Which Saxophone to Start With: A Comprehensive Guide

by Madonna

The saxophone, often affectionately known as the “sax,” is a versatile and expressive woodwind instrument. Invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s, it quickly became a staple in various music genres, from classical and jazz to contemporary pop and rock. The saxophone’s unique sound and its ability to convey a wide range of emotions make it a favorite among musicians and listeners alike. Its role in music is profound, often providing the soul-stirring solos in jazz or the vibrant melodies in classical compositions.

SEE ALSO: How Do You Start a Saxophone? 


Types of Saxophones

The saxophone family consists of several members, each with distinct characteristics. The main types are soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones.


Soprano Saxophone: The soprano saxophone is the smallest and highest-pitched member of the saxophone family. It has a straight or slightly curved body and produces a bright, penetrating sound. Soprano saxophones are more challenging to play due to their smaller size and the precision required in their embouchure.


Alto Saxophone: The alto saxophone is a mid-sized saxophone with a rich, mellow tone. It is slightly larger than the soprano and is known for its versatility, being able to handle a variety of musical styles. Its size and the comfort of its mouthpiece make it a popular choice for beginners.

Tenor Saxophone: The tenor saxophone is larger than the alto and produces a deeper, fuller sound. Its warm and robust tone is well-suited for jazz and rock music. The tenor saxophone’s size and weight are manageable for most players, making it another excellent choice for beginners.

Baritone Saxophone: The baritone saxophone is the largest and lowest-pitched of the common saxophones. It has a deep, rich tone that provides a solid foundation in ensembles. Due to its size and weight, the baritone saxophone is less commonly chosen by beginners but is essential in many musical contexts.

Which Saxophone to Start With

When starting out, choosing the right saxophone is crucial for a positive learning experience. Generally, the alto and tenor saxophones are recommended for beginners. Here’s why:

Alto Saxophone: The alto saxophone is often considered the best starting point for beginners. Its size is manageable, and it offers a balanced blend of ease of play and rich sound. The fingerings and techniques learned on the alto can easily transfer to other types of saxophones later.

Tenor Saxophone: The tenor saxophone is also a popular choice for beginners. It has a slightly larger size and a deeper tone compared to the alto. The tenor saxophone is versatile and widely used in various music genres, making it an excellent instrument to learn.

Factors to Consider

Choosing the right saxophone involves considering several factors:

Size and Weight: The physical size and weight of the saxophone are important, especially for younger players. Alto saxophones are lighter and more compact, making them easier to handle. Tenor saxophones are slightly larger and heavier but still manageable for most beginners.

Ease of Play: Beginners should choose a saxophone that is easy to play. This means considering the comfort of the mouthpiece, the responsiveness of the keys, and the ease of producing a good tone. Both alto and tenor saxophones are designed to be beginner-friendly in this regard.

Cost: Saxophones come in a wide range of prices. Beginners should look for an instrument that offers a good balance between quality and affordability. Cheaper saxophones may have poorer construction and sound quality, while more expensive models offer better durability and playability.

Budget Considerations

When it comes to buying a saxophone, budget is a key consideration. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect within different price ranges:

Entry-Level Saxophones ($300 – $800): These saxophones are designed for beginners. They are typically made with less expensive materials and may have basic features. However, they are perfectly adequate for starting out and learning the basics. Examples include the Yamaha YAS-280 (alto) and the Jean Paul USA AS-400 (alto).

Intermediate Saxophones ($800 – $1500): Intermediate saxophones offer better build quality, improved sound, and more comfortable playability. They are suitable for players who have progressed beyond the beginner stage and are looking for a more reliable instrument. Examples include the Yamaha YAS-480 (alto) and the Jupiter JTS1100 (tenor).

Professional Saxophones ($1500 and up): Professional saxophones are made with high-quality materials and craftsmanship, providing superior sound and performance. These instruments are suitable for advanced players and professionals. Examples include the Selmer Paris Series II (alto) and the Yamaha YTS-62 (tenor).

Saxophone Brands and Models

Choosing a reputable brand and model is crucial for ensuring a good learning experience. Here are some well-regarded saxophone brands and models for beginners:

Yamaha: Yamaha is known for producing high-quality, reliable saxophones that are ideal for beginners. The Yamaha YAS-280 (alto) and YTS-280 (tenor) are popular choices.

Jean Paul USA: Jean Paul USA offers affordable, quality saxophones that are great for beginners. The AS-400 (alto) and TS-400 (tenor) are excellent options.

Jupiter: Jupiter saxophones are known for their durability and sound quality. The Jupiter JAS710 (alto) and JTS700 (tenor) are well-suited for beginners.

Selmer: Selmer is a prestigious brand with a long history of producing top-notch saxophones. The Selmer Bundy II (alto) is a good entry-level model.

Learning Resources

Learning to play the saxophone requires dedication and access to good resources. Here are some recommendations:

Online Tutorials: Websites like YouTube offer a plethora of free tutorials for beginners. Channels like Saxquest and Better Sax provide excellent instructional videos.

Books: Books such as “Essential Elements for Band – Eb Alto Saxophone Book 1” by Hal Leonard and “Beginning Saxophone: An Introduction to the Saxophone” by Les Taylor offer structured learning materials.

Local Teachers: Private lessons with a qualified saxophone teacher can provide personalized guidance and immediate feedback, which is invaluable for beginners.

Online Courses: Platforms like Udemy and Coursera offer comprehensive saxophone courses that cover everything from the basics to advanced techniques.

Maintenance and Care

Proper maintenance and care are essential to keep your saxophone in good condition. Here are some tips:

Regular Cleaning: After each practice session, clean the mouthpiece, neck, and body of the saxophone. Use a swab or a cleaning cloth to remove moisture and debris.

Reed Care: Rotate your reeds to extend their lifespan. Always store them in a reed case to keep them flat and prevent damage.

Check Pads and Corks: Regularly inspect the pads and corks for wear and tear. Replace them as needed to maintain good sound quality and playability.

Professional Servicing: Have your saxophone serviced by a professional technician at least once a year to ensure all parts are in working order.


Several accessories are essential for saxophone players:

Reeds: Reeds are a crucial part of the saxophone. Beginners should start with a medium strength (around 2 or 2.5) to find a balance between ease of play and sound quality. Brands like Vandoren and Rico are popular choices.

Mouthpieces: A good mouthpiece can significantly affect your sound. While the stock mouthpiece that comes with the saxophone is usually sufficient for beginners, upgrading to a better one like the Yamaha 4C can improve your experience.

Cleaning Kits: A basic cleaning kit includes a swab, a cleaning cloth, and a mouthpiece brush. These tools help keep the saxophone clean and in good condition.

Neck Straps: A comfortable neck strap is essential for supporting the weight of the saxophone. Adjustable straps with padding, like the Neotech Soft Sax Strap, are recommended.

Cases: A sturdy case protects your saxophone during transport. Hard cases offer the best protection, while soft cases are lighter and more convenient for short trips.


Starting your journey with the saxophone can be an incredibly rewarding experience. The joy and fulfillment that come with learning to play this versatile instrument are unparalleled. By choosing the right saxophone, considering factors like size, weight, ease of play, and cost, and equipping yourself with the necessary accessories and learning resources, you set yourself up for success. With dedication, practice, and the right resources, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a skilled saxophonist, ready to explore the beautiful world of music that the saxophone opens up. Happy playing!


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