We all do 'do, re, mi,' but you have got to find the other notes yourself
A great thing about having a teacher is hopefully they’ve already narrowed down the endless list of books available for beginners. So ok, you are restricted by the books that agree with their teaching style, but then, hopefully you picked a teacher who matches your learning ways. I was first offered the Absolute Beginners: Alto Saxophone by my teacher as it was very detailed in the set-up process and the explanation on hold and posture etc.. It is a great book for a beginner, but I wasn’t too keen on the musical content. Whilst I’m a complete beginner to the sax, I have got some background in music and it was clear I was going to run out of this book fairly soon. It takes a few lessons for a teacher to understand how musical you are and how quickly you learn. So we decided to switch to Learn as You Play: Saxophone by Peter Wastall which I must say is the one for me and seems a standard favourite of my teacher too.
It does’t dwell too much on the set-up, posture or hold sections, or rather if it did, I have skimmed through those pages without noticing. It is clearly aimed at someone learning with a teacher. If you are teaching yourself, you’d need to have a reasonable amount of musical knowledge to understand the concepts. It does go through everything step by step, but covers some complex ideas in just a few sentences – in almost a reference style.
I love the way the exercises build up to a more significant piece in quite a clever way to introduce the specific theme being taught. The pieces themselves are a little archaic and unrecognisable to me. I’m guessing this has something to do with the copyright having expired on some of these old tunes. On the plus side, this means you have to play the dots. I find knowing the tune can really interfere with learning to read music especially the timing.
Having played the piano (not to any great standard) and the guitar (to a slightly better standard) where all notes are roughly made equal (as in the mechanics of playing one note or another is pretty much the same) you don’t think about having to learn to play a specific note like a low b. A saxophone on the other hand is a completely different animal. Every note is a law onto itself and you need to give it it’s own space and practice like hell. The exercises in this book have been designed to get you used to this idea bringing a lot of method to this madness.
Personally it takes me a week to get through each stage which is only a couple of pages. As so much of it is about getting a clean sound (did I mention Embouchure) and being able to follow the music while you play, it is worth nailing each section before forging ahead.
I had my first music teacher when I was learning to play the cello at the age of 12. I was with her for 3 years, I passed a few exams and played in the school orchestra. The last teacher I had was around 4 years ago, when a friend decided to buy me some saxophone lessons as a present. The lessons were in this guy’s tiny kitchen in a small upstairs flat. I thought it best not to ask about the neighbours. He was charging me £25 an hour, so I figured it was his problem. But I wasn’t getting the practice between lesson and it was an expensive way to practice scales. I stopped after the 5 lesson taster.
Having recently decided to revisit and make a commitment to the saxophone, there was no question of not having a teacher. Sure you can teach yourself just about anything from origami to brain surgery these days with a lot of spare time and the internet, but I felt the sax wasn’t one of them. You only have to look at the thing to realise it’s going to take a decent teacher and a lot of patience and practice.
The internet is crammed full of detailed instructions on how to find your ideal music teacher, and I’d like to say I did my research, short listed half a dozen teachers, went and heard them play, talked to their students, heard them play and checked their certificates from the Royal College of Music. But no, I didn’t have the time to do any of this, and I’m guessing neither do you.
So here’s a slightly easier albeit less comprehensive approach that kind of worked for me. I say kind of because I’m not sure if there really is the perfect teacher. It’s a moving target, you can only know if they are right for you right now.
It is worth mentioning at this point that my search was conducted entirely using the internet. I did of course ask my friends first for a personal recommendation, but unlike piano and guitar teachers, sax teachers are a rarer breed.
I would advice you to get the following straight before starting your search
Who do you need? ‘I want the best!!’ is probably not going to help, for reasons I’ll go into. I took a more pragmatic view, which considered all the practical considerations like how good they need to be to teach me as a complete beginner. Do I want a great saxophonist or a good teacher. Do I like someone who has a structured approach to teaching or someone who’s a little ‘jazzy’ in their methods. Do I want someone who’s heavy on the theory or someone who prefers to teach by ear and feel. Personally I decided I needed someone who could teach first, but who could also blow that horn well enough to make me want to keep coming back. I love playing music by ear, but this time I really wanted to read those dots. I am also someone who could definitely benefit from more than a little structure.
What style of music do you want to play? Ok so there are dozens of different styles you could be playing, but to my mind there are just two things you need to concern yourself about. Do you want to play jazz or don’t you. In my case, I got to this point through listening to blues, funk, jazz and latin music. So it was pretty clear my teacher had to be into Jazz. The other side to this very simplistic coin is classical and rock music and I think it requires a different kind of teacher.
When do you want your lesson? When can you have the lesson. Most teachers are booked up in the evening and weekends. So being able to have a lesson in the day would put you in good position to negotiate. If a teacher doesn’t do office ours, then you know they are teaching music as a second job. Not necessarily a bad thing, but something to note. I’m lucky to be able to have mine on a mid morning in the week.
