun while learning and meet peers who share similar passions and interests. 

Overcome challenges. Make friends. Learn more about yourself while learning how to make music. 

Northwest School of Music has been teaching an array of music lessons for learners of all ages since 2006. We would be proud to welcome you and your saxophone to be a part of the many students we teach throughout the week. We offer group lessons and private lessons. Parents of students are also welcome to attend. 

What to expect when signing up:

  1. Fill out a free trial registration form.
  2. Attend a free learning experience and meet your instructor.
  3. Fill out an official enrollment form and register for your first class!

We would like to invite anyone in Salem and the surrounding area who is interested in learning how to play the saxophone to come learn with us at Northwest School of Music. Explore the world of music with us and sign up today.

learning to play the saxophone
how hard is it to play the saxophone
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Northwest School Of Music, 387 Mission Street SE, Salem, Oregon 97302, USA​
503-999-4343​ |​

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503-999-4343​ |​

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