Many saxophone students about to make the leap into the professional world have similar requirements to be prepared. By addressing these needs, students are certain to be better equipped for their first real gigs.
Listening and studying influential jazz saxophonists is a good starting point. Recordings and published transcriptions are readily available so take time to review their sounds and concepts of jazz style. Some outstanding classical players include Eugene Rousseau, Donald Sinta, James Houlik and Steve Mauk. You may want to record some of your own personal solos as well for comparison of tone, articulation, dynamics and phrasing.
It's also important to do a few long tone exercises each day to develop better tone and air support. To start, fill up your lungs with air then start to play as quietly as you can in a moderate range. Try not to use vibrato. As you're holding the tone out as long as you can, perform a gradual crescendo to full impact then start to fade out as softly as possible. Your lungs should be nearly empty as you get to the softest level.Use up all your air as the tone fades; at the same time ensure the sound and pitch holds steady. Really listen to your tone carefully.
For intermediate players, all major and minor scales along with arpeggios should be learned methodically for the entire range of the horn. Once you master these scales attempt to play them in thirds or fourths to truly master your keys. Spend some time focusing on the blues scales and other patterns in all twelve keys. Perhaps play through the keys in descending chromatic order or use the cycle of the fifths. Try using a metronome approximately half the time.
Along with being comfortable with the tone of your sax, it's very important to listen and critique your own playing. Understand the notions of tone, pulse, technical accuracy, intonation, phrasing and style while playing. As it's very common to experience finger glitches while playing the sax in upper and lower register extremes make sure you get lots of practice. Try performing all 12 keys slowing with a metronome to allow for a more seamless fingering technique. Really listen for intonation during these practice sessions or warm-ups to help pinpoint issues and reduce errors during live performances.
Keep your ears open to suggestions and thoughts from other musicians and instructors in the business. Ensure you are always polite, respectful and professional to everyone and try not to be late or unprepared for rehearsals or live gigs.
Be open-minded to other types of music even if they aren't your chosen style. Achieving a pleasing sound, proper intonation, steady pulse and mastering all the keys are indispensable and highly-sought after skills for a professional saxophonist. Be sure to study with a proper instructor who will help you develop proper embouchure, air support and digital technique. Patience, practice and good listening skills are sure to open doors for you to succeed in the field. Good luck!