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Saxophone & Clarinet Lessons For beginners


These notes are not intended as a guide on how to play the saxophone
or clarinet, but more to make newcomers to those instruments aware of some
of the problems that beginners experience and how to overcome them.



Buying an instrument
Teaching yourself ?
Producing a good tone
Natural ability and musical talent
Beginning Jazz Improvisation
The next steps

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Buying an Instrument
If you are buying an instrument new, or particularly secondhand, it is always advisable to ask a recognised teacher
for an opinion on the instrument before you go out and spend hundreds of pounds.


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Teaching yourself
Definitely not a good idea! There are just too many ways to get it wrong.
There are some good players around who are self-taught, but any self taught
musician who has gone on to achieve recognition in established musical circles
will tell you of the problems that could have been avoided, and the time that
could have been saved by going to a good teacher.

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Producing a good tone
One thing is for sure - a good tone takes a long time to acquire - and anyway,
what is a good tone?

Well I guess it depends who's doing the listening! - but in general terms a
steady, even and rounded sound that is produced over the whole range of the
instrument, not thin at the top and not too heavy on the lower notes, would be
accepted by most people.

Most beginners need to start with a fairly soft reed, a 1½ to 2 grade should
enable you to get a reasonable tone on the middle range notes without too much
effort. An upright stance with your head held up is the best position for playing.
Make sure that the neck sling is adjusted so that you don't need to bend your neck
down to reach the mouthpiece

The embouchre (or mouth shape) for playing a single reed instrument can
depend to some extent on your physical characteristics, but basically, your top
teeth should rest on the top of the mouthpiece and your lower lip should be pulled
slightly back, although not too far back, to cover your lower teeth.

With your mouth placed about half way up the slope of the mouthpiece and
reasonably firm pressure from your lips to form a seal, and to stop your cheeks
from puffing out....... you are just about ready to announce your presence to the

Air should be pushed out through the instrument with pressure from the
stomach muscles - something like breathing on a window or brass ornament when
you polish them, keeping the air flow as steady as possible.

Correct breathing is one of the most important considerations for a good tone
and proper use of the stomach muscles cannot be over emphasised

Most beginners are able to get a reasonable sound on the mid-range notes
after a few weeks, but have difficulty going below low D and above the upper half
of the middle register. Problems with the low notes, assuming your instrument is in
good condition, are almost always due to incorrect breathing (see above) and
'squeaking' problems with notes from middle G upwards can often be caused by
taking the mouthpiece too far into your mouth.

These notes are only a general guide to good tone production, a good teacher
will be able to sort most problems out fairly quickly and will be able to advise you,
in much more detail on embouchre, reeds, mouthpieces and all the other problems
foreseen and unforeseen that you will probably encounter.

Other recent less common problems encountered by this teacher......

Mouthpieces put on upside down (with the reed on top).
Left hand where the right should be and vice-versa.
Cork grease used as lip salve.
Saxophone stuffed with tea bags.

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Teachers are often asked 'how much should I practise?'

Guess it depends on how good you want to get and how quickly you want to
get there, but the most important thing, as with any other exercise, is to have a
regular practise routine.

Here are a few general points regarding practise --

1 Absolute beginners generally do best with half-an-hour every day.

2. A half-an-hour everyday is far more effective than two or three hours at the weekend.

3 It is better to practise when you're not tired and before a meal.

4 Make sure that your neck strap is properly adjusted.

5 Start with the easiest things first. Holding long notes for 5 to10 seconds each is ideal, this will enable you to improve your tone and will strengthen you embouchre.

6 Listen to yourself and experiment with embouchre (mouth shape) to improve your tone.

7 Keep your shoulders and arms as relaxed as possible.

8 When you play scales or tunes don't lift your fingers too far off the keys.

9 As well as reading practise, try to play an easy tune by ear.

10 Enjoy your practise sessions.

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Natural ability and musical talent
Many beginners and novices question whether they have the musical ability
to play an instrument.

Naturally, some people will progress faster than others, but anybody with a
reasonable degree of physical co-ordination should be able learn to play a
musical instrument fairly well. The basic essentials are patience and

Most people start to play by learning to read music. It doesn't take long to
learn to recognize a few notes and within a very short time you can be playing
simple tunes.

In fact, learning to read music is easy - the more difficult thing of course,
is being able to sight read fluently whilst actually playing your instrument. This
involves quite a high level of co-ordination between eye, brain and hands but
like most skills of this type it is mainly a matter of practise.

Being able to play from written music is not an end in itself, in the simplest
terms it is just the most convenient way of getting to play the notes that you are
required to play!..... In fact, playing from written music does not necessarily
require a great deal of natural musical talent. Fundamentally, it could been
seen as a mechanical operation, which consists of moving your fingers in
response to messages received by your eye. There are countless things that
we do every day which could be described in the same way, from writing a
letter to making a cup of tea!

Playing by ear is a different matter. If you are tone deaf you had better
stick to the sheet music, but as with learning to read, if you work at it, obviously
you will make progress. After all, you don't need a sheet of music to
whistle your favourite what's the difference?

But of course, if you are at all serious about getting on and playing with
other competent musicians, the ability to read a musical part is essential.
Along with that, you need to have good intonation (playing in tune), rhythmic
sense, a reasonable technique and all of the other skills that are necessary

for a good musical performance. The degree to which you have these skills
will certainly be enhanced by practise, but also of course by your level of natural
musical ability and awareness.

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Beginning Jazz Improvisation

Jazz improvisation......' is an activity in which a gnat can drink or an
elephant can bathe'.

This quote, which was originally used about an entirely different subject,
is also very applicable to jazz improvisation. The basic point is that you don't
need a highly developed ear and phenomenal technique in order to get started,
in fact you can start with virtually no technique at all.

Improvisation can simply mean playing a tune and modifying note
lengths and swing feel to your personal taste. Try this, then when you feel
confident you can try altering one or two melody notes. The main thing is to
start doing it and not worry too much if things don't go as you would like on your
first few attempts. In contrast to formal reading, where it is essential that the
part is played as accurately as possible, simple melodic improvisation
allows you the freedom to play the notes exactly as you feel. But integrity is
everything! Always be certain that you can play the notes as written before you
decide to change them in any way!

The Twelve Bar Blues

The Blues is the bedrock of jazz. It can be very simple and can also be very sophisticated, with many chord substitutions and variations.

The easiest way to get started with the blues is to learn the 'blues scale', which is based on the minor pentatonic scale.
For instance, for a Bb instrument (tenor saxophone, clarinet, trumpet etc), playing in the key of 'F' concert, the blues scale would be based on the notes -
G, Bb, C, C#, D, F and G - extending on up or down as you like.

Many people have built whole careers just playing on this scale alone!
But discerning musicians will soon realize its limitations, at which point a knowledge of chords and harmonic progressions becomes necessary.

In order to improvise fluently and effectively a good ear and technique will certainly be required. But proper guidance on what and how to practise can save you a lot of time and effort. (See Lessons).

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The Next Steps

If you're already fixed up with lessons, then your teacher will advise you
on the most effective ways to improve and progress.

If not, and you have an instrument and can play a few notes, save yourself
time and energy by arranging some lessons.

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Clarinet Lessons Cheltenham
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