Sports & the Saxophone

A Surprised Look

When I was working on my D.M.A. in college, I had a part time job with a local company. One of the managers was a former college (American) football player.

He was a nice guy, but when I mentioned that football and music are very similar, he had a surprised look on his face. In fact, his facial expression communicated, “You can’t possibly believe that football has anything in common with music.”

Digging Deeper

On the surface, that’s true, but if you dig a little deeper, there are many similarities:

  • Team work (playing in an ensemble)
  • Fulfilling an individual role to help the whole group/team succeed
  • Dealing with failed performances and enjoying the successes
  • Hours of dedicated practice
  • Persistence
  • And many other life skills

Following Their Lead

After I rattled off a few of these answers, this manager understood and agreed. For this post, I would like to share something else that the sports world does very well. This is something we don’t always do when learning an instrument, but we should.

The Gym

Do you think you could walk into a gym today and lift as much weight as your own body? If you can, how did you get to that point? If you can’t, why not? Why can’t we decide to reach a goal like this is in one day? If we are determined, can’t we just do it?

For some reason we understand that success in the gym takes time, and we accept this very easily. However, we don’t always accept this in our practice sessions, but we should.

The Practice Room

Do you ever walk into your practice session and say (or think), “I’m going to learn this one song today and I’m not leaving until I do!” This is similar to setting a goal for lifting your own body weight in one day.

What happens next? We work on the song for a really long time, possibly become frustrated, and are unlikely to reach our 1 day goal. How does that feel?

The Untrained Athlete

If you visited a gym today (for the first time in your life), what would be your approach? Would you set a goal to lift your body weight in one day? Of course not. Even the untrained athlete understands that in order to reach athletic goals, repetition over time is essential for success.


So why do we add pressure to ourselves with unrealistic goals? Why do we expect to perfect…

  • A particular song
  • Articulation
  • Altissimo
  • The chromatic scale
  • Our embouchure

…in one session? Not that we do this to ourselves all the time, but when we do, it can produce negative results. And yes, if we set an unrealistic goal, we are likely to fail. So instead, let’s change our approach to goals


Take the approach of a weight lifter and apply it to your practice session approach. Here’s what I mean:

  • Set realistic goals
  • Don’t attempt to solve a long time weakness in 1 day
  • Set a daily goal for repetition on an exercise or…
  • Set a daily goal for dedicated time to an exercise
  • Example: Practice the B major scale 3 minutes a day
  • Understand that consistency and repetition will help you reach your long-term goals

The Result

If you apply this athletic approach to your practice sessions, your enjoyment, motivation, and skill level will increase. In addition, setting small repetitive goals will help you leave the gym/practice room each day knowing you met your daily goal. This will aid in the building of momentum and confidence!

Give it a try and let us know how this approach works for you. I’m confident that your practice sessions will improve and you’ll gain better results on the saxophone. We would love to hear about it in the comment section. Good luck!

Comments 4

  1. Jeff, this is a perfect analogy, indeed.
    Body fitness plays an important role in playing wind instruments as well. So there’s even another similarity with athletes/sportsmen.

    1. Post

      Good point Marc. In fact, in college, I started running so I would be in better shape. The purpose was to increase my ability to play longer lines on one breath. I heard from others that this worked well, but I never was able to fully experience the results because I stopped running. Why? So I would have more practice time.

    1. Post

      Hi Don,

      Does it have a mp already? If it does, do you know the brand? It will be inscribed on the mp somewhere. Let me know, and we can move forward from there.

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