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Beginner Expected progress for a beginner (rant)

GRoss

New Member
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Australia
Hi all,

Another thread with questions from me! (TL;DR at the bottom) :D

Been playing my tenor for 7 months, still struggling with finding the "right" embouchure. Low notes are still giving me trouble. High notes, above high D are giving me trouble. I've been practicing my long tones, trying to make progress with overtones (2nd one still giving me trouble) and practicing my dynamics. I play around 1-2 hours a day, mostly playing every single day.

I find with all of the above my progress is slow. I'm not happy with my sound. I'm not happy with inconsistency. I feel like I should be making more progress. Perhaps my expectations are not consistent with reality?

I asked my teacher about it and he said that most of his students only get to playing the whole range of the horn around 1.5 years in. I got a few lessons from another teacher, to see if he has any different opinions and he shared a lot of similar views, even going in so far as to say that I shouldn't even bother with overtones at the moment and should focus on playing new tunes and practicing long tones. He even said that playing Bb, etc shouldn't be my priority at the moment either - saying that I should focus on the middle of the range and that he even knows a few pro saxophone players that have issues with low Bb. Both teachers have been playing for many years and both performed quite a lot, with one of them been a career saxophone player, performing in many bands. Basically - they seem to know what they are doing. They both tell me that I'm overthinking it, with all my concerns with embouchure, good quality tone, biting/not biting for high notes, etc.

And yet I find stuff online that says that I should be able to play Bb in the first few weeks and play the whole range of the horn within a few months. A year in, I should be playing in bands, etc, etc. That stuff makes me think like I'm either doing it wrong or have zero natural ability for woodwind instruments.

For a point of reference - I used to play on the guitar when I was a teenager and I clearly remember putting nowhere near as much effort and getting really good results. I actually dug up a few videos of myself playing and was really pleased to hear the sound, etc.

TL;DR: What should I be aiming to achieve when playing my first woodwind instrument - a tenor sax, 6 months in, 12 months in, 2 years in and so on. Assuming average of 1 hour per day, consistent, thoughtful and focused practice + a good quality, new Yamaha horn. What's reasonable and what's not?

Thanks!
 

turf3

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Everybody's different. Don't sweat it. Make as much of it fun as you can; if you start putting pressure on yourself "I should be here but I am only HERE" that can just end up turning it into a job.
 

Pete Thomas

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First of all, everyone feels they are not making enough progress. The more progress you actually make, the less you think you have made because you become more critical.

Second: Trust your teacher more than what people say online.

Third: everyone is different so there is no "expected" target.
 

jbtsax

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To approach low Bb I would have my students start on low G with a big full tone and then slur down to low C using lots of air and keeping the back of the oral cavity open like the first part of a yawn. Once low C sounds it is held as a long tone as long as possible. When that is mastered the next step is to practice starting on low C using the same embouchure, airstream, and shape inside the oral cavity.

Once low C is mastered, the same procedure is used to play low B, and then low Bb. Once these notes respond at louder levels, a lifetime is spent learning to play them softly with control. ;) I have always placed a lot of importance on playing low Bb because in my view, it is evidence that all of the fundamentals of "tone production" have been mastered. In classical playing, playing high notes in the range uses the same embouchure as the low register but with "faster air". *

* (The air doesn't actually go faster through the mouthpiece, but the concept of blowing fast air helps to pressurize the airstream also called "breath support)
 

nigeld

Too many mouthpieces
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I'm not happy with my sound. I'm not happy with inconsistency. I feel like I should be making more progress.
Welcome to the world of the saxophone!
I think most of us are dissatisfied with our sound for all of our lives - it always should be better.

In my opinion, at the beginning it's more important to play the middle notes as well as possible than to worry about the very top and the very bottom ones. I have heard a recording of one of the great tenor players (I'm not sure, but I think it was Dexter Gordon) where he attempted a low Bb and it came out as a foghorn honk. The high notes will come gradually, there's no particular reason why you should be able to play above high D after 6 months - some people can, and others can't.

The key thing is to keep practicing. Progress will come in fits and starts - it is not linear. And you may not be noticing your progress, because you are eager to go further.

And as for playing with a band in a year - that sounds very optimistic.
 

mizmar

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I don't know if this helps, but, seems to me, a difference between sax (wind) and things like guitar or piano is that the sax is much less of a machine than people think. It really isn't just a matter of putting the fingers and mouth in the right place, blowing, and each note will sound. And that's all the more true as you get away from the middle range. Somehow you are projecting each note to the bell, with some help from the horn.
Maybe that's what your teachers mean by "overthinking"?
Maybe you are overthinking the technique... And, possibly, underthinking the note?
 

Saxlicker

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I agree with your teachers.
Play somethings you enjoy, thats whats important and while that means you (we, all of us) need to progress in our skills and technical grasp to achieve some of it, you'll have a much more solid base to build on by adding a Bb when its needed or an overtone when it's needed rather than being 7 months in and trying to have a disciplined amount of time striving for them.
It's different for everyone and one day something just clicks. Then another day something else just clicks but there is no need to put yourself through misery in the mean time.:thumb:
Then finally, you will approach that kind of study in blocks and nail it easier than today.
Take YouTube guidance and written articles for what they are, get what you can from them and mentally bin the rest. Some are wrong, some maybe just too advanced, some too boring. Enjoy.
 

turf3

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I don't know if this helps, but, seems to me, a difference between sax (wind) and things like guitar or piano is that the sax is much less of a machine than people think. It really isn't just a matter of putting the fingers and mouth in the right place, blowing, and each note will sound. And that's all the more true as you get away from the middle range. Somehow you are projecting each note to the bell, with some help from the horn.
Maybe that's what your teachers mean by "overthinking"?
Maybe you are overthinking the technique... And, possibly, underthinking the note?
Lot of wisdom in this post.
 

