7 Essential Tips for Playing Saxophone with Bluesy Feel
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Practice the 12-bar blues structure
  2. Play with emotion
  3. Learn the blues scale
  4. Use bends and slides effectively
  5. Improvise with bluesy phrases
  6. Listen to great blues saxophonists
  7. Play along with blues backing tracks

If you've been wondering how to play saxophone for blues, you're in the right place. We've got seven handy tips to help you get that bluesy feel in your saxophone playing. These tips will take you from a beginner to a pro, helping you sound like you've been playing blues saxophone for years. So, grab your sax and let's get started!

Practice the 12-bar blues structure

One of the first steps you should take in learning how to play saxophone for blues is getting a firm grip on the 12-bar blues structure. This structure is the backbone of many blues songs, and understanding it will give you a solid foundation to build on.

So what is the 12-bar blues structure? Well, it's a pattern of chords that lasts for 12 bars, or measures, and is usually played in 4/4 time. It's made up of three chords: the I chord, the IV chord, and the V chord. Here's a basic version of the structure:

  • 4 bars of the I chord
  • 2 bars of the IV chord
  • 2 bars of the I chord
  • 1 bar of the V chord
  • 1 bar of the IV chord
  • 2 bars of the I chord

By practicing this structure until it becomes second nature, you'll be ready to add in the bluesy riffs and solos that make blues saxophone so unique. Remember, you don't just want to learn it—you want to really feel it in your bones. That's how you'll get that authentic bluesy feel in your playing.

So, are you ready to give it a go? Grab your saxophone and start practicing the 12-bar blues structure. You'll be amazed at how quickly you start sounding like a blues pro!

Play with emotion

Now that you've got the 12-bar blues structure under your belt, let's move on to another key aspect of playing saxophone for blues—playing with emotion. After all, blues is all about expressing deep, raw feelings, right?

When you're playing the blues on your saxophone, try to channel the emotions that the music evokes in you. Whether it's joy, sorrow, or anything in between, let it flow through you and into your music. This might feel a bit strange at first, especially if you're used to playing more structured, technical pieces.

But here's a little secret: the more you connect with the music on an emotional level, the more authentic your blues playing will sound. It's not just about hitting the right notes—it's about playing them with feeling. That's what gives blues its heart and soul.

So, next time you pick up your saxophone, don't just play the notes. Feel them. Express them. Let them tell a story. That's how to play saxophone for blues with true emotion.

Learn the blues scale

So, you're starting to get the hang of playing with emotion. That's great! Now, let's talk about one of the key ingredients of blues music—the blues scale. If you're wondering how to play saxophone for blues, knowing the blues scale is a must.

The blues scale is a six-note scale that's used frequently in blues music. In the key of C, the blues scale is C, Eb, F, F#, G, Bb, and C. But don't worry if it sounds complicated, with a little practice, it will become second nature.

Try playing the blues scale slowly at first, then gradually speed up as you get more comfortable. Make sure each note is clear and distinct. Once you've mastered the scale in one key, try it in others. This will help you become more versatile and confident in your playing.

Remember, the blues scale isn't just a series of notes—it's a tool for expressing emotion and creating a bluesy feel. So, play around with it. Use it to create your own melodies and riffs. See where it takes you. That's the beauty of the blues scale—it's a stepping stone towards your blues saxophone journey.

Use bends and slides effectively

After you've got the hang of the blues scale, it's time to add some more style to your playing. This is where bends and slides come into the picture. These techniques might seem a little tricky at first, but once you've got them down, they'll add a whole new level of expressiveness to your saxophone blues.

Bending a note on the saxophone involves lowering the pitch of a note by changing your embouchure, or the way you shape your mouth and lips. It's a subtle technique, but it can give your playing a really cool, bluesy feel. Start by picking a note, then try to make it sound lower without changing your fingering. Practice this until you can do it smoothly and it sounds just right.

Slides, also known as glissandos, are another great technique for adding some blues flavor to your saxophone playing. To do a slide, you play a note and then move your fingers to the next note while keeping the sound going. It creates a smooth, sliding effect that can really make your solos stand out.

Remember, the key to using bends and slides effectively is subtlety. You don't need to use them all the time, but a well-placed bend or slide can really make a difference. So, experiment with them and see how they can enhance your blues saxophone playing.

Improvise with bluesy phrases

Now that you've learned how to play the blues scale, and have added bends and slides to your toolbox, it's time to start improvising. Improvisation is the heart and soul of blues music, and it's where you can really let your personality shine through.

When you're learning how to play saxophone for blues, think of improvisation as having a conversation. Instead of using words, you're using notes and rhythms. And just like in a good conversation, you want to listen, respond, and keep things interesting.

Start by playing simple phrases from the blues scale. Then, try to respond to what you just played with another phrase. Keep going back and forth like this, and pretty soon, you'll have a bluesy dialogue going on. Remember, blues is all about feeling and expression, so don't be afraid to play around with dynamics, rhythm, and articulation to get your feeling across.

One more thing: don't forget about silence. It's just as important as the notes you play. A well-placed pause can create tension and anticipation, making your improvisation even more exciting.

With practice, you'll soon find yourself coming up with all kinds of cool, bluesy phrases on the fly. Improvisation is a skill that takes time to develop, but once you've got it, you'll have a blast playing the saxophone for blues.

Listen to great blues saxophonists

Want to know a secret to playing the saxophone for blues? It's simple: listen to the greats. This is where the magic really happens. By immersing yourself in the sounds and styles of accomplished blues saxophonists, you can absorb their techniques and interpretations, and develop your own bluesy feel.

Consider checking out musicians like Junior Walker, King Curtis, and Clarence Clemons. These players have a wealth of blues saxophone music that will inspire you and provide you with a wealth of ideas to incorporate into your own playing style. You can learn so much just from listening—how they phrase their solos, how they use silence, how they play with emotion—it's all there for you to soak up.

Of course, you don't have to limit yourself to saxophonists. Blues is a genre that's full of fantastic musicianship. Listen to blues guitarists, pianists, and singers too. You never know what might inspire you.

So, make yourself a playlist of blues classics, and listen to it often. Pay attention to the details, and try to incorporate what you hear into your own playing. Remember, imitation is a form of flattery, especially when you're learning how to play saxophone for blues.

Play along with blues backing tracks

Now that you've been listening to some blues greats, it's time to join the band and start making some music of your own. One of the best ways to do this? Playing along with blues backing tracks.

Why is this so beneficial? Well, it's pretty straightforward. Playing along with backing tracks allows you to practice your blues scales, bends, and slides in a musical context. It helps you to understand how the notes you're playing fit in with the rest of the band.

But there's more to it than that. Playing along with backing tracks also helps you to develop your sense of timing—a crucial skill for any musician—and it can be a great confidence booster too. There's nothing quite like the feeling of playing a bluesy saxophone solo over a groovy backing track—it might just make you feel like you're on stage at a smoky blues club.

There are plenty of resources out there with backing tracks in different keys and tempos. So, pick a track, pick up your saxophone, and start playing. With time and practice, you'll start to develop a real feel for the blues.

So, ready to play saxophone for blues? Remember, practice makes perfect. Take it one note at a time and soon enough, you'll be playing the blues with the best of them.

If you're looking to expand your skills as a saxophonist and want to explore the bluesy feel even further, check out the workshop 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!' by Debbie Knox-Hewson. This workshop offers valuable guidance on improving your musicianship, which will help you master the art of playing saxophone with a bluesy feel.