The tenor sax is a fun instrument to learn and has great versatility! You should be able to get up and running with the tenor sax within a few months, though it will take longer to build your breath support and learn to play complex music.
My teenagers have switched to tenor sax recently so I’m excited to share with you what it takes to learn this great instrument!
Table of Contents
How Difficult Is It To Learn Tenor Saxophone?
Compared to double reed woodwind instruments, the tenor saxophone has a simpler mouthpiece, and has an intuitive octave key to keep the note fingerings the same across all pitches of music. It does require more breath support than alto saxophone, but the fingerings are the same.
1. How Long Does It Usually Take To Learn Tenor Saxophone As A Beginner?
If this is your first try playing a wind instrument of any kind, you will have a longer learning curve. If you can already read music and have played a wind instrument before, you can expect to learn more rapidly.
You should be able to produce the proper sound after playing for a few months, especially if you keep up a regular practice routine.
Practicing daily or as many times per week as you can enables you to build up your breath support, endurance, and knowledge of fingerings.
How Long Until You Become An Expert?
It all depends on how much time you put into it. For a player who has put in the necessary practice hours, it should take about a year to be able to play complex music.
After the year is up, you will be able to branch out and start playing jazz music, which involves difficult melodies and fast-moving parts.
2. What Skills Do You Need To Become Good At The Tenor Sax?
The tenor sax is a medium-sized instrument that requires significant breath power and support to create an acceptable sound.
- First, reading music is helpful, but not completely necessary before starting out. You can buy beginner method books intended for young players who are learning to read music and play their instruments at the same time.
- You will need to build up muscle memory in your hands as you learn fingerings. This comes naturally with time, and the more you practice the better you will become.
3. How Does Learning Tenor Sax Compare In Difficulty To Learning Alto Sax?
They are about the same, though the alto sax does not require as much breath power as the tenor sax so it is usually recommended for beginners. It helps that the fingerings are nearly identical.
Can You Start On Tenor Sax Instead Of Alto Sax?
Yes, you can definitely start on tenor sax! You will need to work harder to build up your “chops” (your playing endurance) and your breath support, but you can succeed.
4. Tips On How To Make Learning The Tenor Sax Easier
Here are some important tips to keep in mind when learning the tenor sax. If you do these things correctly from the beginning, you will not develop bad habits that will hold you back in the future.
Learn the Correct Embouchure
You will need to know how to hold your mouth and facial muscles properly to avoid squeaking and weak projection. This is referred to as your embouchure.
It is possible to learn the correct tenor saxophone embouchure from watching YouTube videos, but if you really want to get off on the right foot, it helps to ask an experienced player or teacher.
Saxophone Embouchure Tutorial:
Learn Proper Tonguing Skills
Tonguing is how notes are separated. Not all notes will be tongued, but it is necessary to learn the right way to do it.
Tonguing should be done with the tip of the tongue. Place your tongue against the reed tip and lift it off toward the back as if you are saying the syllable “tu.”
Avoid tonguing with the middle of your tongue or by putting your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind where the mouthpiece sits.
If you tongue notes in the wrong way, you will be slowed down when it comes to learning fast passages. Your future band director will thank you for learning the right way to tongue notes.
Work On Breath Support
If you ask any experienced wind instrument player, they will tell you that long-tone exercises are the way to go when it comes to building up your breath support. Here are some excellent tips on long-tone exercises:
Start with shorter practice sessions and work your way up until you can play for an hour or more. Simply sitting down with your instrument and fooling around for half an hour is not enough to help you build solid skills.
Join an Ensemble
After you feel confident enough in your skills, it is a great idea to join a local community band. Being exposed to all kinds of music will make you a better player.
Performing on your instrument is one of the great payoffs of musicianship, and it is an excellent goal to work toward.
Be Patient And Persistent
You need to have patience with yourself and with the learning process. It helps if you keep a positive attitude even if it is hard for you.
As I’ve said in the past, be open to correcting issues, especially early on before they can become bad habits.
3 Examples Of Tenor Saxophones That Would Be Easiest To Begin On
When you are looking for a tenor saxophone, you won’t want to buy the cheapest possible model. Avoid “value brands” that are priced under $850 new.
If you can’t afford a good tenor saxophone in new condition, you should search for a used instrument (we put together a thorough guide to the cost of tenor saxophones on this very website).
This instrument is not cheap, but it is produced with Yamaha’s high quality standards. This instrument is well-constructed and reliable under different playing conditions.
Selmer is another quality brand you should consider. These instruments have a great tone and are reliable right out of the box.
Jupiter is gaining a great reputation for its saxophones. They cost slightly less than the Selmer and Yamaha models but are reliable for student use.