saxophone basics
saxophone warmup
saxophone tone
saxophone articulation
saxophone vibrato
saxophone technique
saxophone tuning
saxophone education
saxophone teaching
saxophone lesson/masterclass
beginner saxophone
counting, sightreading
saxophone performing
Joe Murphy, saxophone
saxophone techniques
saxophone altissimo
circular breathing
saxophone multiphonics
saxophone quartertones
saxophone slap tongue
improvising, transposing
saxophone resources
saxophone research
saxophone repair/reeds
saxophone literature, recording
jazz saxophone
saxophone history
saxophone humor

Saxophone Teaching


The goal of teaching is to make the student independent and to eventually surpass the teacher.  Do not follow in the master¡¯s footsteps, seek what he sought.


A good teacher can turn the ¡°but I can do it in the practice room¡± syndrome on its head.  Through preliminary exercises the teacher should be able to get the student to play better than in practice, and to understand how it was done.


A good teacher can hear how a student practiced.


Typical lesson

Typical assignment

Teaching saxophone beginners

Ramifications for different groups

Yearly cycle

Masterclass topics

Teaching saxophone, Typical lesson
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There¡¯s a world of difference between correct and good; practice should change material from correct to good, NOT incorrect to correct.

 1. Warmup and/or preliminary exercise

2. play assignment, plan the next practice (maybe start new material together)

3. long term item(s): sightreading, scales, altissimo, start new music, etc.


-          If the student isn¡¯t warmed up, they need to first.

-          I always ask ¡°How did you work on the music this week?¡± (possibly have the student keep a practice log book)

-          Based on previous lessons with the student, their response to the above question, and the difficulty of the piece I try to determine what preliminary exercises to do first. Rarely do they jump in.

-          Over the course of a week the student may practice five different ways. It¡¯s not always productive to hear all of those ways in the next lesson. In fact, it may be more productive to hear a way NOT practiced during the week.

-          After they¡¯ve done a preliminary exercise, they perform the section, after which I ask:

-          ¡°Based on how you just played that, how/where would you practice this next?¡± or ¡°What do you want to improve?¡±

-          Plan the next practice session, a lesson is just a guided practice session (sometimes it can be mostly performance).

-          Since starting new material is tedious but crucial, I often start new material with them in a lesson.

-           Don¡¯t adopt the implicit message: ¡°I dare you to learn the next assignment; come back next week and I¡¯ll fix it for you.¡±  Avoid the self-perpetuating correction mode.

-          If an interpreter is indeed creating as well as discovering, this has great teaching ramifications. Avoid telling the student ¡°how it goes.¡± Teach by using questions, questions that could be asked of any piece.


Teaching saxophone, Typical assignment
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 Once you learn how to make your own assignments instead of relying on someone else, then you have learned the only thing you really need to get out of school.
click here for the teaching/learning alphabet

-          During the lesson the student should plan their next practice session.  I believe that it is more effective to plan only the next session.  It is important to keep a log book so the teacher sees the chronology of the practicing.

-          Hopefully the student will identify appropriate place and manner of practice.  At least once a semester I use each of the different methods either as an assignment or a preliminary exercise in the lesson including. Red = finger tech, blue = air, green = no sax, black = mental agility
Troubleshoot technique
Silent fingering
With metronome
Each note
gets a beat
All on one pitch
, neck
With a tuner
Tongue subdivisions of each note

Arch map
Study the other parts
Sing it, with a sounding tuner
Write it by memory
Combine ways, (silent, with tuner, with metronome, each note gets a beat)
Record once through the piece, play with recording
Play 2 lines, skip 2 lines
Vary starting points, awkward places

-          Assignment should address:

o        Warm-ups (tone, tuning, facility, artic, vib)

o        Old material (how, where)

o        New material

o        Long term (sightread, altissimo, reeds,¡­)


-          break assignments

program notes

CD database

Repertoire database

Listening (reaction, description)



Lesson plan for beginners


Teaching Beginner saxophones
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Concepts borrowed from Suzuki:

Teach sound/physical playing before reading, but soon use flash cards with the exercises they already know.

learn theory (counting, notes, etc.) independently from the instrument or prior to (conservatory method)

