1 Thing You Need to Know: Reading Notes

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We’ve covered this topic before, but it’s been a while, and the concern about this topic continues to surface: learning to read notes.

Understandably, this continues to be one of the main concerns of new students. In this post, we’re going to share one thing you need to know to make learning notes, easier.

You’re Not Alone

First of all, if you’re intimidated by all the notes you need to learn, you’re not alone. Additionally, if it’s been overwhelming in the past, I understand that feeling. Here’s what I mean.

When I was 8 years old I started to learn how to play the piano. In short, it was not a good match.

I spend two years learning the piano, and when it was done, I couldn’t read music. I could play some of the music, but there was guessing and I would read the numbers above the notes.

Picking Up the Saxophone

When I began on the saxophone, at age 10, I practiced all the time. Even though I struggled with learning the notes on piano, I had no problem on saxophone. In fact, it was not even one of my main concerns.

Too Many Notes

One of the differences between saxophone and piano is the fact that the saxophone only has one line to read.

In theory, that makes the saxophone easier to play in regards to reading notes. Looking back, I can see how reading one line was part of my success on the saxophone.

The One Thing

When I was learning the piano, I was trying to read four lines at the same time. When it was reduced to one line, I was successful.

Keeping this story in mind, here’s the one thing you need to know about learning notes on the saxophone. Reduce the number of notes you learn at one time. Let me describe this further.

It’s How Our Brain Works

If I asked you to memorize a paragraph containing twenty lines, how would you do it? Would you try to memorize the whole thing at once, or would you do one line at a time? I would do one line at a time.

In fact, I would do one line a day. After twenty days, I would have the paragraph memorized. There’s work and consistency involved, but it’s not overwhelming.

Learning Notes

Learning new notes should follow the same pattern as memorizing a paragraph; you introduce new material once you have learned the previous material.

On the saxophone, there are thirty-three notes to learn. Looking at them at one time can be overwhelming, but taking the first three notes, and getting comfortable with them, is the way to go.

Free Lessons

If you take our free lessons, or membership lessons, you’ll see how this process is incorporated into learning the saxophone. For example, learning the first three notes should be repeated for a week before learning new notes.

How to Apply

The way things are set up (and should be set up if you’re learning on your own) is to become comfortable with a few notes first. With these few notes you'll focus your practice on the items such as:

  1. Time
  2. Articulation
  3. Tone

After you practice the items above (using your first few notes), you’ll find that the notes will have become second nature while you focus on perfecting time, articulation, and tone.

Then, the next lesson will add a note or two to the items above. Once again, your focus will be on the items above, and learning the new notes will be a result of practicing the items above.

Ironically, the learning occurs without making the notes your main focus.


To summarize, don’t feel you need to learn all the notes at once. Take your time and add new notes as you are comfortable with the first few.

As you focus on what makes you a better saxophone player (the bullet points above), the notes will be not become your main focus, but will be an automatic result of your practice sessions.

So take courage, and know that learning to read notes is something you can do. Just be consistent and take small steps. You'll not only be fine, but you'll sound great and have fun.

What About You?

How are you doing with learning the notes on the saxophone? What has helped you learn the notes on the page? We would love to hear what you’ve struggled with and where you found success. Please share in the comment section below.

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