Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Tips for Sight Reading

We have been experiencing life VERY differently since lock-down started this March in South Africa. Now that it has been extended and my husband and I have managed to get into a good routine between him working full time from home and me looking after our nearly 3-year-old son, I have finally managed to start teaching online. 

I was nervous that online teaching wouldn't work well, but I have been pleasantly surprised. I know a lot of other music teachers have been teaching this way from the moment schools closed (and they have been super positive about it). But having my little man at home, it just didn't seem like an ideal option. Now that I have no other option (as I have not had an income for a month), we are making it work in terms of our life at home. In terms of logistics with students, and them all having decent internet etc, it has been working well so far. Zoom has been my go-to app and it has been very efficient.

I know that I have been pretty hopeless at keeping this blog going consistently over the years, but I have been wanting to give my students some helpful content to encourage them and give them some quick tips for practicing. I felt that since I am going to be making the effort to stay up late and construct something useful for my students, I might as well share it with the world, and perhaps it will encourage some other folk out there who are needing some practicing inspiration.

So here goes my first infographic (thanks to Canva) of Tips for Sight Reading

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Saxophone Basics - How to produce a sound on the saxophone mouthpiece

How to produce a sound on the saxophone mouthpiece

[Have you read attaching reed to mouthpiece? Make sure to do so before continuing with this post.]
Now that your reed is secured by the ligature to the mouthpiece, you are ready you learn how to produce a on the mouthpiece.
I always teach my students to play on the mouthpiece first, before trying it on the saxophone. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it is important to get the 'correct' embouchure (mouth position on mouthpiece) from the beginning. I put correct in inverted commas because everybody has a different shape mouth, teeth, lips etc, and so what is the optimum position for one person, may not be the same for another. However, for the purposes of this post, I will describe to you a general 'correct' position. Please consult your teacher if you are unsure of what is the best embouchure for you. The second reason to play on the mouthpiece only, is that you are able to learn how to control the pitch using your throat and little adjusting of the embouchure. If you can do this from early on in your playing, it will help you tremendously down the line when you need to learn to control the pitch on the instrument.

Things gs to consider before making a sound:
1. Make sure that your reed is still moist from when you assembled it onto the mouthpiece. You may way to lick the outside part of the reed before attempting to make a sound. (I know that this may sound gross, but if the reed is too dry, it won't vibrate properly). Make sure that the reed is underneath the mouthpiece, so that it will press against your bottom lip.
2. Place your top teeth about one third of the way onto the top of the mouthpiece. Gently bring your bottom lip towards the reed.
This can be a crucial move that people get incorrect. It is important that your bottom teeth do not touch the reed. In order for this to happen your lip needs to cover your teeth. Be careful not to roll your lip too far over your bottom teeth, as you do not want to bite your lip. The best way I can discribe it, is to press your bottom lip against your teeth. Now it makes sense that everyone has different sized lips and different shape/position of the teeth. So be aware to have the fleshy part of your lip on the reed (not the chin skin). Make sure that your lip is not pulled too tightly.
3. Make sure that your tongue is out of the way, take a big breath and blow!
Don't squeeze your lips too hard, because the air needs to go between the reed and the mouthpiece while it is vibrating. So if you squeeze too hard, you will just clamp down the reed against the mouthpiece, and nothing is 'gonna happen!
4. You should have produced a 'duck sound'. If not, take a little more of the mouthpiece in your mouth and try again.
Keep working on the mouthpiece buzzing until your bottom lip stops tingling.

Well done! You have made the first step to playing the saxophone.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Saxophone Basics - How to set up your reed

Have you read Saxophone Basics - Which reed should I use? If not, then take a look by clicking the link before continuing to read - 

How to set up your reed

Please note that depending on the type of equipment you have, some of the information may vary. It is important to make sure you are going to an instructor for lessons so that you do not form bad habits.

Now that you have your reed, you are ready to begin. The reed is very sensitive and it is easy to tear the tip. For this reason, I tell my students to handle the reed at the thicker end and the sides.

