Why I love teaching saxophone for beginners

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Lots of people have asked me over the years if teaching beginner saxophone players drives me crazy.

The short and sweet answer to that question is, "No, I absolutely love it!"

There's really nothing more gratifying than taking someone from zero knowledge of the sax to a place where they're able to play their first notes and tunes, and to witness them getting such pleasure out of that process. Truly, nothing else beats it.

Sometimes beginner saxophone players can worry that the sounds that they make when they're are first learning are going to be annoying or upsetting to their teacher. The reality is that learning to blow the sax means making some strange and unfamiliar noises - it comes with the territory and it's completely 100% OK.

It can also be tempting to want to apologise for every little squeak or error that you make. Sure, when you're playing the sax for the first time you may feel self conscious about some of the sounds that you produce - but there's absolutely no need to apologise for them.

It's also perfectly OK to "get it wrong." In fact, learning from your mistakes is going to be an absolutely necessary and essential part of the learning process of saxophone for beginners. Playing a new musical instrument is about having the courage to experiment. And it's about being prepared to accept that the first few times we try something, sure there's going to be room for improvement. It's very difficult to learn new things if we're constantly afraid to get it wrong. And this fear could well hold us back from all kinds of potentially wonderful experiences.

I often think of learning to play an instrument as being similar to learning a new language. Suppose you were learning to speak Japanese or Hindi, having never spoken those languages before. No one would expect you to pronounce words correctly, like a native, the first time you tried. And it could well take you a great many years to reach a stage where you felt comfortable to express yourself in that new language in a social or business setting without worrying that you were making errors or mispronunciations.

Here's the thing, I have the perfect antidote to any of the misgivings, doubts or fears you may have about picking up a saxophone for the first time - it's generous amounts of fun, mixed with plenty of good humour (and unlimited cups of tea!)

The truth is, when people are having fun they relax more and become less self-conscious, which is why I ensure that, alongside the learning, there's an atmosphere of playfulness and fun in all my lessons.As I've discovered too, people absorb information easier and more quickly when they are relaxed and enjoying themselves.

So what simple approaches can we take when we are learning a new instrument, to ensure we get the most out of the experience?

Here are some things that you might find helpful:

1) Remember that its OK to make mistakes. Your instructor is there to help you, not judge you. They expect that you don’t have experience or knowledge in this field, that’s why you have hired them. Keep in mind too that we can learn so much from mistakes. Personally, I don’t even think about these experiences as "mistakes" - I welcome them in as "areas of growth" instead.

2) When you are learning something new, try and be as relaxed as possible. Take nice deep breaths, let go of any tension in your muscles. And try not to take too much notice of your inner dialogue (that pesky little voice we can all have from time to time that can have the power to build us up or break us down!) and make sure you are always being mentally "kind" to yourself.

3) Enjoy the experience. Find a way to be playful, have fun and allow mistakes to happen. The most important thing for most of my students, in my opinion, is not whether they know their scales or understand the theory of modes, or whether they can play “Baker Street” like a professional or not.

Of course those things are important but the most important thing is that you are enjoying playing your wonderful instrument. If you are enjoying it, then you will be motivated to play and practice. And if continue to practice then you will improve.

As you improve you'll grow and that’s a great feeling which will spur you on to want to play the sax even more. That way you're creating a “virtuous cycle” of positive experience and growth that will enable you develop and grow as a musician.