The saxophone is one of the more well-known musical instruments in the world, being a staple in jazz, big band, marching band, some classical and even pop. There are a surprising number of benefits associated with learning how to play saxophone and practicing/playing regularly.
Whether you're interested in taking the first steps in becoming a saxophonist or you're already a master of the instrument, I hope to inspire you to continue on your musical journey as you read this article. There is so much to gain from learning a musical instrument like the saxophone, and I've selected what I believe to be the top 11 best reasons.
The top 11 benefits of learning and playing saxophone are:
- Strengthens Breathing
- Improves Coordination/Dexterity
- Improves Discipline & Concentration
- Improves Memory
- Builds Confidence
- Provides A Creative Outlet
- Enhances The Understanding Of Music
- Introduces A New Language
- Building Relationships
- Yields Translatable Skills For Other Woodwind Instruments
- Therapeutic Benefits
- Bonus Benefit 1: Monetizing Your Skills
- Bonus Benefit 2: Opportunity To Learn Instrument Upkeep & Construction
In this article, we'll discuss each of the benefits listed above to understand better how learning and playing the saxophone can improve our lives.
Learning & Playing Saxophone Strengthens Breathing
Many musical instruments affect our breathing (often by relaxation and/or physical exertion). However, woodwind instruments like the saxophone (along with brass instruments) demand specific breath control to produce sound.
A significant part of learning and playing the saxophone is learning the breathing requirements necessary to blow air, vibrate the reed and ultimately produce the intended sound. Like when singing, if the saxophonist runs out of air to blow, the saxophone stops producing sound.
So we must become skilled with and conscious of our breathing when learning and playing the sax.
Diaphragmatic (belly) breathing helps us improve our overall breathing. Breath control, ranging from relaxed and open inhalations to sharp, explosive exhalations, gives our lungs a good workout and strengthens our respiratory system.
Music therapy, including the learning of woodwind instruments, has promising effects on improving the overall respiratory health of those living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (source).
As an added note, there are plenty of different sizes of saxophones. Of the four primary types (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone), alto is the smallest and highest-pitched and baritone is the largest and lowest-pitched.
High-pitched saxophones require higher pressure (harder blowing), while low-pitched saxophones require lower pressure (slower blowing but with greater volume). So becoming proficient at all the saxophones will really benefit our breath control.
Strengthening the respiratory system and breath control improves our overall health and has benefits beyond music, spanning to exercise, meditation and more.
Related article: How To Hold Saxophones For Optimal Posture & Technique
Learning & Playing Saxophone Improves Coordination/Dexterity
In addition to superb breath control, we must be able to match the exhales with the proper fingerings for the notes we intend to produce. This takes incredible dexterity to accomplish in a defined rhythm.
In learning the saxophone, we must develop the ability to synchronize our hands, breathing and embouchure, making them perform the notes we want, when we want them. With the timbre and emotionality we want to express. That demands the development of dexterity!
This dexterity and coordination are further improved as we sight-read sheet music.
Though the saxophone family is its own category of instruments, the dexterity and control learned will apply to other instruments, even beyond the woodwinds.
Related article: Do You Need Big Hands To Play Saxophone?
Learning & Playing Saxophone Improves Discipline & Concentration
Becoming skilled with any musical instrument takes time, dedication and a willingness to improve. In other words, learning and playing saxophone takes discipline and concentration.
These skills (discipline and concentration) can be learned and nurtured with intentional practice. Learning how to play the saxophone, from the mechanics to the in-depth theory, is a fun way to learn music and the saxophone in and of itself and to also develop discipline and concentration.
Learning the basics of saxophone presents a fairly steep learning curve, which requires work to overcome. Mastering the instrument demands unwavering resolve to the craft.
Learning & Playing Saxophone Improves Memory
The idea that learning a musical instrument improves memory has become mainstream, largely due to several studies and publications on the topic.
Our memory can be improved by putting our brains to work (source). The auditory and tactile stimulation, along with the visual aspect of reading music, makes learning saxophone a definite brain workout. In particular, learning a musical instrument like the saxophone will stimulate the amygdala and hippocampus, which play a role in emotions and memories (source).
Consider all the factors of learning and playing saxophone that involve memory:
- Memorizing songs (with rhythm, harmony, melody, timbre/tone)
- The notes of the saxophone (and their transposition from the written music)
- Chord arpeggio fingerings
- Theoretical knowledge of music (rhythm, harmony, melody)
While learning and playing the saxophone, we stimulate the hippocampus, which activates neurogenesis, the formation of new neurons. Neurogenesis is linked to improved learning and memory (source).
