The First Saxophone Lesson

On October 2016 I had a group of 10 students who were going to try to play the saxophone for the first time. Ever.

I set up 10 chairs, 5 saxophones, and 5 music stands.
I had the Accent on Achievement book ready to go, and then it hit me...

The saxophone requires a pretty detailed procedure to be set up correctly.  Yes, the students would be working with a partner, but my students' native language is Japanese. I would be delivering the instructions in English.

So I decided to do a quick YouTube search for some effective videos on setting up the saxophone. Looking back on the lesson I can tell you that these videos made the first class a total success.


Set up the stands to play the role of tables for today. Join the neck and the mouthpiece, but leave the ligature and reed parts for later. Have the rest of the saxophone in the case off to the side or behind the students' chairs.

Setting up the mouthpiece

In the first video, the students will start with the mouthpiece and the neck of the saxophone joined together. This was PERFECT because it made the rest of the saxophone setup a much smoother process.

I had the students follow the instructions on the video and I only had to pause the video to do a quick visual check to make sure everyone was on track.

Together with the help of their partners, all students were able to follow this video. I highly recommend it.

Before moving on, I did a quick check and adjusted a few reeds that needed to be aligned to the edges of the mouthpiece. Everything else (mouthpiece, ligature, and neck) looked good!


Check that the ligature is set up correctly. At least 1 or 2 of my students sets it up incorrectly on their first lesson.

Making the first sound

Next, we worked on developing the saxophone embouchure. For the embouchure, I used the video below. In essence, students must say the word VOW. This word helps the kids put their teeth on top and use lip on the bottom. 

I had to spend extra time here because my Japanese-speaking students don't have the V sound in their syllabary. 


Have the students practice making their first sound without the rest of the saxophone. It is much easier to move the neck/mouthpiece around to help the students find the right embouchure.
This will also help build each student's confidence in themselves because it is much easier to produce a note without the whole saxophone being set up.

Assembling the saxophone

We then watched video 2, which helped the students adjust the neck strap, hold the saxophone correctly, loosen and tighten screws, connect the neck and the body of the saxophone, and hook the saxophone to the neck strap. 


Adjust the neck strap for each student individually. This will help them develop a habit of adjusting the neck strap to the right height. When the neck strap is adjusted correctly, the mouthpiece of the saxophone swings naturally to the mouth of its player.  

Holding the saxophone correctly

Having taught beginning band from scratch already I learned the importance of establishing very good habits from day 1. I was very observant of student hands, next straps, posture, and positioning. I made corrections quietly, without bringing too much attention to the student and I gave praise often.


Make sure that the students are not pressing side keys with the palms of their hands.
Check each student's thumb position. Thumbs tend to find weird places to rest on the first class.

Cleanup and Tear Down

One of the requirements for band was that each student buy a cleaning kit. Students should have shown up to their first class with a new cleaning kit.

Allocate 15 minutes to the clean up procedure and teach the students how to use the weighted cloths. If your students are anything like mine, they will really enjoy cleaning up the saxophone. Make this a fun experience so that they will enjoy doing it every time they play.

On January 29 I will publish an article on "How to Host a Parents' Information Session for Beginning Band." Sign up for the e-mail list below or come back to the site to check it out.

Thank you!



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