When it comes to playing the saxophone, you can’t expect to master the instrument overnight. The fact is, regardless of the instrument, it takes plenty of practice and dedication before you’ll even come close. Whether you’re learning the trumpet on your own or as a part of your school’s marching band, you’ll feel more comfortable playing the trumpet as time goes on. If you’re curious about things like posture and how to keep your instrument clean, you’ve come to the right place. From buying the right case to breathing, we’ve put together some information we think is helpful for new saxophonists.
To put it simply, embouchure is what you do with your mouth; therefore, embouchure in relation to the saxophone is what you do with your mouth while playing the saxophone. Learning proper embouchure can be one of the most complicated parts of learning the instrument, and it’s something you’re bound to spend a good amount of time with. Although there are a variety of embouchure styles, most saxophonists tend to stick with one type while playing. Those concerned about strengthening their embouchure can complete exercises that can help build up strength–this is also something your teacher should be able to help you with. Here’s more information about embouchure if you’re curious.
Try Playing Without the Saxophone
As weird as it may sound, you can actually start practicing your saxophone without ever taking it out of its case. This “practice”, done through the form of lip exercises, will prepare you to place your lips on the mouthpiece. Although most exercises focus on embouchure, some focus on building up your strength in general. Your teacher should be able to guide you through some exercises, but in the meantime here’s one you can do pretty easily on your own. First, say the letter “m” and stop when you get to the “mmm” part, almost as if you’re humming. From there, keep your lips in this position and hum and blow at the same time. By this point, you should be making a buzzing sound, meaning you’re well on your way to trying to make this sound with a mouthpiece.
Stock Up on Chapstick
Whether you play with wet or dry lips, playing the saxophone is bound to chap your lips–especially at the very beginning. For this reason, we suggest stocking up on chapstick–it’s not an essential saxophone accessory, but it’s definitely one of our lesser-known favorites. Since we’re on the subject of playing with wet or dry lips, it’s ultimately a matter of preference. Dry lips stick better to the mouthpiece, while wet lips will slide under the mouthpiece where they’re allowed to adjust more freely. Most teachers encourage new saxophonists to try both ways and choose the one that feels best for them. Although some transition between the two, most saxophonists prefer one over the other.
Breathing & Posture
Before you pick up your saxophone, sit down and take a few deep, full breaths. During these breathing exercises, you should never be holding air in, rather you should be getting into the habit of inhaling in tempo to the music and blowing out the air almost instantly. As far as posture goes, you should try to always play the saxophone while standing. If you prefer to sit down while playing, make sure you keep your feet on the floor and always sit towards the edge of the chair or bed. Finally, never hold or grasp your saxophone too tightly. You should be supporting the saxophone with your left hand, leaving your right hand free to navigate the rest of the instrument.
General Hygiene Tips
A lesser-known, but super important tip, is to always brush your teeth before playing the saxophone. This is particularly important if you’ve been eating or drinking sugary foods and drinks. Sugar and saliva is a nasty combination that can accumulate on your pads and cause them to stick. As you probably already know, you’ll need to swab your horn after each and every use. This removes any excess moisture, which can build up in your saxophone and cause issues down the line. Always swab your instrument from the bell to the top–the wettest part of your horn is at the top, so doing it the opposite way will drag moisture down through the body of the horn. Here’s more tips on keeping your saxophone clean.
Want more saxophone articles? Here’s Six Tips for Playing the Saxophone and Signs It’s Time to Replace Your Saxophone Reeds.