The saxophone and the guitar are both excellent instruments with a wide range of sound, style, and sophistication. Still, it can be challenging to decide which one to learn first.
The saxophone is better for beginners because the music is simpler to read, it only plays one note at a time, and it’s very easy to get the hang of. The guitar, on the other hand, requires a lot more multitasking and extra thinking that can be tricky for some beginners.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the saxophone and the guitar. Once you’re finished reading, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about which instrument is right for you.
Is Saxophone or Guitar Harder To Learn for a Beginner?
While both instruments can be played well with enough practice and dedication, you might be wondering whether or not one is more complicated for a beginner to learn than the other.
Guitar is harder to learn for a beginner than saxophone. This is because a guitar has more fingering positions and allows for up to six notes at once, compared to a saxophone, which only plays one note at a time.
Guitar music also requires knowing a bit more theory to read than music for saxophone.
More than anything, it’s often tricky to learn how to hold your fingers properly for different guitar chords.
Saxophone vs. Guitar: Complexity
The guitar is more complex than the saxophone because it requires you to multitask a lot more. With a saxophone, you’re only in charge of one note at a time and required to memorize only a handful of positions for each note.
Another thing to note is that there’s ultimately only one way to play the saxophone: by blowing into the mouthpiece.
Sure, there are different techniques to implement into your playing and various styles you can master, but those variables are the same at their core.
The guitar is much more complicated because there are often many different ways to play a guitar chord.
You usually have to manage multiple notes at once to create chords with the guitar, and there are more guitar chords to remember than saxophone notes.
Furthermore, the guitar can be played by plucking, strumming, or doing a mix of both.
While this may not sound like a big difference, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities that might be overwhelming for some beginner musicians.
How Long It Takes To Become Proficient
How long it takes to learn each one well depends entirely on the time invested into the instrument, the effort put into practice, and the individuality of a musician. It might take you a few months to a year to get comfortable with each one.
For example, I was able to comfortably play the saxophone within a few days, so it felt familiar reasonably quickly. But I have been playing the guitar for years, and I still haven’t mastered it completely.
In my experience growing up in the world of both academic and recreational bands, I’ve noticed that on average it takes about a week for a person to be able to play elementary saxophone songs.
For the guitar, it might take up to two or three weeks on average to start playing simple songs because a person has to develop guitar calluses to play comfortably and accurately.
Again, the time it takes to learn each one well depends on practice more than anything else.
If you put in enough time and effort, it’s possible to get comfortable with either instrument in a couple months!
Beginner Starting Costs For Each Instrument
The saxophone is more expensive to get started on than the guitar. Even beginner saxophones can cost thousands of dollars because they’re made with more valuable materials than guitars.
Starter guitars are a lot cheaper than starter saxophones.
The Yamaha YAS-280 Saxophones Student Alto (available on Amazon.com) is an excellent beginner saxophone because it’s student grade, which isn’t as expensive as higher-end professional saxophones.
However, as I mentioned before, even beginner saxophones can cost a lot of money. This particular one (the Yamaha YAS-280) fits the typical $1200-$1400 range for a quality beginner’s sax, though pricing may vary depending on the exact retailer you choose to purchase from.
On the other hand, beginner guitars are a lot easier to come by and a lot cheaper than starter saxophones.
The Fender Squier Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar (available on Amazon.com) is a good-quality starter instrument made by a trusted brand, yet it costs under $200!
Keep in mind, the instrument itself isn’t the only cost you have to worry about.
Basic Beginner Equipment for Saxophone
In addition to being a pricier instrument, saxophones also require more equipment than the guitar and require a few frequent purchases.
Here’s a list of basic beginner equipment you should get for the saxophone.
Beginner’s Music Book
One of the first items you should invest in is a beginner’s music book.
I learned the saxophone with the help of Accent on Achievement for Alto Saxophone by John O’Reilly Mark Williams (available on Amazon.com). I like this particular book because it explains proper technique and introductory music theory.
Reeds are probably the most critical piece of equipment for the saxophone.
Reeds are the wooden strips that go on the mouthpiece and create sound when blown on. These are essential for playing the saxophone; you cannot play without reeds, and they go bad after about two weeks so you need to continuously replace them.
Comfortable Neck Strap
In addition to reeds and a music book covering the basics, you should invest in a comfortable neck strap for your saxophone.
While your saxophone might come with a neck strap, it’s a good idea to buy one separately because you might find that the student-grade neck straps are uncomfortable and dig into your neck.
Also, the neck strap that comes with your saxophone might not fit. A neck strap that fits correctly is vital because it affects the position of your mouth in correlation to the mouthpiece.
