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Your saxophone playing is more similar to which of these two sax players?

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How important is feedback?
Learning incorrectly……
You can easily learn bad habits in music. Just as you can learn to speak a language incorrectly, you may still be understood while there is something 'off' about how you speak.

Likewise, you can learn to sound decent on the saxophone despite having bad habits. But those bad habits hold back your real potential and cause frustration. You will definitely sound better if you have good technique.

Having examples to follow is important, which involves listening intently to music. Getting feedback and following a systematic approach also helps a lot.As a teacher, I hope to reduce frustration and wasted time.

Why do you play saxophone?

Saxophone players often play music because they want to

  1. Entertain their friends and family
  2. Sound like their favorite saxophone players
  3. Play in a band

Is it easy?

Sometimes people believe that saxophones are easy to play.

In reality, it can be a struggle to get a sound out of the saxophone, let alone a good tone! The saxophone is easy to play badly, but more challenging to play well.

It's simple to move between some notes, it's much more challenging in some music. It helps a lot to have a structured system to start with on saxophone.

Learning Saxophone

Saxophone players often start to play music in school. But many also start or restart on their own later in life.

Without feedback, it's easy to learn inefficient technique. You can practice playing badly just as easily as you can practice good playing. Either one can become habit.

Much of the technique comes down to finger control, which is something that needs to be developed.

Getting feedback and practicing systematically will help you sound better with much less frustration and in less time.

By working on music in a sequential way, you can master small steps and then build upon what you've learned.


Imagine that you go to Brazil to learn Portuguese.

And you really want to learn how to speak well!

In the first week, would you only spend one day practicing?

Would you completely avoid speaking for the rest of the week? You would find a bunch of people from your own country and hide out with them in order to avoid Brazilians for the other six days?

Would you learn the language quickly that way?

Do you think you would learn some things and then begin to forget them over the next six days until you practiced again?

Directions to read the rest of this story…

People have said that learning music is much like learning a language, some even consider music to be a language.

Why do I teach saxophone?
Language allows you to express yourself. It transcends culture. Music makes it possible to share feelings and emotions with people across the world.

I studied physics  in school, but have have always loved music and dancing.

Because of my background in physics I sometimes find myself approaching music in a scientific way at times while still enjoying its soul, funk, beauty, and groove.

Saxophone as a language
Victor Wooten said that all children learn to speak their native language. They are constantly encouraged by ‘professionals’ (adults) and practice a great deal.

Practice and feedback are fundamental to learning language and  music alike.

Languages have alphabets with letters, music has notes with letters.
You combine letters into words of language and phrases of music.
Books and poetry have style and clarity just as good songs do.
The tempo, intensity, and rhythm all affect the message you deliver in both language and music.

My experiences with languages
My native language is English. After that, music could be considered the language I know best.  I began playing music at age 11.

I studied Spanish for three years in school before exploring it on my own, partly because of my involvement in bands and with dancing.  At this point, I can understand about 90% of what I hear in conversations and I can respond. My skills need a bit more work.

At 18 I started learning German, I studied it a bit in university and then lived in Germany for about three months.

Before going to Germany, I was learning the language on my own mostly using CDs. It felt like I was learning quite a bit, but I wasn't learning to speak the right way.

I lacked feedback.

When I began to speak to Germans, I learned about many mistakes I didn't realize I was making.

Immersing myself in the language led me to the point of holding conversations. I ended up getting a minor in German, while majoring in physics. I can speak German, but my knowledge of grammar is not as strong as in Spanish. The feedback I got from native speakers was a crucial element of my development with the language.

In 2009 I took a trip to Sri Lanka with my friend and his family. I learned a bit of Sinhala, but not a lot.

In 2014 I have started learning Mandarin Chinese. After a year and a half I can hold about a 15 minute conversation, albeit with many mistakes.

Similarities between language and music
All music might comprise one language. But I would say that some languages are similar while other languages are quite different. In that way, you can think of instruments as individual languages.

Clarinet and saxophone for example are quite similar. Both have reeds and they require similar technique. Some of the fingerings for notes are almost exactly the same (in certain ranges).

Likewise Spanish and Italian are quite similar. They are both in the same family of languages. Just like the clarinet and saxophone are both woodwinds.