Learning & Playing Saxophone Builds Confidence
Not only do we build the confidence of learning the saxophone and being able to play the music we want, but also from the fact that we are capable of learning what we want to learn in a more general sense. Having the confidence to be able to learn what you're interested in is paramount to success and happiness, in my opinion.
The Meriam-Webster Dictionary defined self-confidence as the “confidence in oneself and in one's powers and abilities”. Playing the saxophone gives us immediate auditory feedback. If it sounds the way we're trying to make it sound, we build self-confidence!
Furthermore, we can get to a point where we're in a position to play with and/or for other musicians and audiences. In doing so, playing saxophone can help us overcome shyness and stage fright.
Developing the confidence to perform in front of friends, family, strangers and even virtually/online will pay dividends through many other areas of our lives. Becoming proficient with our saxophone playing gives us the opportunity to engage in such performances.
Learning & Playing Saxophone Provides A Creative Outlet
Though everyone possesses creativity in some capacity, there is a certain obviousness to creativity in music (source). Learning to play the saxophone gives us a creative outlet to write our own music and also to perform the music of others in our own fashion.
Musical creativity may come naturally to us, and the saxophone is an excellent instrument to bring such creativity to the world.
Studies show that learning musical instruments like the saxophone creates connections between the brain's two hemispheres. Learning the saxophone and regular playing/practicing can actually increase the size of the corpora callosa, the bundle of axons that effectively connects the two hemispheres (source). With new neural pathways, we add additional ways of thinking (consciously and subconsciously), which surely improves our ability to create innovative and unique musical ideas.
Learning & Playing Saxophone Enhances The Understanding Of Music
As previously mentioned, saxophones are commonplace staples in jazz, big band, marching band, some classical and even pop music. The versatility of this instrument allows saxophonists to explore pieces/songs/repertoire/standards in a variety of musical styles.
Once we learn the fundamentals of playing the saxophone, we can access the many different styles available to expand our musical learning. In doing so, we deepen our understanding of the beautiful art form of music.
It's worth noting, too, that saxophones are monophonic instruments (producing one note at a time). This means that unlike polyphonic instruments like the guitar and piano, saxophones can't play simultaneous notes in chords. Rather, they must arpeggiate chords, playing each chord tone in succession. This “limitation” allows saxophonists to think of melody and harmony differently.
Additionally, since saxophones are reliant on the breath, their phrases can be thought of as more “human-like”. While the guitarists, pianists, drummers, etc., can continually play notes, the saxophonist is naturally restricted to more “vocal-like” lines. These limitations help saxophonists develop a certain viewpoint of melody, harmony and phrasing.
Learning & Playing Saxophone Introduces A New Language
The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Music is the universal language of mankind” (source). Whether we're learning songs on the saxophone by ear or via sheet music, it's akin to reading and speaking a language.
Music can tell a story, and the saxophone can invoke a number of emotions and feelings in the player and listener.
By learning the saxophone and, therefore, a certain dialect of the “musical language,” we can expand our understanding of music and the world.
In addition to the saxophone by itself, the song arrangement, harmonic movement, rhythm, lead/melodic lines, and the general feel of the saxophone piece are all part of the language in their own right.
Furthermore, studies show that learning a musical instrument like the saxophone helps strengthen the same parts of the brain responsible for language processing (source). Learning saxophone not only introduces the language of music but also enhances our brain's ability to learn other languages.
Learning & Playing Saxophone Helps Build Relationships
Music has the ability to bring people together. I've personally built many relationships thanks to music and being a musician, including a few saxophone players.
First off, let's consider the teacher-student relationship. If you choose to go down the path of hiring a saxophone teacher to help you learn, you'll build a relationship with that teacher by default. This is true of in-person lessons and one-on-one online lessons.
Once you've learned how to play sufficiently, you can, yourself, become a teacher and build relationships with your own students.
This may seem obvious, but musicians play music with other musicians. Learning to play the saxophone will make it easier for you to connect with other musicians.
Whether you start a band, join a marching band or orchestra, or simply jam for fun, becoming a skilled saxophone player will get you noticed by other musicians.