Halfers

Finger Flapper
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Enjoy your Saxophone journey.

Expectations and comparisons are understandable, but not always productive. As long as your horn is in working order and your Teacher (and you) are happy and comfortable with your set up, play away!

Have fun, you'll get better in your own time, not someone else's
 

Tenor Viol

Full of frets in North Shropshire
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Agree with the teachers etc. As someone who plays piano and cello, the sax is very different. Correct combination of fingers does not necessarily produce the expected sound.

For almost everyone, the low notes and high notes (not altissimo) take a while to develop as they require more technique. It took me a while to get palm D and even longer to be able to just 'sound' a palm E. There are many, many variables: your instrument, your mouthpiece, your reed, your embouchure (which itself covers many aspects such as air flow, tongue position etc).

Altissimo/harmonics are in a different league and personally I wouldn't go near them until your are fluent with everything else and your teacher suggests it.
 

Colin the Bear

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To give your embouchure a work out and to educate your oral cavity, you may find playing tunes on just the mouthpiece an informative excercise.
After school recorder and a year or so on clarinet I found I could play the saxophone straight off.
I've had guitars and various string instruments for almost 60 years and still can't play for toffee.
We play because we play, not to be good.
Pick a tune you like and a piece you think impossible and practice till they happen.

Mine were Misty and Take five.

Take five took me about 20 years. ;)
 

Ballymenaboy

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I urge you,,do not despair
I agonised over inability to get bottom c to bflat on my tenor to the extent that I sent it back to the manufacturer to have it checked…..no fault found and returned to me.
Eventually after a lot of searching and playing I found that (a) my grip on the mouthpiece was too tight and consequently(b) I was not getting enough air into thr sax to fill out those bottom notes.Once you eliminate technical issues with your instrument then technique comes into play.
Bottom notes are a widespread issue with a lot of players but with perserverance and optimism you will overcome this eventually…there is a plethora of advice and help on this site from many who are more experienced and knowledgeable than me…tap into them and enjoy your learning curve
 

TheSooz

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I think someone else has said...playing in a band within a year? PFFT!!!
If they mean in a community windband that takes all comers then yes. Hopefully that's not coming across as rude. That would would be a great aim. I learned so much from playing in that sort of ensemble. You mostly won't have the melody so your ear and counting improve dramatically..which is great practice for gigging bands in the future.
If you already have a great ear from guitar playing, I'd still recommend it. That's often how you hear about other bands...and so you move on.
Full disclosure I started playing a looooong time ago and started on clarinet.
One thing I do notice about complete wind beginners is the lack of air support. So those long tones will help, but you must fill the sax with air and keep it supported, regardless of what volume you're playing.
That's my tuppence worth.... and I'm very much an amateur.
For what it's worth.... I played Alto exclusively for years and got my Tenor about 5 years ago ( to play in a soul band!!) and it took a good couple of years to get to grips with it.
 

Colin the Bear

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I've just been reviewing other threads. Maybe that 7 wasn't such a good idea. A 5 suits my chops after playing for 40 years.
 

Jimmymack

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A 7 when you are beginning is far too open it’s no wonder you can’t get the low notes. As Colin said a 5 is more like it, with a fairly soft reed. I’m surprised your teachers haven’t commented on it.
 

eb424

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if its any consolation I'm 4 years in and can only just tongue a low b and c and hit the high notes despite practicing at least an hour a day... highs are still a bit shrill and lows a bit inconsistant.... as most have said set up is an important factor, confidence wise. I found 2 songs I enjoyed playing, fairytale of new york starts with a tongued bottom b and me and Bobby mcgee had the palm notes I couldn't play...wanting to play them gave me the determination to address the things I couldn't do...stranger on the shore is good as a low c that is tricky to hit, in a mid range song.....but...don't get hung up on it sounds like you're doing well for where your at...I am in the same position with technique at the mo trying to growl...lol, driving round making strange noises, can't do it get disheartened; it will come, and it will be exactly the same with your goals...the sax is a mean machine, sounds like your on course focus and enjoy what you can do...it sounds a lot...
 

Pete Thomas

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f its any consolation I'm 4 years in and can only just tongue a low b and c
I will offer the same advice. Try a softer reed. Maybe mouthpiece with samller tip/longer facing but I'd go the softer reed route first.

And (crucially) absolutely no leaks on the saxophone.

Also articulation: see these exercises:

 
Messages
124
Locality
UK
I've been playing for nearly 3 years now, and like you I played guitar when I was young. A lot of guitar.

Also like you I play an hour or more a day, and have consistently for 3 years.

I'm usually pretty good at learning new things, but honestly saxophone is the hardest thing I've done by far. I've got a regular teacher, I play in a wind band, and whilst there have been improvements of course I'm still disappointed with progress.

It's not just you!

At this stage I think it would be easier to invent a time machine, travel back to 10 year old me, take the guitar off him and hand him a sax instead.

We'll get there I'm sure.
 

John Setchell

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Norfolk UK
I’ve playing tenor about a year. For months all the bell notes (bottom C downwards) we’re unpredictable and rubbish, and I beat m’self up about it as is newbies tend to do.
Although the tenor was ex-demo and in good condition (so I thought) I had it serviced. What A Difference!
With the right reed Bb etc was achievable, and now I can work on the tone and attack - hard or soft.
It was a disproportionate advantage TBH. Now that the instrument is mechanically “right” I know with confidence that anything “wrong” is me, the mouthpiece or reed - all of which I can work on.
 
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