How to start transcribing in 3 steps on your saxophone!

Sax School LIVE Episode 13 – 15th October 2018

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Links from this session:

Transposing Cheat Sheet:

Perfect fall offs in 5 steps:


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Show Notes

In this episode Nigel shares his three steps to successful transcribing, plus answering your questions, and our quiz! Did you know the answer to our Dire Straits question?


News from Sax School

Nigel has been filming some lessons for the new Blues Mastery Course, and a Jazz Performance Pack will be coming out next week in the Sax School Members’ Area on “Song for My Father”.


News from the Sax School Members Facebook Group

Larissa shared a great video of her playing Sade’s “Smooth Operator”.

Steve had his alto overhauled and the octave key tweaked, and found that by using the tips he had learned in the Sax School Masterclass, he could reach altissimo G for the first time ever!

If you are having problems with your instrument, we have some great repair videos on our YouTube channel which can help you to identify the problem, and maybe even fix the simple things yourself.

Hans bought a new saxophone and found it so much easier to play, and felt that his old sax, whilst not being a great instrument, had taught him some good technique which paid off when he played a better horn!


Transcribing Tips

Transcribing is a big hurdle for a lot of players, but it is an important skill. You can learn your favourite tunes and solos, even if you don’t have the sheet music, by transcribing them. It’s also great for improving your musicality because it makes you more connected with what you are hearing and what you are playing.


Nigel’s Three Step Process:

  1. Listen – You can record the piece of music so that you can keep rewinding it to focus on a section at a time. There are some great apps to help with this; “Amazing Slow Downer” is brilliant for taking a small section and slowing it right down while you listen.
  2. Sing – This helps you to formulate what you are hearing into a tangible musical shape. It doesn’t matter if you not a great singer, it’s just about turning what you are hearing into a sound you can repeat.
  3. Play – Find the notes you sang on your sax. This can be a bit of trial and error but you will get there much quicker if you have sung them first. Start with the first note then follow the shape you sang.


Watch Chris and Nigel give a demo of this process in action!


Challenge: Have a go at transcribing something – it could be just a bar or a short phrase – using this method. Nigel includes some transcribing in every practice session. The more you do it, the easier and quicker it will get.


Your Questions:


Concert Pitch

I always heard about A concert, Bb concert etc. What are they? How do they affect my choice of key?

Usually we talk about this when we are talking about transposition, and concert pitch versus saxophone pitch. This can be tricky.

The pitch of instruments relates to the pitch of concert instruments such as piano, flute, and guitar (C instruments). So a tenor sax is a B flat instrument, and an alto is an E flat instrument. Think of concert pitch as like “Greenwich Mean Time” – all other instruments relate to it.

A good way to remember it is to swap the keys around – so a B flat on a piano (in C) sounds like a C on a tenor sax (in B flat). An E flat on a piano sounds like a C on an alto (in E flat).

Our Transposition Cheat Sheet is really handy:


Smooth Operator

How do I smooth out the transition from C to B and vice versa?

Clunky transitions are often due to the distance of your fingers from the keys. Try to keep your fingers close to the keys, so that they are actually touching. Playing in front of a mirror can really help with this.



Where should you end a fall-off?

Fall-offs sounds really cool and there are loads of places you can use them, both in pieces and in your improvising. Whether they are fast or slow, the process is the same. In an effective fall-off, your fingers, your air, and your jaw are working together. The key thing is that your fingers need to keep going down the chromatic scale longer than your air. Here’s Nigel’s 5 steps to effective fall-offs:


This is the last Live session of this season. Catch up with any you have missed on the blog and follow our Facebook page to keep up with all things saxophone:


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