Although usually made of brass, the saxophone is a prominent member of the woodwind family. It is a single reed instrument in which the noise is made by your air causing the flat reed to vibrate against the mouthpiece and travel down inside the tubing.

The Saxophone is made in seven sizes although it is recommended that beginners start on the ‘Alto Saxophone’ (about 62.5cm long) due to the fact that the slightly smaller (Soprano Saxophone) is sometimes more difficult to play in tune and the larger (Tenor) is much heavier, and will require larger hands to reach the keys.


The saxophones origins lie in the marching bands of the French national army. Today, it is most commonly found in the Jazz and Pop music scenes across the world, although there are orchestral pieces in which the saxophone plays a prominent role.

Here are a few examples where you can hear the saxophone in action...

The Tenor Saxophone plays a rather unusual role towards the end of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ‘Dance of the Knights’…

This example of Claude Debussy’s Rhapsody for saxophone and orchestra demonstrates the flexibility of the saxophone and its ability to play with classical orchestral instruments.

This example of a jazz saxophone solo in a band situation shows you its agility and flexibility to play within and project above a band.

The saxophone plays a vital role in a Big Band. This example recording of Directions Jazz Orchestra, demonstrates the large saxophone section in this type of ensemble.

FUN FACT: The saxophone was invented in 1840 by Adolphe Sax in Dinant, Belgium.

Getting Started


The saxophone can be purchased or put on a hire/purchase scheme. They are far from the cheapest instrument to buy so renting is a good option to overcome financial restraints. If you choose to buy your own saxophone however, it is with investing a few pounds to ensure a good start. If you play for a while and decide that the sax is not for you, then fine - it's not going to be for everyone. But if you play for a while and give up because the instrument is letting you down, then that's a real loss!

For a beginner, we recommend the Trevor James 'Classic' Alto Saxophone. The saxophone has a warm and mature sound but is relatively easy to play and affordable for beginners. It comes with a 5 year warranty, a case (with backpack straps), reed and a pull through.


Although most student alto saxophones come with the relevant accessories needed to get you started including a mouthpiece, strap and case, here are a few examples of items that you may need/want to replace over time to maintain the playability and comfort of your new saxophone…

Like most other things, alto sax reeds come in a variety of types, shapes and materials. Beginners are always advised to use reeds of 1½ strength (the strength is the thickness of the reed). As your embouchure develops, you will gradually use reeds of a higher strength to produce a warmer and rounder sound.

Rico is the world's most popular manufacturer of reeds - we recommend that beginners start with Rico Alto Sax Reeds in 1.5 Strength - they come in packs of 3 or boxes of 10.
We recommend the investment in a sax stand which will ensure your new saxophone is not accidentally knocked over which could damage it and require specialist repair. Displaying your instrument on a stand also encourages you to play it more frequently as you pass by it every day.

We recommend the Hercules Saxophone Stand which is very well made, compact and will fit both an alto or tenor saxophone.
Of all the accessories that the average sax player owns, a saxophone strap (or sling) is one of the most overlooked - and yet it's one of the most important. It has to fulfil three functions;

  • support the instrument securely,
  • to increase comfortably
  • to be adjustable
Whilst most saxophone student outfits come with a strap included, this is usually thin, providing little protection and support for your neck and shoulders.

This Neotech Soft Sax Strap is however different in that, although slightly more expensive, it distributes the weight of your saxophone more effectively removing pressure on your neck and shoulders - Neotech claim that their saxophone strap makes your saxophone feel 50% lighter! Neotech are world renowned for their unique technology of musical instrument straps and we highly recommend them.

Cleaning and Care

Like all members of the woodwind family, the care and maintenance of your saxophone is hugely important in order to keep it working well and minimising repair costs. Here are some tools we recommend to ensure the maintenance of your instrument.

Saxophone Reed Cases

Like most other things, alto sax reeds come in a variety of types, shapes and materials. Beginners are always advised to use reeds of 1½ strength (the strength is the thickness of the reed). As your embouchure develops, you will gradually use reeds of a higher strength to produce a warmer and rounder sound.

