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.