Cork grease is a substance used to help the pieces of your saxophone slide together better. It’s essential because it ensures that the different parts won’t get stuck.
Cork grease is another frequent buy, but you won’t have to purchase cork grease as much as reeds.
A cleaning wand is another essential piece of equipment that every saxophonist needs.
These tools are essentially wands covered in a fuzzy fabric that helps you clean your saxophone. You should remember to clean your instrument after each use to keep the sound as high-quality as possible.
However, you should never store the cleaning wand inside the instrument itself because this can damage it.
Basic Beginner Equipment for Guitar
While the saxophone requires quite a bit of equipment and frequent reed purchases, the guitar doesn’t have as many recurring costs. However, you need to purchase a few small accessories upfront.
Here’s a list of basic beginner equipment for guitar.
Beginner’s Music Book
While you can learn the guitar using YouTube videos and online chord reference sheets alone, investing in a beginner’s music book might be a good idea.
A music book can serve as a guide and provide you with valuable techniques, and it also gives you easy songs to practice.
Guitar picks are a necessary tool used for both strumming and plucking. They create a crisp sound, and you should always have one on you to enhance your playing.
However, they’re really easy to lose, so you should always buy more than one.
Comfortable Guitar Strap
A comfortable guitar strap is essential for good technique because it supports the guitar and handles most of its weight.
Guitar straps also come in various colors and patterns that can add a personal touch to your instrument and make it stand out from the rest.
A capo is a vital device that allows you to change the key of your guitar without returning the entire thing.
My absolute favorite capo is this Donner Guitar Capo for Electric and Acoustic Guitar (available on Amazon.com). It’s sleek, easy to use, and extremely high-quality. I’ve had it for over five years and it still looks brand new!
Guitar Stand or Holder
It’s also a smart idea to invest in a guitar stand or holder to store your guitar when it isn’t in use.
Purchasing one of these is not only great for organizational purposes but for the safety of your instrument as well. Without a stand, your guitar may fall over or get damaged.
Do You Need a Teacher To Learn These 2 Instruments or Can They Be Self-Taught?
You don’t need a teacher to learn these 2 instruments because they can be self-taught. Teachers can make the process easier by providing helpful insight, guidance, and motivation, yet it’s entirely possible to teach yourself the saxophone and the guitar.
Again, you may want to consider taking lessons if that feels more comfortable to you. There is value in having a mentor, but it’s not necessary and can often be expensive.
Where Can You Practice Saxophone or Guitar?
You can practice saxophones or guitars in closed rooms away from distractions. Practicing in private is better for building confidence, as there’s no worry about other people watching you, and spares other people in your house from not-so-pleasant practice sounds.
The garage seems to be a classic favorite for saxophone practicing because it’s large enough for the sound to carry, but it’s also closed off enough to keep your playing relatively quiet for the rest of the house.
However, the guitar is a lot quieter than a saxophone and weighs a lot less. This means that you have more flexibility in terms of practice locations. Your room should be a fine place to practice this instrument.
What Kind of Music Can You Play With Each Instrument?
You can play any kind of music with each instrument, yet saxophones are more common for jazz and classical music while guitars are rock and folk favorites. Each instrument is adaptable, and you can practice several cool techniques specific to the genre you choose.
However, I’m a firm believer that the saxophone is suitable for every genre out there. Besides, using instruments that aren’t typically heard in certain genres can be a great way to add uniqueness to your playing.
For example, saxophones aren’t exclusive to symphonic bands and jazz. “Boot And Spleen” by Melt Yourself Down, for instance, combines saxophone and punk rock to create something exciting and uncommon.
Which Instrument Is Better for Playing Alone and Which Is Better Played With Other People?
The saxophone is better for playing alone and the guitar is better played with people. The saxophone is a lot louder and has a richer sound that’s beautiful with or without a supporting band, while the guitar sounds best as a support instrument.
However, both instruments can create beautiful solos in all kinds of genres.
Which Instrument Is More Popular?
The guitar is more popular than the saxophone because it is commonly used in more popular genres like punk, indie rock, pop, heavy metal, folk, country, and more. The saxophone is used most for classical and jazz which are not as popular.
Although, in terms of academic bands, the saxophone seems to be one of the most popular instruments played.
The saxophone and the guitar are phenomenal instruments.
They can both be used to create a wide range of beautiful music, and while the saxophone may be simpler technically speaking, the choice of which instrument to learn first is ultimately yours.
If you’re still deciding on an instrument to begin learning, you can also check out my article on the important differences between the saxophone and piano.