Patrick Jones Teaching

American Artist & Professor of Saxophone

Guiding the Saxophonist in Concert Band
By Dr. Patrick Jones
Edinboro University of PA

As junior high and high school saxophonists advance, band directors are faced with the prospect of guiding these young players in two or more possible directions.  For the good of the concert band, it’s important to provide proper direction and focus so that the saxophone section develops a mature concert band, classic saxophone sound.

However, as players move into jazz band or other performance groups, different playing styles or even equipment may be introduced and “bleed over” into the concert band performance.

It’s important the every student have at least some private lessons, but beyond that, how does the director maintain a balance between an appropriate ensemble sound and encouraging the saxophonist to explore other musical genre?  Here are a few tips:

1. Be certain the players understand the differing genre.

One way is to have them keep a journal of all performances and performance styles they play. Creating this understanding will show them in writing how their performances differ.  Writing down clinics, band trips and who they studied with privately will also provide good information for college applications, if they choose to continue performing. 

2. Expose the student to classical solos throughout his early career.

Whether for solo contest or just individual study, the compositions the student plays are important.  Pieces should demonstrate lyrical as well as technical playing in the classical style.  Each composition should be challenging, but not so challenging that it becomes a difficult or disheartening experience.

3. Etudes should be a part of every saxophonist’s regimen.

The student can work on specific techniques (musical phrasing, finger movement, altissimo, etc.) to enhance solo performances. It’s also a good way to introduce playing without an accompaniment, especially if the etude has a cadenza. Many etudes have specific notes or fingerings to help the passage sound better or make it easier for the performer. The Rousseau edition of the Ferling’s 48 Etudes is a great example of this. He provides helpful fingerings to make passages easier for the performer in addition to other musical suggestions. 

4. SCALES are an essential part of any student’s musical education. 

Since the compositions (above) are tonal, the student will have a number of sections to see how scales fit into the mix. Most students practice scales by learning to play a composition, not the other way around. If scales are isolated they can focus on good tone, clean finger movement and a number of other techniques.

The student should know all major scales by memory, at least.  For reinforcement, the saxophonist should practice all scales full range.  For example, an F scale should start on F, but the student should go up to the highest note (F) and down to the lowest note (Bb) then end on the tonic.  The student should also be ready to play a chromatic scale from the lowest note to the highest note. To prevent cross-fingerings be sure they use the chromatic F# key (ring) for F#/Gb and C#/Db major.

5. The student should sight-read new materials consistently.

They should practice doing this every day for five to ten minutes.


Tone & Basic Sound
There are many factors to achieving a good saxophone tone.  Some things that will help include a good reed, a professional mouthpiece, a proper embouchure and, most of all, air support. 

A Good Reed
Finding a good reed can be tricky. The first step is to consider what brand of reeds to buy. There are a number of good reed manufacturers today but the student should buy professional reeds for the best results. If the manufacturer has a number of different professional reed styles, make sure they aren’t cut for jazz if they are to be used in a concert band setting. In band you want the sound to have a warm, centered tone that’s not edgy.

When you open the box of reeds, hopefully they will be cut evenly. If the reed is thicker on one side than the other, the player might need to adjust the reed. If they are adjusting reeds it’s best for the student’s private teacher to guide them through the process. Once they understand how to adjust a reed, they can make every reed in the box play at some level.

To make the box of reeds last for the maximum amount of time, it’s recommended to rotate playing each reed. A reed case is also an essential part of caring for the reed. The student can mark the reed case with numbers or the reed itself lightly on the back with a pencil to keep them organized.

An Improved Mouthpiece
The selection of a professional level mouthpiece is one of the most important investments in equipment a saxophonist can make. The same can be said for improvement in the entire concert band saxophone section, so consider this recommendation for both your student- and for your school-owned saxophones.

Avoid mouthpiece designed for jazz playing.  These are usually too open and harder to control.  Young saxophonists might pick up bad habits if they try to make the jazz mouthpiece work for them, especially in concert band! 

