How tricky is it to learn to play the saxophone? 


Few musical instruments have captured the imagination over the years, quite as much as the saxophone has. The saxophone has proved a staple of so many genres, including pop, rock, jazz and classical – and it’s a surprisingly beginner-friendly instrument, too. 

There are, though, definitely a few things you will need to appreciate before you attempt to learn to play the saxophone, especially if you have never encountered one before.  

An approachable, but still challenging instrument 


It has often been said that the saxophone is easy to begin playing, but difficult to master, with even those who have been playing for years often still discovering so much more about how to get the best out of this woodwind instrument. 

So, yes, on one hand, you shouldn’t have too many problems getting a sound out of your saxophone on the first day of use. If you do struggle with this first step, there’s a good chance that too much jaw pressure is causing the reed and mouthpiece to be squeezed together. 

Another thing that you will need to get to grips with when you learn to play the saxophone, is ‘embouchure’. This term refers to how you hold your lips on the saxophone’s mouthpiece. In fact, there’s no more important aspect of playing the saxophone than this, such is the effect it has on tone quality.

It may take you some time to properly develop effective embouchure, though, which brings us neatly onto one of the most crucial things to appreciate about learning to play the saxophone: it is not an ‘instant gratification’ instrument. 

Much time and effort will be required if you are to get your tone quality right, so you can’t expect to sound like someone who has spent all of their life playing saxophone, after just a few months. 


So, how can you maximise your chances of success? 

You won’t want to start to learn to play the saxophone, only to give up in frustration several months later. And as I have established, there’s no ‘fast’ way to get good at this instrument. However, there are definitely some proven ways to strengthen your chances of persisting with it in the longer term. 

One such method is ensuring you have good-quality equipment in the first place – used instruments from reputable manufacturers are a better idea than cheap new instruments from ‘value’ brands. 

Also resist the temptation to simply try to play the same few songs repeatedly, as you are likely to learn a greater breadth and depth of skills – encompassing the likes of embouchure, articulation, vibrato and dynamic control – if you take on a variety of songs with the instrument. 

Do, though, learn to play the saxophone at a pace that works for you. Stick to the most straightforward things to begin with, and remember the instincts that attracted you to this celebrated instrument in the first place, and you will have a much stronger chance of being successful with it in the long run. 

And of course, don’t forget to also consult our online store here at Dr Downing Music for all of the saxophone essentials you might need – including books, charts, reeds and so much more. 

As a starting point of instruction, if you are only just beginning to learn to play the saxophone, we would always point you towards Dr Downing’s Saxophone Technique Doctor. This book will teach you how to use your lips rather than your lungs to play this highly rewarding instrument so that you breathe correctly and do not end up simply trying to “blow your head off”!