A little background: In high school, I was first chair tenor saxophone all four years in the school's top wind symphony section, and even played in the honors district band. I did jazz band both in high school and with my buddies, transcribing Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz pieces whenever I had the time. Whatever issues I sometimes had with technicality, I made up twice as much in tone and dynamics. I cherished all the hours spent playing, and tried playing a lot outside of band practice in school.

Fast forward many years later: today, I'm wrapping up my college degree in mathematics. Due to my 2-3 hour commute each day, and the heavy workload, it was easy for me to stop playing. I haven't regularly played in years, though I still have my saxophone (and it's a very, very good one). Whenever I'm driving in my car listening to jazz music, I can't help but fall in love with the same sound that captivated my life when I was 9 years old.

I'm sort of "afraid" to pick up the horn again. I remember most fingerings, and I'm pretty sure I could still read sheet music- though my syncopation could use a lot of work. I am determined to begin playing music again, though, and I would like to someday begin performing with a band in local jazz bars.

I am not naive- I know that this "someday" is going to be quite some time from now, which leads to my question: how should one like myself get back into playing saxophone? What exercises do you recommend I focus on? For those who have taken long hiatuses from playing music: what was the toughest aspect of getting back into playing?

This question is open to any musician, saxophonist or not. Thank you in advance!

3 Answers 3


As one gets older, time becomes an important commodity. Youngsters appear to have all the time in the world, but as we get older, that time gets filled with so many things - wife, home, kids, work, getting to work, sleeping after a hard days work, the list is as exhaustive as the life we lead !

Sounds like your time spent studying is over, so don't let anything else fill it, till the playing has taken a hold again.Yes, a job may rear its ugly head, to fill that space, but put some of that 'borrowed time' away for practising and playing.

It's like riding a bike - you never forget, but you may fall off a few times before it all comes back - and it usually does. The embouchure and fingering should be quick to return, as you seem to have been playing some challenging stuff before. The reading may take a little longer.

Revisit all the first things you did as a 9 yr old - scales, arpeggios, simple stuff. If the sax hasn't been touched in ? yrs, it won't go amiss to give it a quick overhaul. After a few weeks or months, find a jam session, or look up the guys you used to play with - some of them will be in the same position as you - finished studying, looking forward to going back to one of their first loves, music.

In the final analysis, what do you have to lose, against gain ? Go for it !!

  • "The embouchure ... should be quick to return": this reminds me of the time when I picked up the trumpet and French horn in my mid 20s to join a small brass band comprising mostly pre-teens and two older adults. One of the older players couldn't understand why I was tiring so quickly: he also played trumpet only in the summertime and had no trouble with his embouchure. I kept trying to tell him that his experience and mine were not comparable because, unlike him, I hadn't played trumpet year round for the latter half of my childhood, but to no avail.
    – phoog
    Sep 15, 2022 at 8:02

First thing to do is fall in love with your horn again. Take it to a shop, get it tuned up, find a reed you like. Then go back and listen to the sax players you really love and start comping along with them. Just long tones, roots, arpeggios, little figures.

Don't spend more than 15 minutes at a time doing this at first, do it multiple times a day if you can. You have to build up your embouchure again and you want to look forward to your next session. Your mind will start relearning and re-remembering stuff even when you're not playing. You'll fall in love again and will go to sleep thinking about your old lover who has returned.

Store your horn somewhere in your living space, out of the case, ready to play, with a reed in the mouthpiece. Have it ready to play at all times. Whenever you're bored or waiting for something or just walking by, pick up your horn and play with it a bit.

Now that you're in love again, you need to work on the relationship. As you play, you'll find the areas that you need to work on. Figure out a way to practice that's actually performance and figure out a way to play for a total of at least 30 minutes a day, every day, even if it's broken up into 5 minute chunks.

So, for example if you're studying chord inversions and substitutions, rather than drill through them all, play along with a recording of some standard with a lead sheet for that standard. Then set yourself challenges based on that music:

  • Comping
  • Chord substitutions
  • Tone
  • Circular breathing
  • Figures transposed into all possible ii-V7 chord changes
  • ...

When you study lead techniques, get something like Band in a Box or some kind of Music Minus One recording and solo over it, practicing your lead techniques. If you don't use one of these tools, then get a drum machine or software to play at your practice tempo. Steady tempo tends to be a big challenge for lead players.

As soon as you can, start jamming with other musicians who are above your current level. I had only been learning to play guitar for a month when I started going to a weekly living room jam with musicians who were much better than me. They taught me a lot and I had a major motivation to practice because I wanted these folks to like what I was doing.

Life is short. Have fun.


I'm an old pro, who like most people go in and out of good practice routines. when I try to get back into it I practice at first for 30 mins per day and build to two hours. I do this:

1, 10% long tones, 2, 10 reading, 3, 10 % transposition-pick a favorite standard and learn it in all 12 keys, 4, 70% patterns in all keys. Hope this helps. Don't forget to listen to lots of music by your most loved players.

Good luck!

  • 1
    I don't understand why this was downvoted. It's truly great advice: be disciplined about starting slowly and about having a regular routine, and cultivate your inspiration to pursue your musical goals by listening to music that moves you. A concise and inspiring answer. +1 from me.
    – phoog
    Sep 15, 2022 at 8:09

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