Rico is the world's most popular manufacturer of reeds - we recommend that beginners start with Rico Alto Sax Reeds in 1.5 Strength - they come in packs of 3 or boxes of 10.

Over time, your saliva will build up inside your saxophone and eventually deteriorate the main body and pads underneath the keys - a weighted sax 'pull-through' used each time you finish playing will remove any excess quickly.

By placing a pad saver (main part of the sax) and neck saver (sax's neck) into your saxophone whilst not in use, the absorbent material draws excess moisture from the pads preserving them for longer.

Using both the Rico Padguard for Saxophone and Rico Neck Saver will help keep your saxophones instruments pads preserved for longer so reducing servicing costs.

A mouthpiece saver works in the same way as the pad saver but is small in size to fit inside just the mouthpiece when it is not in use. The saver draws the corrosive saliva from the reed and inside of the mouthpiece, preventing corrosion and preserving the delicate reeds from deterioration.

A mouthpiece saver is a vital investment to reduce the frequency of purchasing new reeds.

Putting the saxophone together and taking it apart will become a regular occurrence when you are cleaning it and putting it back in its case etc.

You need to always have the cork that connects each joint greased to prevent it drying out and cracking. The cork is vital to the saxophone, it keeps the joints held together and consequently the instrument air tight. We recommend Rico Cork Grease.

Beginner Books

Here are the best selling saxophone tutor books for beginners:

Abracadabra Saxophone

Abracadabra Saxophone guides a complete beginner from the earliest stages of musical education to become a competent and self-confident saxophone player. It is full of exciting musical styles and popular short songs. There is a CD included with certain editions of the book. Performed by professional musicians, the tracks demonstrate each piece, enabling you to hear how the pieces should sound. CD's like this are invaluable for building ensemble experience, offering all the fun of playing with other musicians in the comfort of your own home.

Team Woodwind for Saxophone begins with a step by step guide that talks you through the instrument and basic music theory. It moves through the notes of the clarinet, gradually building up your ability to play the variety of short pieces included towards the end of the book. The book contains a wide variety of musical styles with which you can play along with the CD, from the Baroque and Classical eras to film, folk, jazz and Latin American. The variety makes it fun to learn and shows you how flexible the saxophone is and the opportunities that are available.

Saxophone Basics starts at absolute beginner level and progresses to about Grade 2. There are 22 stages with each section including a wonderful variety of concert pieces from the great composers, traditional tunes and fun, original exercises, 'finger gyms' and 'warm ups' to help establish a sound technique, 'factfiles' and 'quizzes' to teach notation and general musicianship, helpful, clear 'fingering charts' and 'rhythm boxes' and great illustrations. The book/CD edition for Alto saxophone includes a separate accompaniment CD with which you can play along and listen to the pieces before you try them out.

Finding a Saxophone Teacher

It is highly recommended when starting an instrument to employ a qualified teacher to make the learning process interesting and fun. Teachers can be found across the UK at schools, local music services and musicteachers.co.uk or if you live in our locality please do not hesitate to contact us for details of suitable teachers.

Music Centres - playing in orchestras & ensembles

Music centres are set up in many towns to give students an opportunity to meet like-minded people whilst putting their playing into practice. The centres often have a wide variety of ensembles which you can join if you wish. It provides great opportunities to perform in concert situations across the UK and even sometimes Europe. Here is a list of Music Centres/Services in the UK.

This resource was written by:

Sarah Hayward

Sarah Hayward Bmus (hons), MA

Sarah is a sprightly coloratura soprano and active violin and viola player who enjoys interacting with other musicians and teaching her students. Sarah is part of DS Music’s Education Outreach & Marketing Team and is passionate about the expansion and Educational Outreach of the company in order to help give everyone the opportunity to access music. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Music has the power to change people so help me use it to change the world!! :)

You’ve recently looked at...