Thursday, December 17, 2015

Saxophone Daily Workout

Saxophone Daily Workout

Pitch Bending (5-15 minutes)

For more detail go to The Secret to Playing the Saxophone.

Saxophone Focus Pitches

These pitches are only a rough guide.  They work for some mouthpieces and some sound concepts, but not all. For jazz, I and many others use a lower focus pitch. Those printed above work well for some classical sound concepts. Lately, I have been playing my S80 C* again on alto, and I find that a higher focus pitch works better than those above. Regardless, play the focus pitch loud, long, and as stable as possible.  Do not attempt the Mouthpiece Pitch Exercise until you can do this.

Mouthpiece Pitch Exercise

To be played on the mouthpiece alone very loudly after the focus pitch has been firmly established.  Example is for alto.  Soprano, tenor, and baritone use their respective focus pitches as the starting point of this exercise.

High Tone Bending

This is a variation of the Mouthpiece Pitch Exercise.  For example, play the following while fingering high Eb only (do not move the fingers).  Then do the same on increasingly higher notes.  This is especially usefully for gaining control and flexibility in the altissimo register.  Go slow.  Don't rush this.


Do a Google search for "saxophone overtones," and you will find many sites with good exercises.  One of the best resources, however, is Donald Sinta's book, Voicing: An Approach to the Saxophone's Third Register.

Long Tones (5-10 minutes)

Traditional long tones are good but often boring.  You may also play slow, lyrical melodies that you know by heart.  Cover the entire range of pitch and dynamics.  Focus on your tone quality.  Great sound is key!

Tuning (15 minutes)

Play notes and intervals on the piano using the sustain pedal.  Sing the notes and intervals.  Then play and match pitch carefully, using a great sound.
Tuning drones like the ones in Steve Colley’s method from Tune Up Systems are also extremely useful.

Scales (up to 1 hour)

Practice according to the phase you are in.  See “Scale Exercises” sheets (to be uploaded soon).  
Focus on good air support and even sound throughout the range.  Slur the scales when not practicing specific articulation exercises.  

Articulation Exercises

The following (Sprints and Endurance) are examples that should be repeated in all keys/notes.


To be played with a metronome as fast as possible.  However, clean, clear articulation is more important than speed.  Be sure to incorporate various styles: staccato, legato, marcato, etc.  Repeat as many times as necessary, and use a whole note to end each pattern with great, stable tone.


To be played with a metronome.  The 16th notes will dictate the tempo.  You must focus on clarity of attack at all subdivisions.  Over time, work to increase the tempo.  Do this on all notes.

Finger Exercises (5 – 10 minutes)

Open and close one key at a time, starting very slowly, smoothly building speed to a fast trill, and then smoothly slowing again.  Do this for every finger.  The finger should never leave the key.  

Dynamic Exercise (5- 10 minutes)

On one note, begin a very soft sound that builds from the silence itself.  Crescendo this sound smoothly to maximum volume while maintaining great pitch and tone.  Then decrescendo smoothly back to silence in the same time it took to crescendo.  Do not decrescendo too quickly.  Do this all on one breath.  You will have to practice your pacing. Now pick other notes in all of the ranges.  

Octave Slurs (2-5 minutes)

Starting in the low register, you should bump the octave key quickly.  The instrument should respond by going up and down the octave according to the position of the octave key. If you get stuck in one octave, adjust the embouchure.  For example, getting stuck in the upper octave could indicate that you are biting too hard and/or that your throat is too closed.  This exercise teaches us to get out of the way and let the instrument do its job. Focus on playing with a stable embouchure and fast, stable air.

Vibrato Exercise (2-10 minutes)

Saxophone vibrato is generated with the jaw as if saying "yah, yah, yah" or "vah, vah, vah." More important than this exercise, though, is to listen to great examples of vibrato and to emulate the way it is used indifferent styles and contexts.  For example vibrato will be significantly different for the Marcelo Oboe Concerto, than for Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, than for Desmond's Take Five.
  1. Set the metronome to 80
  2. Play a G major scale in whole notes with 4 undulations of vibrato per click of the metronome (like 16th notes).  If this is too difficult, slow the tempo until you can do this, and then speed back up to 80 over time.  Do not go on until you can do this.  
  3. Play in half notes, alternating vibrato on one note and straight-tone on the next, and then reverse the pattern.  Do not go on until you can do this.
  4. Play in quarter notes, alternating vibrato on one note and straight-tone on the next, and then reverse the pattern.  Do not go on until you can do this.
  5. Play odd numbered Ferling etudes at 8th=80 with vibrato on every note long enough for 4 undulations.  


Do this as often as possible. Any new material is fair game. is another great resource.  In the lower left corner of the main page, you will find a small section labelled “Create.”  Here, you can choose a time signature, the number of measures, and the level of difficult (1 is easiest).  This will generate a rhythmic pattern that you should clap and Ta.  Clap the time with the metronome, and Ta the rhythm.  Daily practice with this tool can greatly increase rhythmic proficiency and therefore enhance sight-reading ability.  

Circle of 4ths and 5ths.  

This is an important tool that all musicians should be familiar with.  As seen below, it is the circle of 4ths going clockwise because every new note is a 4th above the previous note.  Whereas going counterclockwise, every note is a 5th above the previous note: the circle of 5ths. This is not the only way to diagram this tool, and you may encounter it in other forms.  

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