The bottom part is thicker and the top part tapers off to the end

Steps to attaching reed to mouthpiece:

1. Carefully take the reed out of it's packaging and place the thinner part on your tongue, to moisten the reed, then turn it upside-down and do the same thing on the opposite side. Do this all by handling the reed at the thicker end. You will find that when the reed is new it has a strange taste. This will fade as you use it.  If you prefer, you may want to soak the reed in a cup of water.


2. Now take the mouthpiece in hand and place the ligature over the mouthpiece, keep the screws loose. Let the open part of the mouthpiece face you. (Experienced players might put the reed against the mouthpiece before the ligature, but an unsteady hand can easily slice the reed)

Although it looks easier to assemble this way first, your reed may be sliced when placing the ligature in position.

3. Slide the flat side of the reed against the mouthpiece, between the ligature and the mouthpiece. Again making sure to avoid touching the tip of the reed.


4. Adjust the reed until you can see the tip of the mouthpiece peaking over if looking form the front, and the reed peaking over if looking from the back. This ensures that the reed is perfectly in line with the mouthpiece. With a basic mouthpiece and relatively soft reed, this should be the optimum position for a beginner to be able to produce a sound. However, each mouthpiece and reed is different, so you might need to adjust the reed slightly higher or lower. Ask your instructor to advise if this is necessary. You should not need to adjust too much in order to produce a sound, if you find that you do need to do this, you may need a different thickness of reed.


If you look carefully, you can see the reed tip. 

5. Once you have the reed in place, lower the ligature to below the curve of the mouthpiece and tighten the screw or screws (the direction of the ligature and the amount of screws depends on the model of ligature that you have).


6. Now you are ready to begin playing on the mouthpiece and producing 'duck sounds'!

Look out for my next post that will explain how to position your mouth on the mouthpiece in order to produce the appropriate sound.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Saxophone Basics - Which reed should I use?

Once you have found a saxophone to hire, it is important that you have a good reed to use. Often the company that you rent your saxophone from will supply you with your first reed. 

What is a reed?

A reed is a piece of cane, finely cut in a rectangular shape and calved with a groove that tappers towards the one side. The graduation of the thickness of the reed determines the size of the reed (eg. size 1, size 2 etc).

Which brand should I use?

While there are quite a few brands, and types of reeds available online and in shops in Cape Town, the most common are Rico Royal and Vandoren.

I usually recommend that beginners start on a size 1.1/2 Rico Royal reed. It is softer and cheaper than Vandoren reeds. Since the player shouldn't be on this low size for too long, it's not worth spending too much money on your first reed. As the player's mouth muscles develop strength, they will need a stronger reed for more resistance.

A soft reed allows beginners to produce a sound easily. If a beginner can produce a decent sound easily it does two things, 1. It provides confidence 2. It ensures that the player's mouth is relaxed. The more relaxed the player's mouth is in the beginning, the better their embouchure (mouth position) will be in the long run.

It's also a good idea to speak to your saxophone teacher about which reed to start with and when it is a good time to move to a harder reed. Things may vary according to the saxophone and mouthpiece that you are using.

Your teacher will also be able to show you how to position the reed on the mouthpiece. Watch out for my next blog post that will also give you some guidelines in this regard.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Saxophone Basics - How to get started

So you want to start learning the saxophone but you haven't got one. Want to know where to start looking?

Hire or buy?

Beginner saxophones are much more expensive than some other instruments, such as a guitar. If you are not yet sure that you are going to be playing the instrument long term, I would definitely recommend that you hire a saxophone out in the beginning.

Where can I hire a saxophone?

There are many affordable places in and around Cape Town that you can hire a saxophone from. Be aware that many of these places hire out their instruments to schools. So try to get in there in the beginning of the year before all of the stock is gone (no hiring company wants to sit with stock throughout the year).

