What’s stopping you from practicing the saxophone? Most people would say “It’s just too hard to put together!” Or “It’s too inconvenient to set up!”
Yes, it’s true! Putting the saxophone together can be a major deterrent when it comes to practicing. Knowing how to set up your instrument will make the process easier, and it won’t be as intimidating after much practice.
Today, I will cover:
- The Components of the saxophone
- How to make setting it up a painless (and repair-free) process
- What you’ll need to have a working saxophone every time you play!
In this article, I will talk about putting the saxophone together in 5 easy steps and you can get to jamming on it in just a few minutes. Let’s go!
The Components of the Saxophone
The saxophone looks intimidating to non-saxophonists because of its fancy construction. It is a truly elegant and complex piece of machinery. However, it can be simplified into three components.
- The Body of the Saxophone
- The Neck of the Saxophone
- The Mouthpiece of the Saxophone
The body of the saxophone is where all the keys lie and is the most recognizable component of the saxophone.
The neck of the saxophone is where the octave key will trigger the release should you play notes above the saxophone’s middle C.
The mouthpiece is a part of the saxophone that can cause a headache for you if not set up right, both literally and figuratively!
So What About Setting It Up?
Before getting started playing and setting up the saxophone, you’ll need some additional supplies:
- A Reed
- A comfortable neck strap
- A tube of cork grease
And, last, but not least, a comfortable practice space where you’ll spend hours playing and having a good time!
Let’s put the saxophone together in 5 Easy Steps
Step 1: Get That Neck Strap On!
It’s a right of passage to one day forget you have the neck strap on, so you might as well have it on now. Having that neck strap on is going to alleviate the pain of potentially dropping your sax should you not have your neck strap on.
I generally always have my neck strap on before starting to set up my horn, and it’s never a bad idea for me to be relaxed before playing.
Step 2: Wet Your Reed.
Wet your reed for a few minutes. The reason for this is because the vibrations of your reed help produce the sound of the saxophone so a wet reed will vibrate better than a dry one.
Keep the reed in your mouth through steps 3 and 4.
Don’t worry, the reed doesn’t taste weird or anything. Just ask this guy.
— Rokhead (@RoknSpock) August 8, 2016
Step 3: Hang the Body on Your Strap and Get the Neck on Your Sax.
Be Gentle! Getting the neck on your sax too tight can not only cause an accident, but it can also cause damage to your octave key over time by bending it too hard.
I cannot stress how important it is for you to always have one hand holding the bell of the sax so you don’t drop it.
It pays to be careful with your saxophone. Getting that body on your strap is one step closer to putting the saxophone together, but we’re not out of the woods yet!
Hold the bell with one hand to make sure your saxophone doesn’t drop.
Step 4: Get the Reed just Under Level with the Tip of the Mouthpiece.
When the reed is aligned in this manner with the mouthpiece, your reed will resonate better. Get the ligature on and make sure that it doesn’t damage the reed.
Tighten the ligature but not too tight. Make sure the ligature keeps that reed comfortably in the same place you set it in.
Step 5: Get the Mouthpiece on the Neck.
Twist it on gently, cupping your hand around the mouthpiece. Your ligature should be secure enough that an easy touch won’t cause issues with maladjustment on your reed.
Use a small amount of cork grease when setting up often on the neck to make this step that much easier. Please don’t use too much cork grease though, as too much cork grease will cause the cork on your neck to become unbound.
Finally, adjust your neck strap so that the mouthpiece is level with your mouth. You can adjust accordingly, lifting the buckle up if it’s too low, and pulling the buckle down if it’s too high. This will help you play well, as the saxophone should feel comfortable to help you play at your best.
Once you are comfortable setting up and playing you can read about how to record the saxophone here to show off your skills!
Be careful when setting up your saxophone because you don’t want a costly repair bill. I know I don’t like when I have to get the instrument repaired. Setting it up carefully will help ensure that you don’t have to take it to the shop all the time.
What about the materials I need?
There are plenty of materials aside from the saxophone that come with it, but what if they aren’t to your liking? The new saxophone will come with a neck strap, mouthpiece, a reed, and probably some cork grease for sure.
Even still, you’ll want to switch the mouthpiece depending on your playing style. There are several different types of mouthpieces to choose from and it’s common that you’ll become a gear-head if you’re willing to experiment with different materials.
I always try to be prepared. This means having more than enough reeds, an extra mouthpiece (or two!), a large enough space to set up your saxophone, and plenty of time to warm up. You never know what’s going to happen outside of your practice room!
So let’s look at each component of the saxophone setup, including the mouthpiece/ligature/reed combination, neck strap, and even the stand so you’re not carrying the horn the entire you’re practicing.
Once you are playing often in public, you won’t always have the most comfortable setup conditions available to you such as ample space, so being able to set up quickly will help you get through the challenges of a real-world professional playing experience. It also helps if you set up with more than enough time so you can focus on the music.
Each one of these components is crucial to your playing, so let’s check them out.