Individual and group lessons

Parental participation

Don't let the student take the instrument home until approximately after lesson 6. If possible these first six lessons should be almost daily. Lessons are just guided practicing. learn next week's assignment in this week's lesson

Incremental steps. Start with neck and mouthpiece first, then to left hand on sax with right hand in bell. Discuss everything methodically from:


                Hand position: finger patterns - have tons of flash cards

                Tonguing: start with mostly slurring

                breathing expand-shoulders(relax)-straw(focus)-release=breath

embouchure - bottom(taught)-teeth-corners-like whistling=focus

sound on neck breathe--bottom-teeth-corners-forward-release

Isolate aspects:  try to give separate assignments (tonguing, breathing, embouchure, fingers, ear, theory)

Warm-up routine the student can eventually do on own (a well-established embouchure is critical to dynamics, extreme ranges, tuning, & many other parameters
learning new piece, & perfecting are skills to be taught [not just always correction mode]
Sing to students
Do, then read; related: experiment with as little verbosity as possible (use concise phrases, other modes such as written, modeling, etc.)
Increments, separate skills, count separate from playing (write counting?), attainable goals
It¡¯s an art to choosing the right increment, begin to teach that ability to the student
Don¡¯t go til crash
Play for your students (careful about playing with) breathe with them when they play
Hear individuals
Try their equipment (have spray)
Give a specific assignment
Followup in next session, refer to previous lesson
ask how they practiced, solicit feedback (including good things)


Common faults

Posture - alternate sitting/standing

Neckstrap adjustment

lifting too many fingers going from note to note, e.g. D to E, plays A in between

bunching up bottom lip

slap/harsh tongue - discuss direction/focus/speed of airstream, do away from sax



Lacour 100 Dechiffrages Manuscrits (2 books, each has 50) Billaudot

Hovey Practical Exercises

Londeix Playing the Saxophone (Lemoine)

Many other beginner books are okay but need supplements, beware of visually overwhelming books


(& methods Levinsky, Logsdon, Amazon) philosophy, syllabus, grading, Gardner, Lautzenheiser, Campbell, Suzuki


Challenging the status quo



Don¡¯t accept the inherent inadequacies of the instrument  (most of the audience is not saxophonists). Transcend the saxophone. Be more than a good saxophonist, or a good musician, be an artist.

Play high & soft like a violin, pretend your music has words like a singer,


Aspects of other instruments to notice:

STRINGS ¨C constantly tuning (their ears & instruments), large variety of articulations & variables to achieve different sounds (bow pressure, speed, angle, distance from bridge). Are we aware of airspeed/direction, reed adjustment, embouchure/oral cavity subtleties.

VOICE ¨C text/programmatic, diction (articulation, vowels), huge emphasis on vocalizing (warm-ups), can¡¯t see the instrument, subconscious habits, coaching for whole career, most difficult to affect long-term change

PIANO ¨C play by memory; harmony is integral; tone/timbre are extremely subtle, huge repertoire (as voice)

PERCUSSION ¨C melody can be challenge as piano timbre; Many instruments/techniques, hand/eye¡­distance to podium

BRASS ¨C tuning (ear training) is integral to accurate lip slurs; not just button pushing like WW

Ensemble ¨C whole-to-self ratio

Conducting ¨C non-verbal communication, movement, rehearsal pedagogy


  Sports analogies:
scales = base mileage per week
non-playing study = study film/playbook
wind playing is a physical activity = runners high
airspeed = balance beam (keep motion/flow/vulnerability)
     do more than what game requires (you don¡¯t lift weights on field)
     work on starts, turns, streamline (awareness of shoulders, hips, fingers, etc.) NOT always just more mileage
     soccer: games to focus on aspects
     nautilus vs. free weights
     highest level of sport is about letting go NOT tensing/controlling; top of game = things slow down


Next: learning from other arts (visual, architecture, dance, literature, etc.)

Ramifications for different groups



-          start pieces reading from score (if transposed)

-          similar to solo piece preparation: say parts, blow & finger, very importantly¡­

-          out of rhythm for tone, tuning, blend, harmony

o        play the note on each beat (or some variation)

o        similar to solo ¡°playing on neck¡± transfer the same sound, feeling to playing all of the notes.


