Learning a new instrument is not without its challenges. In this post “7 Revealing Beginner Saxophonist Problems” we will explore and identify challenges posed to new students. Whether or not you are teaching a 5th-grade student or a retiree who is looking to check something off their bucket list, all beginners encounter challenges. Therefore, these 7 problems will relate to all developing saxophonists.
1. Not Having a Professional Sax Sound in the Ear
They say if you want to be an Albert Einstein, surround yourself around scientific geniuses. If you want to want to sound like John Coltrane, you should surround yourself with professional jazz saxophonists. Most people don’t have the luxury to do either but listening to recordings and creating the ideal sound in your ear and mind is possible. The problem for most beginners is that they don’t have these listening experiences. The solution is to play quality saxophone music for your students and encourage them to be educated consumers of music. Developing skills that directly improve listening of a quality sax sound would be especially relevant in meeting this objective.
2. Lack of Saxophone Embouchure
Many times, beginner sax students are looking to just create a sound on the instrument. Since creating a sound on the sax is done relatively easy students just accept that it is adequate. This mindset also applies to the student’s acceptance that by just blowing on the instrument and placing the right keys down, they will get the right pitch. The pitch will be relatively correct, however by not engaging the lower lip and requiring it to stand up, the embouchure will make mistakes, correct vibrato technique will not be possible, and the player will have to “blast” to have the lower notes speak. Due to erroneous technique, a saxophonist’s playing ability can be further compromised by environmental factors.
3. Clothing Catching Sax Keys
The saxophone has many moving keys that must work together to produce the ideal sound and pitch. Sometimes foreign and loose articles of clothing can catch the keys of the instrument and keep it from playing correctly. The best way to avoid this from happening is to not wear loose fitting clothes. Pretty simple, huh?
4. Tonguing Against the Roof of the Mouth
Beginning saxophone students sometimes fall into the trap of tonguing against the roof of their mouth. What you hear is a small explosive sound that occurs just prior to the pitch of the note being played. To avoid this, students should place their tongue on the reed and blow. Remember, the tongue does not have to smack the reed but rather needs to touch it to stop the reed from vibrating and creating an articulation effect.
5. The Strap is Not Adjusted Correctly
When the neck strap is not adjusted correctly, the student has to compensate. Often the student has to “duck” his or her head or has to lift the chin. Neither adjustment is an appropriate technique for getting a characteristic sound. It is important to remember that the weight of the instrument needs to be on the neck strap.
6. Poor Quality Mouthpiece
Having a poor mouthpiece occurs more often than most people think. This can be due to wear and tear of hand me down instruments, or poorly constructed stock mouthpieces. Take a moment to look at your student’s mouthpiece where the reed comes into close contact. If the hole section is too flat, the reed may not have sufficient space to vibrate correctly. This can lead to speaking problems.
7. “Speaking” Problems
Instruments, such as the saxophones, are shaped in a conical form. As a result, low notes generally have trouble speaking. If a student is having trouble with having their lower notes speak, check the following:
- See if the embouchure, in particular, the lower lip is activated.
- If the embouchure is sound, then it might be a leak above the highest open hole.
Tip: Try placing a small cork into the bell to help make the low notes speak