The Mouthpiece/Reed/Ligature Combination
The mouthpiece consists of the mouthpiece itself, the reed, and the ligature.
Depending on your style you might want to try several before sticking with the one that fits you the best. This depends on the sound you are going for, but some say the best players can make any mouthpiece sound good.
First, let’s look at the most basic mechanics of the mouthpiece.
A mouthpiece is a complex piece of equipment that includes the tone chamber, the baffle, a ligature, and, a reed of your choosing.
The Tone Chamber of your mouthpiece affects the airflow to your saxophone. Because a larger chamber has more area, you will have to produce a greater effort from your lungs. A smaller chamber will help you produce a brighter sound, whereas the bigger one will amplify the lower frequencies of the spectrum giving you a darker sound.
A darker sound is better for smooth, acoustic music, whereas a brighter sound is more effective when playing in louder amplified settings.
The Baffle is the surface of your mouthpiece that the air you blow will hit. The closer this is to your reed, the more powerful and bright your sound will be.
Playing a low baffle will produce a darker sound, whereas, if you want that brighter sound you need to get a mouthpiece with a high baffle.
Getting into the gear aspect of a saxophone can be intimidating because there’s so much choice, and you’ll find a lot of reviews of mouthpieces to help you make an informed decision.
Saxophonist Steve Neff provides a lot of great insight into saxophone gear including mouthpiece (and other gear) reviews.
Just posted a review of the Theo Wanne Shiva 3 tenor sax mouthpiece in an 8 tip opening. Theo refers to this mouthpiece as “the destroyer” and boy does it have power, projection, edge and brightness determined by how you shape the tone. Check it out!https://t.co/DrNV2QgUta pic.twitter.com/MCfQ58F2pM
— Steve Neff (@NeffMusic) October 15, 2021
Next, you’ll want to pick a good reed.
A lot of people swear by a certain reed, and I will tell you, mine is the D’addario Jazz Selects Filed reeds, size 3 Medium strength.
Reeds come in different sizes and different strengths ranging anywhere from 2 Soft to 5 Hard. A softer reed will make response easier to play softly because there is less resistance but are harder to play in tune.
I recommend a reed that is in the middle- 3 (or 3.5) Medium is a perfect strength reed.
For the alto saxophone, the reeds generally come in packs of ten and we recommend you to get your reeds in packs as opposed to single (one-off) purchases because you will be more likely to get a better working reed that way. Unfortunately, sometimes, reeds don’t work ideally so it’s best to get a full pack to test each individual reed out for best playing results.
The ligature is the final piece of equipment on your mouthpiece.
This needs to be a sturdy piece of equipment, and, while some brands tend to market themselves as the best ligature available, we recommend that you simply have a ligature that tightens the reed effectively.
Usually, whatever mouthpiece you have will have a working ligature. There is no need to buy a new ligature if your ligature is already functioning in this manner.
So, to summarize our main thoughts on the mouthpiece/ligature/reed combination:
- Use a soft reed with a high baffle and small chambered mouthpiece for a brighter sound
- OR, use a harder reed with a lower baffle and large chambered mouthpiece for a darker sound.
Obviously, the type of music that needs to be played will help determine what your mouthpiece setup will look like.
Your Practice Space
Once you are set up, it is essential to have an effective practice space. Getting set up on the saxophone is the hardest part if your practice space is effective.
I prefer a quiet space, one that is free of distractions. If I get interrupted during practice, it becomes a waste of time to play.
This space can be anywhere loud sounds are allowed. If I play somewhere where I need to be quiet, I try to practice at pianissimo and with a towel. However, this can be very distracting on a regular basis.
Finally, there is a difference between performing for your friends and loved ones, rather than focused practice. If I want my friends and family to be supportive, I would let them know how they can help me by making sure I have the amount of uninterrupted practice time that I desire.
Once they know they’ll want to help you with your practice goal!
Enjoy your practice space!
So Let’s Review Setting Up The Saxophone
- Get your neck strap on. Make sure to use the neck strap as a safety net for holding your saxophone, but do not fall into a false sense of security holding it with only the neck strap.
- Wet your reed for premium resonance.
- Grab the horn by the bell and hook it up to your neck strap then get the neck on the horn. Remember to really be sure your sax isn’t going to fall. This has actually happened to me, so even sitting down during this process helps.
- Adjust your reed onto your mouthpiece and tighten the ligature. Make sure your mouthpiece/ligature/reed setup is appropriate for playing the style of music you’d like to play.
- Get the mouthpiece on the neck.
Remember to be careful and always have the saxophone attached to your neck strap, holding it with at least one hand at all times.
Once you are set up and recording, learn more about the best sax mic in this article.
- 17 Pro saxophone tips – assembly/disassembly →
- How to play the alto saxophone →
- The сomplete saxophone fingering сhart →
- Parts of the saxophone →
Final Thoughts and Suggestions For Setting Up Your Saxophone
Setting up is always going to be the first thing you do before getting to play, so really embrace these steps.
Follow these tips to set up your saxophone, and don’t be afraid to really love playing, it’ll make the process of setting up that much easier!