Whilst learning to play the saxophone there are various tips I have been given to help improve my playing and musicality. I am definitely still learning and building on my own technique all the time, and I am always grateful when fellow players offer tips and tricks that help! That’s why I thought I’d offer a few tips that have stuck with me over time to help anyone going through the trials (and tribulations) of playing the saxophone!
Being mindful of how you control and support your breathing when playing the saxophone can help with sustaining a good solid sound. Learning to use your diaphragm, the long horizontal muscle below your lungs, is essential for being able to play any wind instrument for more than a couple of beats at a time, as you need to support an air flow with enough pressure to make a sound, but not so fiercely that you run out breath immediately. “Big Belly Breaths” help with your breathing; e.g. expanding and “filling” your abdomen when breathing in, which allows you to fill your lungs with as much air as possible, before contracting your diaphragm to push the air out in a steady stream. This breathing is very similar to the technique used in meditation/yoga, so why not give yourself 5 minutes to relax, and practice your breathing!
Long notes are an essential part of any wind players practice, and are particularly effective for improving your breathing and helping you to focus on creating a beautiful sound. Keeping relaxed, take in a “big belly breath” and play a note of your choice for as long as possible, keeping relaxed and not trying to force out a loud volume which could end up with you “wasting” your breath. The more you practice your long notes the better you will become at sustaining an airflow and sound. Long note practice also gives you time to create your own beautiful sound as you can take some time to really listen to the notes you are producing and refine your tone.
Let’s admit it. Most of us (but not all of us!) find scales one of the more boring parts of practicing. Repetitive patterns, and occasional tricky fingerings means we can sometimes find ourselves doing everything else to avoid the dreaded scales practice. But the more you practice your scales the better your muscle memory will get and your fingers will soon be flying through the scales without a second thought. Learning your scales is not just a practice to simply get you through graded exams, it also greatly helps with your overall music-making. Scales, and key signatures, will form the basis of nearly every piece you will play, and through practicing your scales you’ll start to realise that scalic patterns pop up in your pieces all of the time, making the repetitive playing of scales more important than simply bashing through notes in a particular order.
The final thing I will touch upon in this blog is articulation. Slurring, tonguing, staccato, legato etc. will become familiar terms as you progress with your saxophone playing, and practising your articulation goes hand-in-hand with your other practice techniques. You can combine your long note and scales practice with articulation, so as to make the basics a bit more interesting, and multitask! For example, hold a note for 4 beats, tongue crotchets/quavers for the next 4 and then hold again for a final 4 beats; this allows you to working on your articulation whilst still concentrating on producing a good sound. Another articulation practice you can try when you’re memorising scales is playing scales 2 slurred, 2 tongued, as this help you practice moving from one articulation to another, which will help when playing your pieces!
Please feel free to add your own helpful tips in the comments section below, as everyone learns differently and it would be great to share your tips and ideas. Plus, check out our top saxophone picks of 2017!