The Ten Best Saxophone Books Ever

Over the last few decades as a player, composer, and educator with an insatiable hunger for new material to work on, I’ve amassed an extensive library of books for saxophone. Despite owning many of the countless books on the market now, there are very few books that I’ve found myself coming back to over and over again and always look forward to opening. I thought it would be beneficial to share a list of books that have had a substantial impact on my development that I think every developing saxophonist should have.

Here, in no particular order, are ten of them.

1. Universal Method for Saxophone, by Paul Deville, published by Carl Fischer

Although this 320-page book appears to be for beginners if you look at the first 20 pages, it quickly moves into some of the best technical and musical workouts that exist in any book. There are etudes by countless composers, slow pieces to develop sound and phrasing, short technical exercises that target the thorny parts of the saxophone mechanism, classical arias, pieces in all twelve keys, and rhythmic and articulation exercises.

2. 25 Daily Exercises for Saxophone – H. Klose, published by Carl Fischer

Most of these etudes are one page long and highly musical. I can’t think of any book on the market that will do more to develop speed and dexterity. Most saxophonists I’ve know have spent many hours with this book, and it’s one that has traveled the globe with me. I’ve also used these extensively for practice on the flute and clarinet.

3. Top Tones for Saxophone – Sigurd Rascher, published by Carl Fischer

Although the title of this book would lead one to believe it’s all about developing the altissimo (extended third) register of the saxophone, it’s most commonly used as a primer on the overtone series, which is one of the most effective ways of developing sound and good note placement.

4. Six Suites for Violincello – J.S. Bach (transcribed and edited by Trent Kynaston), published by Advance Music

The Bach cello suites are some of the most beautiful pieces ever written and over the years they’ve been transcribed for just about every instrument one can think of. Trent Kynaston dis a remarkable job with this book in finding the right key for each suite in order to fit the saxophone range, as well as working out the double-stops which must be written as single notes for saxophonists. Absorbing the recordings of these cello suites by any number of the great cellists will provide limitless possibilities to any serious musician.

5. 28 Studies for Saxophone – Guy Lacour (publisher unknown)

Sadly, this book has become more and more difficult to find over the years. But if you can find it, cherish it. Each study is based on one of the Messian modes of limited transposition, which have become a building block of contemporary music, both classical and jazz. This book can really help unlock the door into modern melodic and rhythmic language, and will give improvisers a wealth of material to work out for their own purposes.

6. 25 Caprices (and an Atonal Sonata) for Solo Saxophone – Sigfrid Karg-Elert, published by Southern Music Company

This book is also quite difficult to find, but well worth the search. Beautiful pieces that are great for performance and practice, and cover a lot of challenging keys as well.

7. Charlie Parker Omnibook – published by Criterion

There are a countless number of transcription books on the market, but if you’re going to just own one of them, it should be this one. Charlie Parker shaped the modern approach to the saxophone more than almost anybody else, and also transformed music forever. Even if you never intend to improvise, these pieces lay so well on the saxophone that they are worth studying. I encourage students to eventually do their own transcriptions of favorite solos by any player, but this can be a great way to see what that means and start building a basic bebop vocabalury.

8. The Technique of the Saxophone – Volume II, Chord Studies- Joe Viola, published by Berklee Press

Joe Viola taught an entire generation of great saxophone players, and these studies will go far in helping players develop an understanding and fluency in all twelve keys. There are workouts over basic chord types that will help any improviser build vocabulary and strengthen chordal and melodic relationships.

9. Studies for Saxophone – Salviani, published by Ricordi

I think I found this book many years ago by chance and it’s become one of my most cherished etude books over the years. The pieces are in a more traditional 18th and 19th century, but they flow incredibly nicely and are very enjoyable and rewarding to play and work up to speed.

10. Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns – Yusef Lateef, published by Sana Music

Yusef Lateef is one of the pioneers of world music and he brought an intense study of exotic modes and scales to jazz while part of a number of legendary groups in the 1960’s and 70’s. All of the material in this book fits the range of the saxophone and although many of the concepts get very sophisticated, the actual material is useful without the player necessarily studying how it is derived. You’ll find some very unusual intervals in this book which will help your ears and fingers tremendously.