Do you want to know how to learn alto saxophone fast? I’ve got four great tips for you, from my interview with Sax School student Sue.
Sue is our Sax School Legend for January 2022. In our chat, Sue shared some great insights into how to learn alto saxophone fast, using everything Sax School has to offer.
I’ve helped thousands of people get better on saxophone, with saxophone lessons online. And even though I’ve been teaching so many people over the years, from all around the world, I still love the stories I hear from students when they’re making really great progress.
So Sue’s been learning with Sax School for just a short period of time. But what she’s managed to achieve on her saxophone is so inspirational, even though she’s had some hurdles along the way. I want to share a little bit about her story.
I want to give you four takeaways you can learn from Sue’s experience that you can apply to your playing. Now, it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or if you’re a seasoned pro, I think these four takeaways will help you at whatever level you’re at right now.
We chose Sue as our Legend this month [January 2022) because we thought what Sue is doing is incredible. But it was even more amazing when I actually spoke with her and found out more about her story.
Sue decided to start learning saxophone as a more mature learner during the whole COVID crisis. And she lives in the north of France.
So very cleverly, the first thing she did is she went to a local music shop and she arranged to rent a Yamaha 280 alto saxophone. That’s actually a really great choice if you’re looking for a beginner saxophone.
If you need some more tips on choosing a beginner saxophone, or choosing a used saxophone, there are lots of different options. We’ve got a saxophone buyer’s guide, and you can get it free from our LOCKER.
So that’s really where the fun and games started. Maybe this was because of COVID, but the music shop pretty much just gave Sue the saxophone with no instructions or information. So she spent that first week scratching her head, trying to work out how to even put the saxophone together, let alone how to play it.
But anyway, it doesn’t matter because after that she discovered Sax School, and then we helped to get on track. So that’s where we pick up the story.
Sue buys her first saxophone
Nigel: So you started on the [rented] Yamaha 280 and I think you’ve now bought a saxophone. You don’t rent anymore.
Sue: Yes. I decided that I was able to play the sax, and I bought a Yamaha 62. The other sax had such a vibration. It was obviously an old saxophone which had been rented by hundreds of people. And it had very, very clunky keys that didn’t always press properly. Of course, I didn’t know any better so I thought it was normal. I couldn’t get some of the lower notes. They were wavering a lot. I worked later that probably there was the hole not shutting properly.
Nigel: Yeah. A bit of a leak. It’s really, really common. The saxophone that you’ve got – the 62- it’s the same as my alto over there. It’s a great saxophone.
Sue: I hope I’ll be able to keep it for a while and get some good stuff out of it. It’s quiet here which is excellent because I don’t upset my neighbours. Most of them live in Paris. So they come down during the summer holidays only. Apart from during COVID last year when quite a few were here all the time. I thought by keeping all the windows closed, they wouldn’t actually be hearing me, but I was met in the road the other day by one of the neighbours… who said, “you’ve made a lot of progress!” That means I must have been terrible before!
Eight Weeks into Sax School
Watch the video to see Sue playing after just 8 weeks of learning.
That’s one of the first videos that Sue sent in for one of our Sax School masterclasses. I think she’d been playing for about eight weeks by that point. So you could hear that she had a couple of hurdles at the start. And actually, she’s not telling you, but Sue’s got quite a few health issues that have made learning difficult for her as well.
Notwithstanding all of that, Sue has made great progress. And through my conversation with her, I was trying to find out what had helped her to make this really fast progress. One of the things that we discovered was how she’s making use of all of the resources inside Sax School. I think that’s a key really – check out what Sue says.
Nigel: You’ve actually submitted a video to every single Spotlight Session since you joined. You joined in June, and from July onwards – every one! That’s awesome. …You’ve been really involved with the Community, and active on there and connecting with other players. That’s awesome too. You’ve been doing the monthly challenges. I’ve been seeing the videos you’ve been posting for that. So you’ve really used all the resources inside Sax School, which is fabulous.
Sue: I’m sure there’s some I haven’t discovered yet, but for the moment, yes, I use as much as I can. And I often listen to a theory lesson when I’m in bed, just before I go to sleep. Or the students playing, just before I go to sleep – it’s nice and relaxing.
Nigel: That’s brilliant. You were really digging into it.
Sue’s Practice Routine
Watch the video to see Sue’s progress six months in.
Nigel: Tell us a little bit about the way you approach practicing.
Sue: I think you can get quite a lot of advice [in Sax School]. As soon as I had a question as a beginner, I would post systematically. I started on the Starter Program, and a lot of your advice was to do the Warm-ups. So … I started with the Easy Warm-up, and then I did the Five-Minute Warm-up and then the Classical Warm-up. And I did them every day.