Large ensemble

-          teach individual warm-ups: TONE (buzz, headjoint, lipslurs, cresc/decresc, tongue, changing notes); FACILITY; PLANNED TRANSITION to piece (range, rhythms, artics, intervals/sequences)

-          group warm-ups (tone/tuning, blend/balance, facility/articulation/rhythm, range; work toward lit of the day) similar to individual, balance routine/variety

-          similar to solo piece preparation, practice pieces: backwards, technical exercises, characterize, all on one note, tune over a pedal.


Lessons as one class, not 12 individual classes, even as¡­ 4 year outline/syllabus

-          Some aspects can be used by all students simultaneously regardless of year in school, including sightreading, scales, preliminary exercises.

o       Easier to track and be thorough

o       Level of facility/expertise different for different students, but material can be same

-          group lessons, students observe lessons

o       more time with the teacher

o       efficient teaching, themes reinforced

o       more material learned by the students

o       observer, learning while not ¡°under the gun¡± of performing

o       peer pressure

o       peer feedback, learning to hear/speak like a teacher

o        Avoid telling the student ¡°how it goes.¡± Teach by using questions, questions that could be asked of any piece.  The observer will learn more (process) and the player will be better in the long run.

-          ¡°publish¡± each semester (or year) the literature covered including listening in masterclass, sightreading, as well as students¡¯ studies (maybe in context of ¡°recommended literature¡± list).  Make the syllabus as you go, think ahead, but just like planning practice sessions you can only plan the next one.  


Teaching, Yearly cycle


Teaching, like performing, evolves. It is instructive to be able to know how you¡¯ve changed as a teacher.

 Do students need to go through each evolutional step their teacher did? Do I assign a 20 year old the practice strategy I would currently use?


- Each fall I, and of course the students, return to the basics spending several weeks reviewing Breathing, Singing, Tone, Technique, Tuning, Preparing a piece, Practice plan.  Hopefully we are a more mature musician each Fall and get more out of each return.


- As mentioned in Typical Assignment, I try to rotate weekly and emphasize each practice method once per semester.  We¡¯re not just learning the piece, but learning practice methods and decision-making/evaluation.


- Over the course of a year there are topics that need to be addressed in masterclass yearly, some topics are addressed on a three year rotation.


- There are too many good pieces for an individual to learn in four years. Through organization the teacher can address most within four years

-          carefully choose ensemble audition piece

-          choose different pieces for students & make everyone aware of all of the pieces

-          masterclass topics & break assignments can cover more pieces (listening, literature, history¡­)

Typical Fall, accumulative by week:

1. warm-ups (breathing, tone, artic, vibrato, technique, counting)

2. sightreading preparation

3. etude preparation

4. etudes

5. scales, patterns

6. duets/trios, tuning

7. duets

8. quartets

9. quartets, large ensemble in masterclass

10. solo preparation/perfection; MC ensemble

11. solo, practice techniques; MC reeds

12. solo, practice tech; MC altissimo

13. solo, practice tech; MC double tongue, circular breathe, slap

14. solo, jury prep; MC Jazz: equipment, improvise, changes (practice sheet), transcribe, tunes (break assignment)


Spring, much more variable

Lessons: track sightreading, scales, preliminary/practice techniques

Masterclass topics, every spring: peer teaching, literature (program notes, programming), listening (literature, artists), history (literature, instruments, performers), research (web, discussion groups, library); once each 3 years: equipment, technology, teaching beginners, transposing, organizing performance, musician¡¯s health, repair

College Freshman arrival: equipment, warm-ups (p 2-15, counting)

Artics below. A - just for tongue work. B - for tongue/finger coordination


saxophone basics
saxophone warmup
saxophone tone
saxophone articulation
saxophone vibrato
saxophone technique
saxophone tuning
saxophone education
saxophone teaching
saxophone lesson/masterclass
beginner saxophone
counting, sightreading
saxophone performing
Joe Murphy, saxophone
saxophone techniques
saxophone altissimo
circular breathing
saxophone multiphonics
saxophone quartertones
saxophone slap tongue
improvising, transposing
saxophone resources
saxophone research
saxophone repair/reeds
saxophone literature
jazz saxophone
saxophone history
saxophone humor