The Saxophone

This seminal work by master saxophonist John Harle offers players of all levels and musical styles the most in-depth reference book on playing the saxophone to date.

In The Saxophone Harle reveals his ground-breaking techniques for encouraging fluent and natural playing - transforming the musical experience of both students and professionals.

Every aspect of playing and performing is explored, from breathing, resonant tone production and fluent articulation through to techniques for building ease and flow in performance.

In addition, there are bespoke music exercises, illuminating graphics and illustrations, and superb photographs to inspire every player.

Practical, clear and universally relevant, the saxophone reveals John Harle's secrets for playing with individuality, fluent technique and a powerful musical presence.


  • “John is a consummate musician and saxophonist, and all the expertise and experience gleaned from his forty plus years as a student of our instrument is encapsulated in this book. It is a must read for all professional and aspiring musicians - I will be learning from John for years to come”
    Branford Marsalis - Three-time Grammy award-winning saxophonist and composer
  • “The Saxophone is a work of art, combining scientific research with a balanced and poetic presentation. John gives fantastic advice on learning methods which can be adapted to any age, level and need - musicians, amateur or professional will find the answers to all their questions here”
    Claude Delangle - Professor of Saxophone, CNSM, Paris
  • “It’s a beast of a book, and will take prime position in my teaching studio for ever! A new perspective! Wonderful!”
    Snake Davis - Saxophonist with George Michael, Ray Charles, Culture Club, Tina Turner, Take That, Pet Shop Boys, Motorhead
  • “This is the most original approach I've ever seen - it's like Einstein's Grand Unified Theory”
    Ted Hegvik - Master Saxophonist, Seattle, USA (The Legacy of Rudy Weidoeft)
  • “John's scholarly and artful scientific method is marked by formidable research and a passionate commitment to new and revolutionary techniques that open the door to a truly symbiotic relationship with your saxophone.”
    Tommy Smith - Saxophonist, composer and Director of Jazz, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
  • “It’s like having all the secrets of the saxophone in one book”
    Jess Gillam - Finalist, BBC Young Musician of the Year
  • “John Harle’s saxophone sound has sailed through the largest concert halls in the world like the voice of a world-class singer - possibly as close as any player has come to the sound of the human voice. John generously reveals all about the saxophone in his book and offers a new direction in playing that will resound through generations to come. It is a work of genius from the genius of the saxophone, and is testimony to this great player’s unique place in the history his instrument”
    Ashley Stafford - singer and vocal coach

The Ethos of The Saxophone

  • People say that the saxophone is easy to play badly, but they mostly forget to mention that it's harder than almost all other instruments to play well!
  • Since its invention, the saxophone has proved to be an indomitable, elusive instrument - it doesn't explain itself to us

easily, and often seems to slip out of our grasp, sometimes just when we thought we had it mastered...

The Saxophone demystifies the instrument and lays out a new approach to playing and performing that is helpful to saxophonists in any genre of music - jazz, classical, rock or pop.

The History

  • The saxophone was invented to add a power and projection to military bands that was lacking, mainly in the oboes and bassoons. So when Adolphe Sax assembled his blueprints for a new instrument, he increased the angle of the conical bore of the oboe and bassoon (around 1-2%) to a huge 7% to get a louder sound.
  • These new, wide-coned instruments made a penetrating, fearsome noise as the bands marched around the Champs-Elysée, with a tone that lay somewhere between woodwind and brass - they're often called 'brass-wind' instruments.


Soprano Saxophone

Relative Conicities
(Oboe and Soprano Saxophone)

Sounds and Styles

“The potential for the saxophone is unlimited” - Steve Lacy

  • The hybrid construction of the saxophone has produced many musicians that emphasise one or other of these ‘brass-wind’ aspects - from the bluesy, brassy tones of Big Jay McNeely and Earl Bostik to the ethereal woodwind like sounds of classical pioneers Marcel Mule and Sigurd Rascher.
  • However, all players, coming from any stylistic approach still have to deal with the issues of the steeply angled conical bore of Adolphe Sax's designs.

Three-Dimensional Saxophone Playing

  • The shape of the saxophone body (in three dimensions, length, width and depth) creates pattens of reed vibration and air direction that can be learned and then mirrored in your playing technique so that you go with the saxophone rather than against it.
  • The Saxophone lays all this out in detail, from the angles that the reed vibrates and where your sound resonates to how to play in tune.

The Book

“Don’t play the saxophone - let it play you” - Charlie Parker

The Saxophone shows how the instrument really works from the player’s point of view.
Solving issues of intonation and sound production is easier if you allow the instrument to show you how to play itself!

The Saxophone is primarily for soprano and alto saxophonists, but tenor and baritone players will find that the majority of the exercises work on their instruments, as the acoustic properties of the saxophone are similar throughout the whole family.

Extracts from The Saxophone

  • One of the natural wonders of playing the saxophone is the fact that the saxophone, the reed and the human body can work as mirrors of each other.
  • In a great player with a focused, in-tune and distinctive sound, the instrument and the way they play are connected into a unified, harmonious whole.  Their playing techniques mirror the logic and precision of the saxophone itself.
  • The first place that you can feel this mirror effect is in the patterns of reed vibration in your mouth - they produce a ‘fanning out’ of vibration that follows the angle of the body of the saxophone - The Reed Fan.

The Reed Fan
(Length and angles of vibration)

  • A resonant sound is free, unhindered and unblocked, and the difference between a floating, vocal and liquid sound and a thinner, buzzier sound is the apparent ‘space’ around the sound we perceive as listeners.
  • What happens to the vibrations of the reed within our bodies before they’re amplified in the mouthpiece and instrument is where many of our individual sound characteristics are made.
    This helps us make a more personal sound.
  • The Cathedral of Resonance is the human skull, and is the key to personalizing your saxophone sound.

The Cathedral of Resonance
(Soprano Saxophone)

  • The Power Lines are a network of energy lines through the body that map the correct physical preparation for each note, ensuring good intonation and supported sound.
  • They are visualizations that activate automatic technical responses, and join all the different elements of playing into a single, over-arching practice and performance tool.
  • Being unaware of each note‟s mapped position in saxophone playing is the equivalent of a violinist not knowing where to put their fingers on the fingerboard – following the general shape of the music up and down, and hoping for a bit of luck!

The Power Lines
(Soprano Saxophone)

  • Just as a great public speaker uses good diction to capture the attention of an audience, a saxophonist must use a vocabulary of different inflections and articulations to create interest and variety for the listener.
  • Legato-Staccato is an articulation ‘language’ that can add definition and groove to streams of improvised music in jazz or rock playing or be refined into a stratospherically fast double or triple staccato in classical showpieces, just as a violinist would use fast spiccato bowings in Paganini.
  • The Legato-Staccato studies in The Saxophone will take you as far as you want towards true virtuosity.

The Hand-Bell Exercise
(for Legato-Staccato)


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