It doesn’t matter how fancy your sax is, how many mouthpieces you have, if you are not practicing the RIGHT way, then you will always struggle to make good consistent progress on your saxophone.
I think getting a great saxophone practice routine is one of the most important steps for EVERY sax player.
That’s why we talk so much about this topic with our thousands of students inside the Sax School member community.
So, to help you I’m going to share my super simple (but super effective) 4-step system that you can use to create a practice routine that WORKS.
If you use this structure and apply it consistently in your practice I know you will see amazing results.
Now I want to say that this is a simple saxophone practice routine. And I think that’s important because we need to cover all the key aspects of playing while focussing our routine on what’s important to our development right now.
So, your focus will change as your playing progresses. You’ll want to use this structure but change the elements to suit what you need to focus on.
Step 1 – Warmup
You might have guessed that the first element of the 4-part saxophone practice routine is a warmup. But stick with me, because warm-ups are important, and they come in all shapes and sizes. I’m not just suggesting you do 15 minutes of long tones!
Instead, I think it’s important to appreciate WHY we should do a warmup, then find a style of warmup that suits us.
So your warm-up is super important because it’s your opportunity to clear your mind and get ready for playing sax. Of course, you are working on your tone, but if you do it right, you’re also developing a whole bunch of other “hidden” elements of your playing too. A good tone warmup actually builds your embouchure strength, refines your throat and mouth position and builds your breath control.
I also think if you get it right, a warm-up will reduce the chance of neck and arm strain injuries that come from bad posture. And finally, I like to think of my warm-up as a kind of meditation where I’m focussing on my perfect tone.
So what types of exercises should we do for a warmup? There are loads of exercises that the Sax School Tutor Team and I share with our members. A good starting point is my Essential Saxophone Warmup.
My favourite warmups are working with a drone playing through octaves and fifths, or doing overtone exercises. A beautiful slow melody is perfect for a warm-up, particularly if you keep your tuner on the stand to check intonation.
I actually have a bunch of warmup materials for you in our free LOCKER along with all our free stuff. You can get it from the link down below or from our website.
Step 2: Technique
Once you are warmed up and “in the zone” it’s time to get your fingers moving with some technique practice. That’s the second part of this saxophone practice routine.
Don’t worry, just like with my warm-up, I’m not going to suggest you just “play scales with a metronome” here. That’s what everyone will tell you and yes – that will kind of work, but it’s not always the best thing for you to focus on, depending on your playing goals and level.
Technique practice can take lots of forms from scales to working on patterns. You could play classical studies or even work through arpeggios and chord tones.
One of my favourite things to practice for technique is a simple “1-Chord Jam”. I’ll do this with a metronome or drum groove work through different keys and use different scales or chords. This is a brilliant exercise for me to get my creativity flowing while also working on finger technique.
It’s better to be really systematic about the type of technique practice you’re doing so that it’s relevant to your playing goals right now.
So, if you’re just starting on sax, try working through easy 5-note finger patterns and tonguing exercises like I have in my free Saxophone Tool Kit. That’s absolutely free – get it from my website here.
But if you’re a more advanced player and you’re focussing on improvising, you’ll get more benefit from working through pentatonic or chord tone patterns, or something like my free “Faster Fingers Bebop Workout” which is also in our free LOCKER.
If you want to speed up your fingers my favourite thing is working on Chromatic Exercises. I love them. And every “legendary player” that has done a masterclass for Sax School has told me that chromatic scales are a favourite part of their saxophone practice routine too! I think there’s a message there!
If you’d like to try some, I’ve put my favourite ones together in the “7 Chromatic Workouts for Saxophone” PDF. You can get this from our LOCKER too.
Whatever you choose for your technique practice though, remember to keep it slow and controlled. Use a metronome (or a drum groove) and focus on removing the glitches in your playing. That way you can work towards a flawless, perfectly smooth finger technique that sounds effortless. Doesn’t that sound nice!
Step 3: Something New
I think it’s essential to challenge yourself with something new in every practice session.
This doesn’t need to be an entirely new piece. It could be a new section of a piece you’re learning right now or just a new tempo for that piece.
We should be challenging ourselves and pushing our playing “out of our comfort zone” in this third section of our saxophone practice routine.
As with our technique practice, it’s essential we always start slow and use a metronome every time we practice.
Also, it’s essential to be super systematic about how we tackle something new. It’s okay to start with just one bar ( or 1 measure) of the music. Break it down to the smallest section that is achievable for you in this practice session.
And, remember to keep your pencil handy. Mark things on the music to remind yourself – where are you breathing? Circle that problem note that you have a tendency to miss, or remind yourself of an articulation or a dynamic.
If you are systematic in this “something new” part of your saxophone practice routine, then you’ll finish the session feeling happy that you have made some real progress. And, that’s a feeling I want you to have every single time you practice your sax!
Step 4: Something Fun
If you’ve watched my videos for a while then you’ll probably guess that my last (and most important) part of every practice routine is “Something Fun”. Why?
Well, playing sax is fun! That’s why we do it. But most of us don’t celebrate and enjoy the pieces that we really love to play, and can play well.
This is a great opportunity to refresh pieces in your personal “set list”. But it’s also a chance to feel really good about your sax playing and appreciate the progress you’ve already made.
So that’s the 4-part saxophone practice routine. It’s a simple idea, but if you apply that framework to every one of your practice sessions it will make a huge difference.
There are so many more things to talk about on this topic like how to divide up your time for the 4 sessions, how to track your progress, or how long to practice. We will cover these in another session.
For now though, if you’re a Sax School member then check out the full masterclass we have on “how to practice sax better” inside the Sax School member area. We really go deep into this topic and there are loads of resources along with that to help you.
If you’re not a member and you’re ready to really push your playing forward then you can Get started with Sax School!
Don’t forget to grab the free resources I mentioned in this video. Lots of them are in our free Locker (link below). You can also find them on the Courses page of our website.