Four Books I Recommend to My Classical Saxophone Students

I only use a few books as a measuring stick before I let my classical saxophone students go on to serious repertoire. Once a middle schooler or high schooler gets through the list I have below, then it is on to Glazunov, Creston, and Ibert. Until a saxophone student reaches that point, I focus on technique and expression through these books. Have a look and let me know what you think in the comments!

Technique

I feel completely unoriginal recommending this book, but Daily Studies for All Saxophones by Trent Kynaston is a great way to have my saxophone students get their fingers around the horn. I used to recommend Larry Teal’s The Saxophonist’s Manual: A Handbook of Basic Concepts, but I found it too cumbersome to write in high F-sharps in the full-range scales. Teal’s book is invaluable, but someone should consider reissuing the book with high F-sharp notated on all the scales and drills. Kynaston’s book is also a bit cheaper and more concise. In one lesson I can usually get through scales, tonguing, intonation, and, if I’m lucky, even a bit of altissimo. 

RHYTHM

Most of my students struggle with rhythm, so I use Robert Starer’s book Rhythmic Training to help. The first few pages are pretty simple, but increase in difficulty as you delve deeper. At a certain point it’s okay to assign students only one line a week.

These rhythmic drills combine conducting, clapping, tapping your feet, and singing (saying) the counts. Eventually students conduct in compound and odd meters while executing difficult rhythms.

Completely focusing on rhythm away from music gets students away from the insidious habit of learning rhythms by rote. Instilled with rhythmic confidence, students are able to lead their sections at school and sight read new music more reliably. 

First Repertoire Book

Immediately after a student finishes their remedial books from band (I still really like (Essential Elements 2000: Eb Alto Saxophone for the backing tracks in Smartmusic, especially) we move on to Repertoire Classics for Alto Saxophone. I like this book for a few reasons: 1) it comes with downloadable MP3s for the accompaniment, 2) it has downloadable piano accompaniment, and 3) the tunes are very recognizable (think top 20 in classical music).

The music in this book serves as a wonderful opportunity to introduce concepts like vibrato, expression, and phrasing. The piano accompaniment serves as a constant reminder to the student and teacher to work on intonation. Lastly, once a student really gets going on these, it’s easy to knock out one per week and move on to my next recommendation. 

Second Repertoire Book

Larry Teal’s Solos for the Alto Saxophone Player is a perennial favorite among saxophone teachers. This book builds on Repertoire Classics for Alto Saxophone by presenting more technical and stylistically diverse music. Additionally, through Smartmusic you can play these solos with piano accompaniment.

I typically avoid etude books like Ferling and Berbiguier because they require lots of preparation on the student’s part, and provide little use for recitals or solo and ensemble festivals. Because the student’s time is already stretched so thin with extracurriculars it’s important that whatever you assign them has immediate utility. A lot of students need an extrinsic motivator in order practice, so often saying, “practice your recital/solo and ensemble piece” works better than, “practice this hard piece.”

What books do you use with high school and middle school students? I would love to hear because I’m always trying to improve my teaching! Leave a comment below so we can discuss! 

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6 comments

  1. 1. Voicing by Donald Sinta. I think it is the best approach to developing facility on overtone dexterity. Chapter 1 is a little wordy, but the exercises in Chapter 3 allow opportunities for success early.

    2. Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers, Garcia. I am biased, as Prof. Garcia is the Jazz Studies coordinator at my alma mater. As long as the student knows his major scales, he/she can focus on playing thoughtful phrases with no wrong notes.

    3. 100 Original Sightreading Exercises, Lacour. I think sight-reading is good to do every lesson, to condition students to not freak out come audition season. I like talking about what was good & what could be improved after the student’s performance.

    4. Rubank Methods: Tried & true. I know a teacher in North Carolina who really likes My First Universal Sax, which is probably in between the Beginning & Intermediate Rubank.

    5. The Complete Saxophonist, Houlik: A little bit of everything. Love the vibrato exercises.

  2. Don’t forget Guy Lacour! My first etude book — gets you working on slow and fast studies, key signatures, articulation…

    I agree for Art of Saxophone– I consider this an owner’s manual, ok for adults but young students probably won’t find it practical. I think it was more for back in the day when professional doublers needed to learn sax quickly…

    Nice article!