If you can, request that you get a Jupiter or Yamaha saxophone. While it's not essential to have the best when you are just starting out, it can certainly make things easier and more enjoyable if the instrument is of decent quality. It is usually a policy of the hiring company that the saxophone is serviced between each client, so make sure to check that this has been done.

Here is a list of places that you can hire saxophones from in Cape Town:

The hiring company wants to know which size of saxophone I want.

Most hiring places only offer two of the sizes of saxophones, the alto and the tenor. You might get the odd place that has a soprano, but it is very rare, in Cape Town. It is even rarer to find a baritone saxophone to hire. 

Regardless of what is on offer, I usually recommend the alto saxophone, especially to younger beginners. The alto is the smaller of the two, and therefore more manageable for a beginner. It is easier to tune than a soprano, which is smaller. Because sopranos and baritones are not as common, they are also more expensive to buy, and since they are all imported to South Africa, unless you are hiring privately, it's less likely you will be able to find one available.

Once you have found a suitable instrument, now what? I recommend that you find a tutor, but while you are looking for one, there are a few things that you can start doing to prepare yourself for lessons. Watch out for my next post, Saxophone Basics - Which reed should I use?

Thursday, 31 December 2015


Happy New Year to you and yours. May this year be filled with many blessings and joyful moments.

Each new year brings a promise of exciting things to come. It allows us a chance to 'start again' and provides us with a way out from all of the things that either needed to end or we need some time away from. I am excited to see what the new year brings. I don't make new years resolutions. But I do like to focus or refocus on goals that I hope to achieve. 

There can be so many distractions in our lives, I really believe that in this busy world, we end up achieving far less because of all of these distractions. My hope this year, is to show my students how holistic learning to play an instrument can be. More importantly, I want them to know how fulfilling playing an instrument is. Learning to play an instrument can help you to focus your mind, while there is so much hustle and bustle around us. Learning an instrument and develop the physical technical skills, the reading and understanding of written music, as well as teaching you the dedication of working on that instrument. Once you have managed to acquire these aspect of learning an instrument, the beauty of being able to control it and produce a wonderful sound, is something that can never be truly explained. This feeling of making glorious sounds that spark emotion in other people is the ultimate goal that I hope my students will achieve. It really is not about being the most technically perfect musician, but it is about having the tools to convey something that is inexpressible without music.

I hope that you all out there, who are pursuing something musical in your lives, will be on your way to achieving them throughout this year. One thing to remember, I believe, is that it really is about the journey. If we can make sure to enjoy each day and give it our best, then we are more likely to achieve our ultimate goals. And if we do achieve our goals, what's next?

*Please note that this image is from:

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Building blocks for business

I was a waitress throughout my first year of University. When the manager interviewed me, he asked me what is the most important thing to remember during service. I said 'the customer is always right!?'. He said, 'consistency'.

A few years later I got some business advice from a good friend of mine. She said, 'there is no such thing as a stagnant business. Either a business is getting better or it is getting worse'.

While these two concepts may seem to contradict each other, I have learnt that their juxtaposition is indeed what makes a good business.

Here are a few ideas of how some things have appealed to me in terms of the two concepts:

  • Always give of your best (even if you are tired)
  • Keep good communication with your clients.
  • Always be friendly, even if your clients have disappointed or offended you.
  • Keep your business and personal boundaries in place from the beginning.

Improve your business:
  • Look for ways to make people more comfortable, update your venue with new cushions or wall decor etc.
  • Keep up to date with new technologies (Ipad lessons etc)
  • Keep up to date with new techniques (music related), new tutors
  • Improve your advertising with new photos, graphics or wording. Old photos can sometimes look like nothing has been happening in your business.
  • Ask your clients what they would like to see change, even if it's to try new pieces.
  • Make things easier for your students, have reeds or music for them to purchase (this can be for their convenience more than for your pocket, but if you are a good business person, you could score this way too. Why not?)
  • Don't be afraid to try new things.

I definitely don't claim to have these things in order, in fact this is a list that I hope to start achieving. It both exciting and daunting, but well worth the effort, I believe.