The flute is also similar to saxophone, but not as similar as the clarinet. The language equivalent might be to compare Portuguese and French. They belong to the same family, but they don't have quite as much in common.

Methods and feedback
Teachers have been vital to my process. I had a few teachers in high school who taught Spanish, like Señor Zahrobsky, who was the most helpful/challenging. My mother speaks several languages including Spanish and German and has helped me with them quite a bit. I had a couple of good German professors in university.

I have had some helpful saxophone teachers as well, the he most systematic of which was Gary Meek . He has taught me an effective approach to working on technique. That style was passed on to him from Phil Sobel who learned from Henry Lindeman.

How I teach saxophone
Playing music is the fun part about playing the saxophone, so I teach pieces of songs in videos.

In a few videos I literally show you where to put your fingers using diagrams. That can be helpful if your level of playing saxophone is similar to my level of speaking Sinhala. Step by step helps a lot when you’re unfamiliar with something. After a little while, you want to get to the point where you don’t need to look at diagrams. You want all the fingerings memorized, then you move toward reading music and playing by ear.

In other videos the approach is more to learn music by ear, slowed down and broken into pieces. Learning music by ear is important in sounding better. Reading music is important as well.


I have created a beginning saxophone class, two classes on learning music by ear, a class on scales, and a class on chords among others. I also run a program called Saxophone Tribe for students to continue working with me and receiving feedback.

For local saxophone teachers, travel distance can be a problem and other times the cost is prohibitive.

If you have a question, go to this page to ask it!


Customers and Subscribers

Saxophone Foundations

For me, the main obstacle was struggling over the decision to get another course that might conflict with the instruction I am taking through a private instructor.

Fortunately the information in Saxophone foundation augments the information I am getting through private lessons. The course is outlined and somewhat follows the format of private lessons but you can move at your own pace.

What do you gain as a result of signing up for Saxophone Foundations?
Increases exercises in using the upper register and notes.

This is a weak area for me and the additional work is being helpful

The CD examples are excellent because you can hear them in the context of the specific saxophone you are playing.
So many of the standard off the shelf music books from the major music education publishers used examples that cover multiple instrument training books.
The current Saxophone book my instructor is working me through has examples performed on a clarinet.
Three other benefits about this class:
    - Self paced
    - Timely feedback to questions. This is rarely the case from internet sources classes.

I have a great deal of experience with guitar lessons both private and via the internet and rarely do you get responses back as promised.

If you do it is days later which is not conducive to learning.

Would you recommend Saxophone Foundations?
Yes, particularly if they are considering private lessons and are somewhat disciplined. I just wrote a check for $100 for my November lesson fees. I could essentially get the same thing from your course. I must say it might not work for a young child trying to learn an instrument but if there is a commitment your course would be an excellent option.

The internet is full of websites or options for song focused training but for the saxophone I’m finding this isn’t the case so much.

You can find some limited stuff on You Tube but the quality is hit or miss.

 -Craig Miller

Saxophone Foundations

"A week has passed, I have found your lessons immensely useful.

Have managed to play everyday almost an hour and I have kept an account on a day to day basis of what I did. The last lesson , was learn all the major and minor scales, for that I need some time.

Thank you for explaining that scales and chords are the same thing!"
-Christie (Amsterdam)

I just want to drop you a line and say thank you for all the small but helpful pieces I have received since knowing about your website and being subscribed to your newsletter.

The episode about improvisation on the minor pentatonic ("How to Set Up a Simple Groove on Sax") was an eye-opener for me.
Thanks and keep going!
-Marco Wedel (Germany)

Hey Neal,
Very impressive the way you teach that (Off Rhythm Report). Actually I was showing this to my wife and told about you, she said we can see you a good teacher.

Being a physics professor you bring that, maths and everything into this. Another example is the book you suggested to learn music.
-Vijai (UK)

Saxophone Tribe

Hey Neal,
I have finally found the time time to sit down and reply to you! I just wanted to thank you so much for all the quick lessons you have sent me.
Even though I didn't reply/comment on them, I still took my time to view them and I'm glad I did, especially the lesson on the mouthpiece position/embouchure.
My sound quality improved almost instantly. Needless to say, everybody in my band (including my director!!) was very impressed. Thank you once again!

Are you ready to find out how we can help you sound better?

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