What are your intentions? How long do you want to stay with the same teacher – Like any relationship, it is better to take things one step at a time, especially if you are a complete beginner learning to play the saxophone. Are you confident you are going to stick with it no matter what? Or are you just checking to see if it really is for you.
HOW MUCH?!!! – you need to have an idea of what you can afford. You can pay between £15 to £30 for 30mins to 45mins. At the lower end you are not going to get someone that is hugely experienced, many music students tend to offer cheap lessons. I was lucky to find someone at the lower price bracket who was also a good teacher even though a less experienced player. Suits me right now
Getting this stuff clear in your head and preferably on paper can save a load of time, especially when searching online where you may need to filter out a lot of potential candidates to something more manageable.
Google ‘saxophone teacher’ (Search “Saxophone teacher [Town/City]. Remember to also set the location on your Google page for even more localised results.
Teacher Directories/Databases – At first you’ll notice the dozen or so ‘comprehensive’ music teacher directories that promise the world. These can be on the whole annoying with terrible search functions and even worse navigation. They either provide too few options to filter and you end up with a list of teachers in the entire county, or too many advanced filtering options that doesn’t return anyone, unless you live in a big city. If you find a couple that match your criteria then add them to the short list. Some of these sites will charge you a fee to contact a teacher. Others will charge the teacher to register with the site. The rest relies on advertising to keep them going. Personally I didn’t find any of these useful enough to recommend. Thought you need to go through the first couple to get your list together.
Personal websites. If you are lucky you’ll see a few personal sites set up by the teacher. These tend not to be the best looking sites you’ll ever see, but what do you expect from a busy musician and teacher. I found mine through their site. It really helped make the connection. With a lot of these you’ll find a bunch of links to their performance videos and other background material which will really save you a lot of time. It is worth mentioning that many teachers don’t have their own site – which is a real shame. So don’t rely too much on this. But if you get lucky then add any teachers you find to your short list.
Google Facebook – It is very hard to use the FB search function. Typing ‘sax teacher london‘ returned useless results for me. So here’s a trick. Cut and paste this into Google replacing [location] with your town >>> (site:www.facebook.com saxophone teacher [location]) . Go through the first page of results and see if there’s anyone that grabs you and put them on the list. The good thing about Facebook is you can get a bit more info about the teacher – how many people have liked their page. See some of the updates and conversations they’ve had as well as pictures and sometimes performance video. Anything that helps you get an idea of the person is very useful.
Filter your short list.
Once you have a handful of potential candidates (If you have any more than this then you are extremely lucky or live in New Orleans, in which case I’m wasting your time), you can move to the next step
My space – Shocking I know, but there are still a lot of old musicians with profiles on myspace with videos and pictures. Worth a check
Youtube – if they are at all playing locally then you should find them or their band here. When I was helping a friend find a piano teacher we turned down several after seeing them play on YouTube
Twitter – It may not help you know how good they are as a teacher, but finding their ramblings on twitter may reveal a whole lot about their personality. If you are lucky you may even see them mentioned or even thanked by a student. By the way it’s not worth using Twitter to search for teachers. Twitter is time based and there’s only a very slim chance you’ll see a tweet from a teacher promoting their services at the precise time you are looking
Multi talented teachers aka those teaching several often unrelated instruments. Personally I wanted a teacher who was passionate about the saxophone and the style of music they played more than how experienced they were. So unless the other instruments they taught were the Tenor, Soprano or the Bass sax they were out of my list.
Make the call arrange a trial lesson
When you are down to a couple of candidates, then it’s time to make that call and have a chat. Remember to go through your list of criteria, but most importantly check you can get on. If you like them, then you usually get a chance to have a trial lesson at a reduced rate or even free. If you really have a few teachers you’d like to try out, then I’d recommend asking for a free trial – many would say yes if you explain.
The trial lesson
Remember this is not really a chance to learn as much as find out who you would be learning from and how. Do you like them? Do they instil confidence? Get them to play something and don’t be shy about asking them to play something you really like (Worth having this prepped beforehand). Then they will ask you you to play. If you are a complete beginner then you are probably going to struggle at this point, but thats the point. A lot of people give up the sax because they just can’t get a sound out. A good teacher should be able to get a sound out of you by the end of the trial.
Don’t be pressured into committing to them then and there unless you are absolutely sure they are the one.
A lot of people find it difficult to say no to a teacher once they’ve started, especially if the teacher is a nice person. My advice is to book a taster package of about half dozen lessons which many teachers will offer at a discounted rate. This will give you enough time to check them out. Any less time and you may not be giving yourself a proper chance to get the sound enough to know if it’s for you.
Wow and this was meant to be a short post. I would love to here from you if you have any other nifty ideas for finding a teacher online.