Nigel: Do you have a regular practice routine as well? Do you try and do it daily?
Sue: Yeah. I fit in a couple of hours late afternoon. At the moment I’m doing overtones. And that part of it is the nitty-gritty warm-ups and the technical bits. And then in the evening after dinner, I come up and play for 1, 2, 3, depending on how I get carried away – and that’s when I work on the pieces of music.
It’s so inspirational to hear the amount of time that Sue is putting into practice. And the focus she’s got too, in the way she’s structuring her practice.
Tips for New Players
I wanted to finish up by asking Sue if she had any tips for new players, so things that she is doing in her practice that could really help you if you’re a new player.
Sue: I think I could suggest something I did a lot in the beginning, which was actually listening to you or Chris, in detail. This is for the tone to start with because when you’re a total beginner, It’s not easy to know if what you’re playing is coming out anything like it should do.
So I would listen very carefully, and try and imitate it. Sometimes I’d sing it, and then play it. And then I would press the record button on my phone and I’d record you. And I’d record me just after it. Just small parts, sometimes even just one or two notes. When I was recording on the phone, I could then be sure that it was the same quality of sound and then I’d think, “Oh my God, Is that what I just did?”
So I’d come back and perfect it. Then the same applies during songs I’m trying to learn, like the [monthly] challenges. There’ll be a frequency that I can hear is going up, but I’m not quite sure what’s happening so I listen again and then I try and record it and I try – I use a lot of recording space but I can wipe them all off. But I find it really helps.
Nigel: That’s brilliant. … I mean, you’re using technology there to really help you to learn quickly, with the resources that we have and learning by yourself. Absolutely fantastic.
Sue: And I’d like to thank you because I think it’s an excellent structure that’s going there. And I was just over the moon when I came across it, because everything I would have imagined to be in a good school was there.
What an inspiring story. And I forgot to mention actually that Sue’s background in her career is actually as an English teacher. She’s been a teacher for decades. So for me, it was really great to hear her perspective on Sax School after spending years and years as a teacher herself. It was really wonderful to get some good feedback from her.
Four Takeaways for You
I promised you four takeaways that you can learn from Sue’s story, and that you can apply to your own learning process to help you learn faster.
Takeaway #1: Get Good Help
Particularly if you’re just starting your journey with saxophone, it’s so important to seek out and get some really good help. It could be from Sax School. It could be from another teacher. Most important though, is that you’re not scratching your head, trying to work it out yourself.
Takeaway #2: Use the Resources
It’s really important that wherever you’re learning you make great use of all the resources. Now in Sax School, we do things like masterclasses, we’ve got support from our tutors where you can ask questions. And we’ve got a whole range of different types of lessons, and help with how to structure your practice routine. We’ve got a really active community.
There are so many things inside there that our students have access to. And one of the reasons that Sue made such great progress is because she got involved with all the aspects of Sax School, so she used all the resources.
Now as teachers – whether you’re learning from me or learning from somebody else – we build these amazing resources because we know that those are the things that help students to make the fastest progress.
That’s why my tutors and I have spent so much time building this incredible resource inside Sax School. But really, as a student, you need to use all those resources to get the main benefit from it. So make use of all those resources.
Takeaway #3 Be Consistent
Now, the next thing, which is super important, and you’ve probably heard this before, is to be consistent. Be consistent with your practice.
Sue is fortunate and she can spend quite a long time practicing. But the most important thing is not the amount of time she’s practicing, but the fact that she’s showing up every day and doing something. And that’s helping her to get to her goals faster. So that’s really important.
Takeaway #4: Community
Then the fourth thing I wanted to mention to you is community. It’s something that really helps Sue. She’s learning remotely in Northern France, and she hasn’t got a lot of saxophone players around her. But she’s connected to a lot of musicians through our community, and that really enhances her whole learning experience. It’s something that we do inside Sax School, that’s a big part of our learning process.
So however you’re choosing to learn – whether it’s with Sax School or somewhere else – connect with other musicians, so you can be around people who are also going through the same journey as you. Then, you can share tips and techniques and skills and just support each other. It’s so important.
I hope you enjoyed Sue’s story. If you want to find out more about what we’re doing inside Sax School, then go explore the other things on our blog and on the YouTube channel. You can even try a 14-day free trial. It’s a great way to see if Sax School’s a good fit for you. Try out some lessons, get some support from the tutors, connect with the community. If it’s a good fit, we’d love to welcome you, with our thousands of other students who are learning from all around the world at all levels too, from beginner, right through to seriously advanced students.
I hope these four points inspire you to take some action and really focus your learning on saxophone, so that you can make some great progress.