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Parent's Guide to children playing the Saxophone

AGE GROUP BOYS AND GIRLS 9 -  ADULT

The saxophone, like the clarinet is an instrument in the woodwind family. This instrument is usually made of brass and is played with a single-reed mouthpiece.  The saxophone has found its home in popular music, big band music, rock and roll, blues and jazz.

What age should my child start saxophone lessons?

The saxophone is a popular instrument in school programs so your child will have the opportunity to participate in band  with their friends. Due to the size of the instrument and the required lung capacity the recommended age to start a child in saxophone lessons is 9 years old. It is also important to consider the weight of the instrument, stretch of the child's arm and size of their hands/fingers when considering this instrument.  Their arms must be strong enough to support the instrument and their hands big enough to reach the keys.

Saxophone lessons will teach your child the proper position for holding the instrument.  They will focus on embouchure (the way you shape your mouth while playing), sound repertoire, finger placement,  and music reading.   Many teachers choose the classical repertoire because it will give students the fundamentals needed to play the style of choice in the future.  The theory taught to play the saxophone is also very similar to the clarinet and the flute.  Many times young players will learn on the clarinet, because it is smaller, and then switch over to saxophone to broaden their musical talents.


Registration for private music can be done at anytime, as long as space is available, and your session will be prorated.  Registration can be done in person, by phone, by mail or fax.  In addition, some organizations will allow you to register on line.   Normally these programs are very popular and space can be limited so don't delay registration or you may miss out! Music programs are usually 16 -20 week sessions.  You will also find that there are instructors who will come right to your home to give lessons. The best place for your child to start instruction is through a school program.

COMMITMENT REQUIREMENTS

How much practice is necessary?

As with anything, improving in music takes practice.  One of the major problems with children and music is the drudgery of practicing.  There is no set time, however your child must spend quality time each day reviewing what they were taught.  Practice must be concentrated and focused.  Set the same time every day to practice so that it becomes part of a routine or habit. For young children 20 or 30 minutes seems like an eternity and they spend more time watching the clock then practicing.  Instead of setting a time frame, use repetition as your gauge.  For example have your child play each piece 3  - 5 times per day.  The child does not pay attention to the amount of time they are practicing but knows that they are on the third time and almost finished.   Ideally, your child should have a place to practice without distractions and it should not disrupt the household.  If the home is small then you should consider the instrument chosen.  A very large instrument or a noisy instrument could be very disruptive and you may not have the room for it.

How long are sessions?

Depending on the instrument and the skill level of the child lessons will run either 30, 45 or 60 minutes per week. Lessons are scheduled on an individual basis.  Your registration reserves you a time slot for the duration of your instruction period.  It is imperative that you arrive promptly for your lesson.  They will normally give you only one make-up lesson per session and any other that the child misses will be a forfeiture of that lesson.

Recitals...

Formal and informal recitals are an important part of the music program. They will offer your child the opportunity to perform, listen and learn proper recital etiquette.  These recitals are not mandatory but it is to your child's advantage for them to participate. 

 

COST REQUIREMENTS

Cost of lessons?

The cost of music lessons has four components:

  • music lessons
  • cost of the instrument
  • cost of materials
  • competition or recital fees. 
Music Lessons..

The cost for saxophone lessons would depend on whether your child is taking private or group lessons, the length of the class and the qualifications of the instructor.

Music sessions will run for 16 -20 weeks.   As a general indication, most instruments will be $25 - $40 for a 30 minute lesson,  $35 -$50 for a 45 minute lesson and $50 - $60 for a 60 minute lesson.  Some organizations offer family discounts and group rates.  Many students enjoy taking lessons with their family or friends.

The saxophone is fairly easy to start and your child will be able to make some sound right away and will play some basic tunes in a few weeks or lessons.

The Cost of the Saxophone...

The cost of the instrument would depend on whether you rent or purchase the instrument.  If you rent the instrument it is usually done on a three month trial basis that will automatically turn into a year contract if the instrument is not returned.  You can pay the cost all once at the beginning or they will automatically bill your credit card on a monthly basis.  If you choose to purchase the instrument you have the option of purchasing a new or used instrument.  A used instrument will be substantially cheaper and many times are like new.  Cost information for purchasing or renting a clarinet is provided below.

Materials...

Initially, the materials required will be a method book. Some music stores will include the book with the rental of the instrument. In addition, some musical accessories are needed.  You will probably need to purchase a mouthpiece since generally the ones supplied with the Sax are not very good.  In addition, you will need reeds in size 1 1/2 or 2, a neck strap, stand  cleaning cloth and cork grease.

Recital cost....

Competitions and recitals are a wonderful way for your child to show their abilities to the world and it is extremely exciting for them.  However, many recitals and competitions often have entry fees.  You will need to discuss with child's instructor their philosophy on this subject.

 

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED

Do Saxophones come in sizes?

