Saxophone Essentials Volume 1

Saxophone Essentials Volume 1

Saxophone Essentials Volume 1

I began putting together my Saxophone Essentials teaching material over a decade ago.  After some fifteen or more years of teaching to that point I became convinced that a good deal of the commercially available saxophone material was rather poorly conceived.  I did not find that I got the type of results I was after with many students, and I began to envision a better way forward with respect to both the material that was presented and the order in which it was presented.  What follows here are my foundational exercises for Intermediate level students, whom I encounter on a regular basis.  Typically kids between the grades of 7th and 10th grade, Intermediate level students to me have a basic understanding of the saxophone, know all 12 chromatic notes for 2 octaves from low D to high D, can read at a functional level, and have some sense of rhythm and articulation.

In order to develop a complete understanding of the saxophone I start with chromatic scale work.  I have a very specific way of teaching this, gradually making the exercises more complex rhythmically by subtracting notes and adding articulation in a systematic way.  I teach these exercises by ear and use them as a warm up at the beginning of each lesson.  After a few months of exposure to these exercises I have found that students begin to develop a very secure chromatic understanding of the saxophone, and from this foundation we can then begin to work with scales and triads.  While I do not have Finale pdf’s of the Chromatic Scale Routine, I do have the original hand written sketches I did more than ten years ago when I first began implementing this material.  You will get a very good general idea of how this works by having a look at the following examples…..

Chromatic Routine Pg 1

Chromatic Routine Pg 2
Chromatic Routine Pg 3
Chromatic Routine Pg 4
Chromatic Routine Pg 5
Chromatic Routine Pg 6


The final Chromatic Scale Study that I use with students was taught to me by saxophonist George Young.  You can go to George’s website here….

George has had an amazing career…..originally from Philadelphia, he was active in New York City from 1966 to 1996, including a stint with the Saturday Night Live band in the 1990’s.  He is on a ton of recordings, including a short tenor sax solo on one of John Lennon’s solo recordings, and toured with Paul Simon on the Graceland tour.

I was fortunate to meet George in the early 2000’s when he lived briefly in Carmel.  I took a few lessons from him, and he helped me a lot by jamming with me on a couple of my original compositions.  George also recorded a tune on my Universal Truths CD entitled Sound & Spirit, which you can hear on Youtube here:

This is the study I learned from George, it is a fantastic way to challenge your chromatic skills and a great quick warm up.  I refer to it as the Ultimate Chromatic Exercise!  Note that you should move the starting note up by half steps to achieve complete finger independence and increase your familiarity with these shapes.

Ultimate Chromo:Sax

It is also my belief that every high school saxophone student should be able to play their Major Scales in a couple of simple forms, thirds and triads, and I devised the following Major Scale Routine to begin the process of assimilating this material for this level student.  Ultimately these simple exercises should be played without written music.

IntMajScale Routine:Sax


Upon completion of the Major Scale Routine I turn next to several different triad configurations.  The goal here is to begin to build a foundational technique that the student will be able to draw upon once true improvisation study has begun.  So we are building that technique and harmonic awareness with this material, and I have found this order and method to yield by far the best results.

We start with Major Triads in root position….

Major Triads:Root Position:Sax

We then progress to the 3135 pattern with Major Triads……

Major Triads-3135:Sax

Next up is Major Triads in First Inversion

Major Triads:First Inverson:Sax

Then Major Triads in Second Inversion

Major Triads:Second Inversion:Sax

And then Major Triads with a Leading Tone.  You can see by working with these chordal elements in this order I am able to introduce basic ideas, namely Inversions and Leading Tones, that a student will understand and can then begin to integrate technically in an effort to build the necessary chops for successful and intelligent improvising.

Major Triads:LTones:Sax

Typically next I use the following Chromatic Movement Exercise that works great for integrating a wider intervalic conception.

Major Triads:Chromo Movement

Upon completion of this material it’s time to turn our attention towards Melodic Minor; the Major Scale Routine can then be altered by lowering the third degree of each scale to produce the Jazz Melodic Minor.  That relatively simple Routine should be practiced by ear, and using a technique I call Scale Merging; Major and Minor scales should be played back to back to develop the ability to alternate or “merge” tonalities.

I then work through the same patterns in the order stated above in Melodic Minor….

Minor Triads:Root Position

Minor Triads 3135:Sax


Minor Triads:First Inversion:Sax

Major Triads:Second Inversion:Sax

Minor Triads:LTones:Sax

Minor Triads:Chromo Movement

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this, the first Volume of Saxophone Essentials.  I have much more in the way of Saxophone Essentials, and plan to include some slight detours along the way, things that would be Saxophone Related Essentials, including recommended books and Top 10 Recordings.  Please stay tuned for that!

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