Speaking of getting noticed, if you've developed the skill and confidence to play live, you'll certainly meet venue owners, music fans and other musicians. Music excels as a social art, and it makes it much easier to meet new people and develop deeper connections.
Learning & Playing Saxophone Yields Translatable Skills For Other Woodwind Instruments
Saxophones are single-reed woodwind instruments. Though they're certainly unique in their own right, many skills acquired when learning the saxophone can be transferred to other woodwind instruments, particularly those with single reeds, such as the clarinet.
As mentioned before, learning the saxophone means learning breath control. Though other instruments like the oboe require more breath control, starting on the sax will at least get you familiar with conscious breathing and breath control.
The breath control will come in handy even with the reedless woodwind instruments like flute and piccolo. Additionally, the control will come in handy with brass instruments (such as the trumpet, trombone and tuba) even though they are in a different family of musical instruments.
When it comes to reeds, the saxophone's single reed is akin to the single reed of the clarinet. Though there are differences, understanding how to get sound from a single reed will greatly benefit us if we ever decide to try out the clarinet.
Double reeds are more difficult to play, and some teachers even suggest learning a single-reed instrument before “graduating” a double reed. Though both reed types work the same (by vibrating against the mouthpiece or the reed itself, respectively), learning how to play a single reed will shorten the learning curve when it comes time to play a double-reed instrument.
Finally, the fingering of the saxophone, though unique in its own right, will translate in some manner to other woodwinds. Though the fingerings and key mechanisms will differ between saxophones and other woodwinds, the muscles used to play such instruments will be trained with all woodwinds.
Perhaps knowing your scales on the saxophone won't directly translate to other woodwinds, though it will make it easier to learn the other woodwinds from scratch than if you didn't play the sax.
Note that, while the different saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, etc.) are in different keys, they essentially have the same relative fingering, save for a few extra keys here and there.
Learning & Playing Saxophone Has Therapeutic Benefits
Debra Shipman (Ph.D. RN) states, “Learning to play a musical instrument provides a peaceful retreat from the pressures of daily life. Therapeutic outcomes of playing music include better communication skills, improved emotional release and decreased anxiety and agitation. Musical training promotes cognitive function, mental health, and a connection to others.” (source)
Music is being studied thoroughly as a promising tool for therapy for the brain, lungs and heart (source). These health benefits are readily available with regular practice on the saxophone. The American Music Therapy Association lists the following benefits of music therapy:
- Promote Wellness
- Manage Stress
- Alleviate Pain
- Express Feelings
- Enhance Memory
- Improve Communication
- Promote Physical Rehabilitation
Learning & Playing Saxophone Bonus Benefit 1: Monetizing Your Skills
As the first of two bonus tips, let's talk about money. To include another quote, Paul Van Der Merwe stated, “Money makes the world go round” (source).
Once you've become a capable saxophone player, there are many different avenues to monetize your skills. Here are just a few to consider:
- Performing original music live (clubs, dinner parties, churches, coffee shops and even busking)
- Performing covers live
- Record streaming royalties from original music
- Teaching saxophone lessons
- Recording as a session saxophonist
There are plenty of other opportunities to monetize saxophone-playing skills. Marketable skills (whether they're high-paying and/or capitalized on or not) are undoubtedly a benefit of learning and playing the saxophone.
Learning & Playing Saxophone Bonus Benefit 2: Opportunity To Learn Instrument Upkeep & Construction
Learning and playing saxophone isn't only about the technique, music theory and songs. It's also about the instruments themselves. Leaning the saxophone gives us a great opportunity to learn about the physics of sound and woodwind instruments more generally.
Furthermore, learning the general upkeep of saxophones teaches us about plenty of other topics, including:
- How to disassemble and reassemble saxophones
- How air vibrate reeds and tubes of air to produce sound
- The effects of humidity on metal
- How to clean saxophones for optimal health and performance
- How to properly grease the keys
- How to prepare reeds
Related My New Microphone articles on saxophone maintenance:
• How To Fix A Saxophone Neck Cork
• How To Fix A Saxophone Neck
• How To Fix A Saxophone Octave Key (Sticky, Stiff, Bent, Worn)
• How To Fix A Saxophone Reed (Hard, Warped)
• How To Fix Saxophone Keys
• How To Fix Saxophone Pads (Sticky, Unlevel, Worn)
• What Causes A Saxophone To Sound Spitty & How To Fix It
• 5 Reasons Your Saxophone Smells Bad & How To Fix The Issue