Saxophones come in several different sizes:

  • Soprano may be either straight or curved. This instrument is difficult for beginners because the intonation (playing in tune) is more challenging than Alto or Tenor
  • Alto may also be curved or straight.  It is the instrument recommended for beginners.
  • Tenor is larger than the Alto and has a larger mouthpiece.
  • Baritone is the largest of the Sax family.

The alto saxophone is advisable for beginners because of its size and shape make it manageable for children.  Other factors making the alto a popular first saxophone is that is generally less expensive.  The Alto Sax is most often used in school band programs and it is popular even in the professional field.

What should I do rent or buy a Saxophone?

Initially, your best option is to rent a saxophone from your local music store.  If you rent the instrument it is usually done on a three month trial basis that will automatically turn into a year contract if the instrument is not returned.  It will cost you approximately $50 - $60 per month. 

Long-term, dedicated students should purchase a saxophone at some point in their development.    There are several different types of horns. Regardless of which type of saxophone you settle on, you will need to choose among three instrument quality levels: student, intermediate, and professional.  

Student Model
Manufacturers are now producing starter instruments that are affordable, comfortable and are capable of producing pleasing tone quite easily. If your child's commitment to the saxophone is uncertain, a student model is the choice for you.  A student model will cost between $300 to $1,000. After a few years if your child stays with the instrument and has improved you can then move to the next level.

Intermediate Model
Intermediate models fall between student and professional instruments  Though the key work and action may feel similar to a professional instrument, it will not produce the full tone of pro model.  What you are paying for as you go up and down in models is materials.  Higher priced instruments use more expensive materials.  Intermediate horns will run you from about $1,000.00 to $1,500.00.

Professional Models
These instruments are made of materials that are of the highest quality resulting in advanced playability as well as a significant step-up in tone, response, and intonation. A pro horn can range any where from $2,500 to $8,000.

If you plan to purchase a used instrument, which will cost substantially less, seriously consider buying one from a reputable dealer that will stand behind the purchase.

You will also need a method book, reeds, a neck strap, stand, cleaning cloth and cork grease. You can expect these items to cost approximately $20 to $30 dollars.  In addition, you may consider purchasing a mouthpiece since generally the ones supplied with the Sax are not very good.  The best mouthpiece for beginners should have a medium tip opening. The reed should be somewhat stiff so that the lips and mouth will have to work hard to make a nice sound so that mouth muscles develop properly.

A beginner will normally use a number in size 1 1/2 or 2 reed.   You should purchase several reeds at a time.  Reeds need to be replaced often, they will last about 2-3 weeks.  To help increase the life span of the reed your child should rotate it so that it has time to dry.  Once the child's Embouchure improves the reed that they need will change to a higher number.  A higher number will make it easier for them to reach more difficult notes.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Did you know....

That the instrument that your child begins with may not necessarily be the one that they stay with forever.  They are however,  learning the basics of music theory and harmony that can be easily converted to another instrument.

You will know when your child is ready to enter competition when he/she feels extremely confident and is willing to play in front of people. This is the best sign that your child is ready to go out and be judged for their performance.

Rewards work very well for children. Be sure to grant an occasional simple reward to help encourage practice.  Stickers are a great way to show approval.  Praise also tends to be a great reward; there is no substitution for a pat on the back for a job well done.

Instruments are very delicate and should always be protected from heat, cold and quick changes in temperature.

It is important to properly maintain your instrument at all times.

Basic Parts of the Saxophone:

Saxophone's have three parts: main body, neck joint, and mouthpiece assembly.   The body of the saxophone is the main part with the keys, bell and bow. The neck joint connects the body to the mouthpiece assembly which consists of the mouthpiece, ligature, reed, and the cork. The mouthpiece is a plastic or metal piece with a cylindrical shape that goes around the corkThe cork is a piece of cork around the end of the neck that creates the seal for the air The ligature is a round, metal piece with a screw(s) that tighten to hold the reed onto the mouthpiece.  The reed is a thin piece of wood that creates the vibration. The neck is a curved piece containing the octave mechanism (it has a goose neck appearance on the tenor but is more of a 90 degree angle on the alto, most sopranos do not have this piece).  The neck strap, used to support the heavier instruments, clips to the back of the instrument.

 
Harmony Two or more different pitches sounding at the same time
EVERY GOOD BOY DOES FINE A rule to remember the lines of a staff by using the first letter of each word (EGBDF).
Duet A composition for two players.
FACE A rule to remember, from bottom to top, the spaces on a musical staff.
Practices Time set aside for your child to review what the teacher has taught them during their normal lessons.
Solo A composition written for one player, often with a piano accompaniment.
Staff The five lines and four spaces used for writing music
Musical Alphabet The letters A through G.  These are used to name the notes on the staff in a LINE - SPACE - LINE - SPACE order.
Reed A small piece of shaved cane that is the actual tone generator for the instrument
Embouchure The formation of the mouth around the mouthpiece and the reed.
Woodwind Instrument A musical instrument in which sound is produced by blowing through a mouthpiece against an edge or by a vibrating reed, in which pitch is varied by opening or closing the holes on the instrument.