How To Play Saxophone By Ear

Learning how to play saxophone by ear is a skill that EVERY saxophonist should master.

If you can play saxophone by ear, then you can pretty much PLAY WHAT EVER YOU WANT TO PLAY !

So, how do you do it ?

I have said it before and I will say it again.  If you can sing it and hear it in your head, you can play it.

All it takes is a little time, a little effort and a little experimentation.


Step One.

Pick a note on your saxophone – any note – play it and then sing it.  This will be your “reference note”.

For the sake of an example, why not play a G.

Now sing that G – “laaahh” (no need for fancy lyrics here, because we a re saxophonists, not vocalists !)

Play your G again, and lock the sound, the tone, the note in your head.

Sing it again to yourself.


Step Two.

Now, starting IN YOUR HEAD and SINGING WITH YOUR VOICE, sing a simple three note phrase, starting on your G.

Go up higher one step, then back down again.

Laahh, laahh, laahh.

For example, G   A   G.

Now, play it on your saxophone.

Let’s repeat this, but this time, sing your “reference note” (in this example – G ) and go down lower one step, and back up again.

Laahh, laahh, laahh.

For example, G   F   G.

Now, play it on your saxophone.


Step Three.

Can you try a 4 note phrase, again starting on your “reference note” ?

Laahh, laahh, laahh, laahh.

Keep it simple, keep the note steps very close to each other, no need to jump crazily and wildly around all weird and wonderful notes.

Make it easy for yourself.

Can you, for example, go up three steps from your “reference note” ?

eg   G   A   B   C

Can you, for another example, go down three steps from your “reference note” ?

eg   G   F   E   D

Can you sing this BEFORE you play it on your saxophone ?

Boom !

Welcome to playing your saxophone by ear !

Learning how to play saxophone by ear is a skill.  It does take practice.  It does take work and effort.

If you do this little exercise for 5 minutes each time you practice your sax, you WILL be able to play saxophone by ear.

The examples above are simple and easy and will get you started.

However, slowly over time you can add to the complexity of your singing/playing phrases.  You can add more notes, or bigger jumps higher or lower, to extend your range, your ability and to challenge yourself.


And this opens up a whole new world.

Now you can try with a simple melody….or even a complex melody such as your favourite song.

How To Play Saxophone By Ear

How To Play Saxophone By Ear

Listen to the first note of the melody of your favourite song.  Sing it – either in your head or out loud.  Then find that “reference note” on your saxophone.

Then listen to the first simple phrase of your favourite song.  Sing it to yourself.  Starting on your reference note, the first note of your song, sing it in your head while you then play it.

Yes, there might be a little bit of trial and error.  Maybe you could write down each note in the phrase as you find it !

Suddenly, you will have transcribed your favourite song.  Suddenly you have now learnt how to play saxophone by ear.

Now, please go and play your saxophone 🙂




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