  3. Les Gammes (Londeix)
    50 Etudes Facilles (Lacour)
    Top Tones (Rascher)
    -For articulation I use Teal (the art of…) and Londeix (hello mr sax) principles and make them create their exercices.
    *I teach in a conservatory (elementary to advanced)

  4. It’s interesting to read about this and how you feel that once students finish these books they are ready to learn big repertoires like Ibert, Creston and Glazanov. How do you manage to get them to play well on them? How well do/can they perform those repertoire? i’m intrigued about your approach to that. I’m from Canada and here, the approach to those repertoire are audition rep for advanced high school students OR learned in 1st/second year. most students are still setting foundation skills and learning how to control their embouchure after playing the books you mentioned above. Also, every student is different, how to you get around with that?

    1. Hi Tina, thanks for your comment! For me, the 38 pieces from Repertoire Classics provide ample time and opportunity to address foundational skills. Depending on the student, getting through that book can be a 1-2 year process. All the while, of course, I’m supplementing the music with technical exercises either from the Kynaston or from worksheets I’ve compiled.

      From there, guiding a student through Haydn’s “Gypsy Rondo,” or Bach’s “Sicilienne and Allegro” (actually the Flute Sonata in Eb, BWV 1031, which may have been written by Bach or CPE Bach depending on who you ask), from Teal’s Solos for the Alto Saxophone Player provides ample foundational technique and, more importantly, STYLE. I feel fairly confident to let a student play the core repertoire of the saxophone with this progression. I’ve found that the quality of music and composers from these transcriptions give students the musical foundation needed to start tackling early to mid-twentieth century saxophone repertoire.
      I should also mention that half of my students’ instruction is in jazz and pop music. I find that exposing young saxophonists to music with which they are familiar in addition to playing quality transcriptions with backing tracks keeps engagement and motivation high.

      As far as addressing the individuality of each student, I’m always improvising on how to progress students and give assignments. There’s no rigidity to my method, just an ample pool of good music and techniques that I strategically assign. For example, a highly motivated student might not finish every song in Repertoire Classics. The same is true for older students playing Teal’s compilation.

      Tina, are there any gems (books, methods, or otherwise) that you use with your students with great success? I’m always learning and would love to know! Thanks again for taking the time to read the post!

      1. Hi Sean,
        thanks for explaining your teaching method so detailed. Maybe its because i’ve only had one teacher and after teaching for sometime now (and playing) as a canadian saxophonist, it seems like there might be some differences. We do use some of the method books you mentioned above like the Kynaston and solos for alto/tenor sax player. However method book wise for beginners we usually use either the standard of excellence to start (usually this range between age 10-12/13). Then depending on student progress (and age!) i go into Rubank supplementary studies, first/second studies book for the saxophone while pairing it with scales and solo books which students can play. I notice that with the younger students (age 10-12) they have more difficulty jumping into the more ‘advanced’ solo books because of their capability and understanding of their embouchure (tone and finger/air coordination) and just fundamental aspects. I usually like to make sure they are more solid before moving into more advanced saxophone repertoire.
        With the older ones i usually jump into the Voxman selected studies, advanced ones, Ferling etudes. Some of them then playing easier/intermediate standards which they can handle: allegretto brilliante, some of the Bach/Handel/Haydn sonatas, Platti sonata. We have something such as the Royal Conservatory of Music examination series here so i basically look through all the repertoire, shuffle around the technical/musical aspects of the repertoire list and have students play them based on where their capability is. Some that advance faster get to jump into repertoire such as Bozza’s Aria, Ghidoni’s Nocturne et sicilienne, Chanson et passepied (ruff), Character pieces in form of a suite (Dubois), Histories (Ibert), Three romances (Schumann), Fantasia (telemann), Bach sonatas. For those who advance very quickly and grasp musical/technical aspects i get them to play , Tableaux de provence, Heiden sonata, movements of Hindemith sonata, Lunde sonata, Wilder sonata, Jacobi sonata, Noda’s improvisations, etc. Even with my colleagues, we don’t really move students into the big reps like Ibert sonata, Glazanov, etc until they are truly capable of learning it and able to grasp a full understanding of the piece. However by then i notice usually this is only more common depending how well the student practice and understand their playing and commonly more students who are age 16+. By then, for those who are interested, would then be heading into audition preparations for university.

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