For more information about mouthpiece selection, visit


A Proper Embouchure and Air Support
One of the best ways to correct a saxophonist’s tone in concert band is by working with a student playing on the mouthpiece alone.  The following concert pitches should be played fortissimo on the mouthpiece.

All of the concert pitches sound in the treble clef.  On a rare occasion the notes might not work, depending on the mouthpiece. Additionally, check to make sure they are not using a jazz mouthpiece which usually provides less control.

The saxophonist’s embouchure should be formed in the shape of an oval or football with the corners of the mouth in. If this shape is confusing, try forming the letter “O”.  The shape remains constant for each saxophone.  The larger the saxophone gets, the bigger the oval shape. 

Sometimes the students will have a hard time getting a sound out of the mouthpiece.  If this is the case, work with the mouthpiece on the neck, apart from the instrument.  After they feel comfortable getting a solid tone, you can manipulate how firm the circle is. 

It is important that the student takes just the right amount of mouthpiece into their mouth.  The eye cannot always determine this.  The best way to this is by the ear.  Another way to find out how much mouthpiece to take in is by putting a small piece of paper in between the reed and mouthpiece.  The place where the paper stops, without forcing it, is where the edge of the lower lip should be. 

Make sure the weight of the student’s head rests on top of the mouthpiece.  If the student clamps down and rests the weight on the bottom lip, this will produce a pinched, edgy tone.

The saxophone uses hot air, much like fogging up a mirror.  This idea should help them overcome issues they might have with a pinched tone.  Keep in mind, as the instrument size increases, air pressure decreases and needed air quantity increases.

Flexibility in the oral cavity is an important part of playing the saxophone. A few exercises to help them gain flexibility are closed-tube exercises (harmonics) and bending higher palm-key notes a half-step down without losing the tone. While playing on their mouthpiece, the student can bend the pitch down from the recommended concert pitch back to the original pitch going as low as they can without losing the sound. For example (alto saxophone): A to G# back to A, A to G back up to A, A to F# back up to A, etc.

Tonguing “Tip”
Often times, saxophone students get in the habit of using a harsh, slap tongue.  One way of correcting this is to have them think of tonguing on the front tip of the tongue to the back tip of the reed. They should think of the tongue flicking the reed, much like a paintbrush. Their articulation should be crisp and light, not heavy and harsh. The tongue does not move around the mouth and the action is very slight.  The tongue never produces an accent – all it does is start or stops the reed.

Avoid Dropping the Jaw
Some students try this when working on the lower register. The only time a saxophonist should drop their jaw is to produce a jazz subtone.  This should only be attempted after the student has mastered the basic embouchure and can achieve a proper sound in the low register without dropping the jaw.

Establish a Stable Tone
Students like to experiment with more advanced techniques like vibrato or altissimo. It is better to play without vibrato or altissimo until they have a good, stable tone.  Bad habits can be difficult to correct.  Unlike the high register of the clarinet, saxophone altissimo is not stable and requires consistent practice until it’s easily produced. If they are playing altissimo correctly, the student should not reset the embouchure before playing a high note. 

Practice Performing
All students should practice performing.  The more chances they have to perform in front of people the better chance they have at giving a consistent performance. This is a crucial step for any performer since it can feel different to play in a pressure situation without stopping.  Stage presence should also be addressed since the audience will make their first impression during the first few seconds of the performance.


Dr. Patrick Jones
American saxophonist Patrick Jones has performed as a soloist, recitalist and chamber musician around the world. As a featured soloist he has performed with the Grammy award-winning ensemble Imani Winds, Zagreb Saxophone Quartet, Erie Philharmonic, and Erie Chamber Orchestra. Additionally, he has been broadcast on the nationally syndicated NPR Program “Saint Paul Sunday” and Performance Today” playing with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Andreas Delfs.   He is an active performer, educator, clinician, and Yamaha Performing Artist.  He also plays and endorses E. Rousseau mouthpieces.

Jones is currently an Assistant Professor of Music at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Other faculty appointments include University of Iowa, International Allegheny Summer Music Festival and the International Youth Music Festival. Contact Dr. Jones at

Copyright 2015, Patrick Jones.

All rights reserved. For more information, email