Luckily, it doesn’t have to take up all of your time. I’ve worked with many beginning students, from the first year band student to the experienced musician who wanted to pick up a new instrument so I know the ins and outs of learning this instrument.
Additionally, I’ve scoured the internet for resources (including great books I recommend later in the article) and threads (such as Quora, Reddit, and Sax on the Web) to help understand saxophone pedagogy. This has helped me in my own teaching with my successful students.
After reading this, you should know:
- How much time you should take to learn the saxophone
- What specific skills are needed to play the instrument
- And how you might strategize your own journey in learning to play this wonderful instrument which is still less than 200 years old!
Understanding the Answer to “How Long Does It Take to Learn Saxophone?”
Before we can answer that question, think “what am I willing to do?” Clearly, you are a curious learner with the willingness to learn the saxophone so already you are a super motivated person.
However, even the most determined person can have a hard time with it, and you really have to be “real” with yourself by knowing what you are going to put into learning sax realistically. If not you will be frustrated with your progress so set your expectations for yourself.
For example, you will not practice 12-15 hours a day like the great Charlie Parker, which he once said he did in an interview. You won’t learn it in one sitting either so don’t keep yourself up all night wondering how long it would realistically take to do this.
Watch yourself before you wreck yourself!
At 6 pm I was literally holding an ice pack to my face to keep myself awake. Now it’s nearing midnight, and I’m just up wondering how long it would realistically take me to learn how to play the saxophone. 🤷♀️🤦♀️ #SLEEP
— Samantha Rosalie (@Sam_Rosalie) May 4, 2020
What Is the Technical Knowledge Needed to Playing the Saxophone?
There are many things that you need to learn to play the saxophone. Some of those skills are having a good embouchure, knowing all of the fingerings, basic music theory, voicing for saxophone (the process of what goes inside your mouth and body that affects your saxophone playing), setting up the instrument, having a mouthpiece set up that’s just right, basic time management, articulation, general musical knowledge, goal setting, and, of course, a passion for saxophone playing.
I tell you all of these things so you can have a methodical way of going about playing the instrument. Dependent on your strategy, you will save some time, and, regardless, you will improve your saxophone playing if you take a clear path to learning the saxophone.
It also helps to practice a lot, but remember to practice the right things as we’ve discussed. Speaking of practicing the right things, the next piece of advice will help you do just that!
Teachers Are Great and Help You Stay on the Right Path!
No strategy alone can save you from yourself. What I’m trying to tell you is that a good teacher will help you point out bad habits you might have before they develop into something worse.
Remember the phrase “practice makes perfect”? It’s true that it does, but that also means that if you practice something poorly, you will also perfect that poor habit.
Luckily, great saxophone teachers aren’t hard to find. You can find some online, including myself, but it’s always best to work with someone in person.
Your teacher will challenge you and motivate you. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t study with someone because you can also find a practice buddy.
Worst comes to worst, you can always find resources online, books on how to play, and you can record yourself playing. You can also record videos of yourself so you can work on adjusting your embouchure, or you can watch yourself practicing in front of a mirror.
Some great books you can get on saxophone include:
- The Art Of Saxophone Playing by Larry Teal
- Top Tones for the Saxophone by Sigurd Rascher
- Essential Elements for Saxophone (for a more basic user-friendly method).
A simple online search can also go a long way via forums such as Sax on the Web.
Answering the Question
First things first: how much time are you willing to practice daily? You need to commit to a daily routine of practice before you can determine how long it would realistically take to learn the saxophone.
For my beginner students, I recommend at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week. However, it is more important to remain consistent, so daily practice is essential as you will then become more comfortable playing.
You then have to answer what it means to you to learn to play saxophone? What is your goal post: is it playing like John Coltrane or is it to just have a basic handle of the horn?
If you check out this video, you’ll get to see Chris Smith’s progress after playing daily for 30-60 minutes from day 1 until month six. His recommendation to practice daily and having a good teacher rings true no matter what level of saxophone playing you want to achieve.
Realistically, playing the sax should take between six months to a year to really learn. That means maintaining the skill long after you have stopped playing regularly.
However, once you start, you won’t want to stop. Why should you?
What if I’m Pressed for Time?
Learning an instrument in a short period of time requires a special type of focus. You will be tired from the work you do, and your results will be limited.
Even still it is possible, and the saxophone is, fortunately, an instrument that you can make sounds on quite quickly. My first student had a working sound on his first day, but I definitely wanted him to continue improving his sound.
Had he not had a teacher, he would have had to be resourceful in teaching himself. Luckily, there are many great videos on learning the saxophone.
Learning how to set up and hold the instrument are tantamount to making your first sounds.
Making your first sounds won’t come naturally, so make sure to learn how to have the right embouchure. You can read about saxophone setup here.
When you understand the basics of these skills, you’ll then work on the fingerings of the saxophone. Even still, you’ll need to improve your embouchure so you won’t be completely tired after a practice session.
Although the fingering system is surprisingly easy on saxophone, you’ll want to be cognizant of having proper instrumental techniques like proper embouchure and neck strap placement so you don’t hurt yourself. You can check out Nicole’s first three days of saxophone to see what it’s like to learn saxophone in a very short period of time.
Songs that You Love Are Key to Motivation
Being on the grind to become a saxophonist doesn’t have to be miserable. Yes, you will work on things that are a bit technical like fingerings, embouchure, and instrumental setup, but you will also do it because it is the key to playing songs you love on an instrument that fits it quite well.
Yes, you could learn Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” on a toy saxophone like this guy.
I was in Home Goods 30 minutes ago looking at this toy saxophone thinking, “I wonder how long it would take to learn Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” on that?” pic.twitter.com/uY0LXliPcg
— 🍺MIKE NORTON🎸 (@themikenorton) December 15, 2018
Or you could take the time to learn the saxophone and let it sing beautifully like it was meant to be heard. You might even enjoy the differences saxophone has from other instruments like the trombone which you can read about in this article.
Either way, a working repertoire of saxophone songs such as “Take Five”, or “Careless Whisper” will go a long way to really solidify your playing. That and you will be much more motivated to learn the instrument. 🙂
You won’t struggle to learn the saxophone too much if you learn tunes like “Careless Whisper” either. These two otters might disagree with you though, or they might just dance to your wonderful playing when listening to their favorite recording of you which you can learn to do in this article.
— Otter Braun (@otteritarian) January 29, 2022
Remember to Play Consistently
Yes, it’s great to have saxophone as a fun hobby but remember to pick it up often. The instrument should be an extension of you, and just like exercise, it works when you do it consistently.
Listening to great players and surrounding yourself in saxophone culture can help you maintain this much needed consistency. There’s a plethora of music to explore with this musical instrument so I guarantee you will never be bored playing sax.
For when you do find yourself struggling with the instrument, remember to pace yourself. You will succeed in doing this if you put your mind to it, and like anything worth doing, it takes time.
Many view music as a life-long endeavor. I agree!
- Saxophone embouchure →
- The complete saxophone fingering chart →
- The different types of saxophones →
- How to hold a saxophone →
I hope you enjoy playing the saxophone.
Practicing regularly, knowing what to practice, having strong time-management skills, and developing a steady musical repertoire are all things that will help expedite the process of learning to play. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and your wonderful sax skills won’t come in less than an hour.